Žatec, Czech Republic is home to one of the largest, if not the largest, exporters of hops worldwide. Every fall, the town of 19,000 celebrates with the Žatec Hops and Beer Festival.
Naturally, this was an event I could not miss! Friday afternoon I hopped on a train and went to visit my friend Alden, the Fulbright ETA working at the town’s business academy and gymnasium.
During my visit we were constantly meeting up with different groups of students from his two schools, and were treated to the warmest welcomes I could imagine. Several students gave us a tour of the Temple of Hops and Beer, complete with a maze made of antique hops storage bags.
Alden and I were welcomed into the home of a local Czech woman who lived in the United States for a number of years, named Dana. When Dana found out I would not be going back to the United States for Christmas, her instant reply was, “So that means you’ll come here, right?” When we left her house, Dana told me, “I have a car, so wherever you are in the country, if you need help please call me. I am here for you. If you are sad or want someone to talk to, I will be your friend. You never have to be alone.”
I was also introduced to a brewery-owning geography teacher at Alden’s school. While Alden and his students went on carnival rides, the teacher invited me into the VIP area of the open-air bar and sat down with me to discuss European politics (and how to make a solid APA).
Needless to say, every single person I talked with this weekend taught me something. To have so many people supporting me in so many places is incredibly mind-blowing…there is no other way I can put this immense gratitude into words.
Throughout the whole weekend I rarely bought my own food or beer, because the students insisted I was their guest. One student told me that they don’t often get to meet Americans, and she was excited to have a native speaker to speak with. This opened up the most humbling conversation: I asked her, “If you could go one place in the world, where would you go?” She replied with, “the United States, because it is somewhere you can do anything.”
And it took me a minute to think… wait, that’s where I’m from.
Upon arriving home to Hejnice, I found a new sense of gratitude for where I have been and how I got here. The journey (train, not ~spiritual~) gave me time to reflect on what being an American actually means to me–something we are not forced to confront when surrounded by people of the same language or nationality. I am thankful for this small Czech town I get to call my own for a short while, and for the United States, which has given me so much.