Day 8: How to make a teacher smile in any language

First stop on the Dissident Tour finds leader Anna Hoffman finding all the good angles to tell about the Memorial to the Victims of Communism.

First stop on the Dissident Tour finds leader Anna Hoffman finding all the good angles to tell about the Memorial to the Victims of Communism.

If a student were to ask how to make me happy, I’d say solve a problem on your own, use your creativity to go beyond what you have to do and show me you enjoyed what you learned.

Our 10 Kent State students in Prague for “Modern Media and Democracy” are doing just that:

  • Several with no techie background caught on to setting up WordPress galleries and learning not only HOW to add links to give their posts depth, but also WHY they should want to. After only a week, there’s no need for hand-holding as they have taken excellent photos for this very visual theme site and done all the work themselves.
  • The Communication Studies students, bless their hearts, have gone from humoring me when I suggested they tighten their blog writing until now they actually see how this new purpose and new audience means that my unfamiliar style really DOES work– and they can do it.
  • Those who are having a tough time getting sources are tirelessly following suggestions, networking and actually beginning to find people who will be able to answer their questions, allowing them to finish their final projects. (Try having media coverage of Romanies as your focus when this controversial minority generally speaks NEITHER English nor Czech!)
Hoffman takes more photos on the site where student Jan Palach lit himself on fire to draw attention to the plight of the Czechoslovak people

Hoffman takes more photos on the site where student Jan Palach lit himself on fire to draw attention to the plight of the Czechoslovak people

Today’s example of above and beyond is noteworthy, though. Anna Hoffman’s topic is the dissidents, the group that included Václav Havel, last president of Czechoslovakia and first president of the Czech Republic. To learn more and to be able to photograph the sites important to this group that prepared the text of Charter 77 and worked for the fall of Communism in 1989, Anna set up what we called “The Dissidents’ Tour.”

With her in the lead, armed with a Google Map she created, seven of us spent much of Sunday touring important sites like the Memorial to the Victims of Communism, the cafe where the dissidents met, even though their lives were at risk, the spot in Wenceslas Square where student Jan Palach set himself on fire and died for his cause in 1969. At each stop on her planned route, Anna told us all the background and why this was important.

I won’t explain or share my photos of all the sites — I wouldn’t want to potentially take away from her actual project. Clearly, I don’t have the knowledge she does about it. But, thanks to her, I know much more than I did when we left the hotel this morning, and I definitely smile each time I think of all she has gained and given to others with her assignment.

Day 6: Towel usage apology

Open letter to the housekeepers of Rezidence Lundborg:

You’re not seeing the person I usually am. If there’s a sign in a hotel or motel that allows me to leave my towel on the rack for another day, I’m all for it. Save the water. Save the earth.

But my European bathing skills are lacking. If I had learned as a child how to cope without shower curtains, I probably would be better at this. But, face it, I’m a failure.

ShowerObviously, this is not a hotel with substandard bath fixtures. The whirlpool is impressive, and everything is shiny and polished. However, the shower head slips into a chrome holster device that can swivel back and forth. Leave it in that, and I’m doomed as it aims too high and shoots water beyond the tub.

Point it toward the back wall, and a river along the back of the tub flows off onto the floor.

Take it out of its holster, and I lack the second hand needed to both hold it and properly shampoo, scrub or shave my legs.

Place it on the bottom of the tub, and a geyser erupts, sending the spray well beyond the tub.

Besides, I like the feeling of constant water keeping me warm as I shower. So my latest technique is to hang the nozzle and its metal hose across my shoulder and midway down my back.

Is that the solution? This morning, I turned off the water, carefully stepped over the tub’s sides and touched the bathmat, already soaked from my roommate’s earlier attempt. No water glistening on the tiles by the toilet. No water pooling under the sink. Could this be the answer? Then I took one more step and found today’s puddle creeping towards the door.

Once again, I needed an extra towel to sop up the mess. Once again, the two of us have thoroughly soaked six or eight towels. Probably the best news for our housekeepers — once again we have pretty thoroughly washed the floors in the bathroom so they may have to launder all our towels but you won’t have to touch those floors!

Day 5: It’s all off the record

Today’s post can be short and sweet.

After 45 minutes at the American Center of the U.S. Embassy in Prague, talking with its Counselor of Public Affairs and a friendly Czech journalist with a degree from Mizzou who works for them now, one question sparked a response I hadn’t expected:

“Of course everything is off the record.”

Let’s be clear — these are Kent State students writing multimedia stories or research papers as part of the “Modern Media and Democracy” course. Sure, their results will go on the Web. But their topics are designed to help them compare the two countries’ situations on issues like media trust, smoking laws, educational policy. We’re not talking security risks or top secret diplomacy.

I know, I know — what did I expect?  But all the conversation is off the record so tomorrow the students push on, spending the morning with television journalists. I’ll bet they are willing to talk and not need to have their views vetted by anyone higher up.

Day 1: The downpour

Sometimes bad things make the best memories, especially if the end result isn’t TOO bad.

That’s the mantra of the Kent In Prague group after Day 1 in the Czech Republic. Dealing with jet lag — no one got much sleep on the flight from Cleveland to Newark to Brussels to Prague — we greeter the Czech Republic with enthusiasm. Even three temporarily lost bags were not an issue — though I had worried earlier watching the Belgium Air baggage handler give my new suitcase a shove that sent it wheeling wildly under the plane to his waiting fellow worker on the other side.

Slightly jet-lagged but awed by their surroundings, the Kent State group poses in Old Town, Prague, in front of the Jan Hus statue. (photo by Bibiana Hakosova)

Slightly jet-lagged but awed by their surroundings, the Kent State group poses in Old Town, Prague, in front of the Jan Hus statue. (photo by Bibiana Hakosova)

The sun was shining — maybe a bit too much in the 80-plus-degree weather — as we set off with guide and protector Bibiana Hakosova, assistant to the president of Anglo-American University.

It was an amazing stroll across Charles Bridge, full of rambling tourists and street artists. Old Town on the other side was no less amazing. The cobblestone streets, roasting ham on a spit, crowds gathering in front of the Astronomical Clock as it strikes the hour — all unique to our Ohio eyes.

The group posed in front of Jan Hus, the statue to honor this martyr to religious reform in the 1300s who became a symbol of freedom during the era of Communism.

Dinner was a lovely meal on a terrace overlooking this scene, but then we saw the clouds rolling in. And then the waiter warned us of an impending storm.

I’ll confess to being a less-than-wonderful journalist, as I clutched my iPhone camera to me and I have no photos of the ensuing half hour. (Some of our students do, though.) The gentle rain turned fierce with what weather.com said were 35-mile-an-hour winds with 60+ mph gusts! The grit from those cobblestone streets bit into our legs as we hurried through the labyrinth of streets, aiming for Charles Bridge and the route to the hotel.

Huddled under an arch between buildings as one point, as Bibiana ran ahead to check out the shortest route, we watched in horror (yes, there were screams) as a window above her banged shut and literally exploded, showering her head and bare back with glass. Then, seconds later, one did the same just to the other side of our sheltering place.

We dashed to better shelter in a nearby restaurant, hoping for taxis that weren’t to be found and patching up Bibiana’s back with the Band Aids and gauze from our less-than-professional-quality first aid kits. Another dash and we were off again, finally reaching the hotel, thoroughly wet but certain this was one of the bad things that will make good memories — as long as Bibiana’s back is OK this morning.