No matter where we were from or what we knew, we all shared the present moment.
Right before the world seemingly shutdown from Covid-19 in 2020, I was able to study abroad in the Czech Republic for a semester in the fall of 2019. I chose the Czech Republic because of the majestic beauty that came with the city of Prague. However, it wasn’t the city center that captured my heart, but instead a tiny town called Nové Město Pod Smrkem located in the north of the Czech Republic.
Nové Město is a town that borders Poland and Germany. My two friends and I spent a week in this town of fewer than 4,000 people. We stayed at the house of a beekeeper who also ran an after-school and summer program for the children of Nové Město. The woman we stayed with didn’t speak any English, so she had her neighbor, a 16-year-old that had lived in Nové Město his whole life, translate for us. He was our tour guide, translator, and friend for the week.
We went with the boy to popular dinner spots in the small city center, consisting of just five stores. We learned about beekeeping, relaxed in the garden, and my favorite night of all, we climbed a hiking trail at night to gaze at the border lights of Poland and Germany outstretched in front of us.
The boy and his friend took us down a wooded trail right after the sun had set. To get to the path, we passed through the neighborhood we were staying at, which in contrast to the typical United States suburbia, had houses of all shapes and sizes. We kept walking and came upon plain concrete apartments about 12 stories high. They reminded me of the commons on military bases I lived on as a child.
Little did I know these buildings were the antithesis to democratic capitalist structures. The concrete buildings were leftover Paneláks or joint housing estates from former communist Czechoslovakia. The reality that we weren’t in America set in, but all I could think about was how this was the closest I felt to being home since I had departed from Dulles International Airport.
We began to talk about what our parents did for work. The Czech boys’ fathers were engineers, and their mothers were teachers and stay-at-home moms. We discussed our dreams and daily life. We complained to the boys of our cookie-cutter white picket fences surrounding our boxy suburban homes, and they complained about their tiny Czech town. We both despised where we were from and yearned for what the other loathed.
We reached the top of the hill and were completely alone. The five of us sat at the top as the boys pointed out Poland and Germany. We all had come from varying walks of life, and yet here we were, soaking up a magnificent view together, reveling in the stories of one another, and sharing one common humanity. No matter where we were from or what we knew, we all shared the present moment.