Life Abroad: An American’s Experience in the Czech Republic

This blog starts a series of posts from Maggie Slepickova Grove. Maggie has spent years of her life in the Czech Republic and will be recounting her experiences in this blog!

By Maggie Slepickova Grove

     For most of my life I’ve been connected to the Czech Republic. Although I was born and raised in Iowa, it seemed like I no matter where I went or what I did, the Czech Republic was always important.
       At four years old, my mom, dad and I packed up our house, left our cat, and moved to what was then Czechoslovakia. We lived in a small college town called Olomouc, where my dad taught English, and I went to preschool. From that experience, my memories are few and far between. I remember wanting a pair of shiny black saddle shoes, which every girl in my class had, I remember the little store on the corner that had lots of Hello Kitty paraphernalia, and I remember sitting at the back of a small auditorium as my father directed the play Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Considering we were there when a revolution was brewing and then witnessed the actual revolution first-hand, you’d think my memories would be less trivial.
      Since no one knew if the aftermath of the revolution would be dangerous, my mom and I moved back to the States earlier than expected. Life continued in a normal fashion, I attended school, got involved in sports, music, and theater, made friends, and traveled a lot. But the friendships and ties to the Czech Republic lived on through my families’ friends and my dad’s frequent trips back.
       Upon graduating from college, a chance to work in movies led me to Hollywood, but within months, the realization that moviemaking wasn’t for me lead me to the decision to get out, explore the world, and try something new. Thanks to my father’s connections, Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic, was to be my new home.
       My intentions for the move were two-fold, travel the world and get experience teaching before I spent money on grad school. Little did I know that my new life also included meeting my future husband, getting two pug dogs, and starting two of my own businesses: a language school and an online language learning system. The one year I had planned to stay turned into six, traveling often meant coming home to visit family and friends instead of going all around Europe, and teaching eventually was only one of my many jobs.
         As with any place I’ve moved to, it took time to develop relationships and find a community, but by the time I was saying goodbye to the Czech Republic, I realized how much I was leaving behind. It’s a strange feeling living away from your own country for so long; you are always an outsider, but overtime, you begin to find your place in that foreign world, which feels more and more like home. Now, I often feel like I really am a mix of both worlds.
     The interesting part of moving back to Cedar Rapids after ten years, are the things which I notice that I would never have noticed before. Having a Czech husband also helps to open my eyes to the differences and similarities, just as I opened his eyes as a foreigner in his country. As I adjust to life here and explore and get used to the city of my adolescence, I will be writing entries for this blog, reflecting on my life on the Czech Republic and recording my thoughts on American life. I hope to bring a unique perspective to what it’s like to live abroad and also here at home.

Celebrating the 4th!

      The independence of our country is an important day to celebrate. It commemorates our independence from Great Britain. In the U.S., we like to celebrate this holiday with fireworks, picnics, barbeques, parades, and baseball games. No matter what your traditions are, planning a Fourth of July party doesn’t have to be stressful. There are only three things to consider when making party plans: location, entertainment/activities, and food.
      Location is important because it will help determine how many people you can invite. Normally, most July 4th parties happen outdoors so at the end of the evening guests can watch the fireworks. Whether you have it in your back yard or at a park, it is smart to make additional arrangements in case of rain. Holding your party at a park allows for more parking, extra seating, room to play, and shelter from the sun under a pavilion. They also have a restroom that you won’t have to clean when the party is over. Check with your local Park and Recreation office first to ensure availability of a pavilion. Hosting a party at home has its advantages as well. You don’t have to fight the traffic to get the best seat in the house and family and friends can help with clean up. Also, they can bring extra seating and blankets to lie out on the lawn to watch the fireworks.
     Food is an important part of the celebration as well. Having a potluck is an easy way to get guests involved. As the host, you can provide the main dish and have guests bring side dishes, desserts, and beverages. Finger foods work best for large crowds where a table and chair aren’t easily accessible. Look for options aside from meat since not everyone is a carnivore. And don’t be afraid to stray from the popular burger and brats menu, who says turkey is only for Thanksgiving. And don’t forget about the drinks. Having a nice cold drink on a hot day is medicine to the soul. Whether you’re having a kid friendly party or adults only, there are easy ways to make your drinks festive. Blue and red Kool-Aid will go well with the Fourth of July theme. Make it in jugs or poor them into ice cube trays to make flavorful cubes. Adding blueberries and strawberries to your punch is another refreshing idea to spice up your drinks.
      Providing entertainment shouldn’t be stressful and it doesn’t have to be elaborate. Swimming is a fun activity and will keep the masses cool. If you don’t have a pool in the vicinity, water games such as a water balloon toss or sprinklers can keep kids entertained for hours. Frisbees, volleyball, and badminton are all easy to set up and fun for all ages, as well as a bean bag toss or croquet. End the night with sparklers and watching the fireworks against the night sky surrounded by family and friends.