Tuesday 28 July 2015

The Last Week of the BFTF

Monday (WS´s and a model of the EU)
In the morning we had a set of three workshops. We started with Aaron´s Optimism in the World of Dystopia. We tried to figure out how to make haters engaged and enthusiastic for our projects and ideas. Aaron had also the next workshop called Conducting Meaningful Research. It was basically about the way how to use the most appropriate and relevant information. In the workshop Atrracting Volunteers to Your Project Carren explained us t different ways of manipulating with people willing to help.

After lunch we had the model of the EU. We divided into two groups: European Council and European Parliament. We were concerned about refugees usually fleeing from the Middle East and Africa to Europe. I represented Greece as its prime minister Alexis Tsipras in the council. My position was pretty bad. Nobody respects Greece and I again needed money to deal with the huge number of refugees. At least we managed to push through a dispersion of few dozens migrants from the Southern Europe to other European countries. even though Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic were strongly against. I convinced many states about the reform of Dublin 3 Agreement, but there was no time to vote about about it finally. Our resolution was approved, even though it was a piece of .... as is usual on a similar kind of models.

Vivat Greece!

Tuesday (Data and Metrics and Authoring Action)
We started by a three hours workshop Data and Metrics. We were trying to find different ways of measuring success, mostly in terms of our final projects. Emily always introduced us basic facts as some improvisations and then we got some time to think techniques we are going to use up (for example different kinds of surveys, control tests). When we were done, she discussed with us individually their effectiveness etc.

You may still remember Nathan Freeman who had a workshop on creative writing the last Tuesday. So, today about fifty young people from his organization Authoring Action came to have a pizza lunch with us. We had some informal talks and got to know some people from Winston-Sale, who were usually excited to meet some foreigners. When all pizza was eaten, we started presenting of our pieces we were supposed to write during the last session. Some people from Authoring Action prepared pieces on the same titles (street, around the corner and once upon a time). Everybody just came in front of the audience and read his usually short piece. For us, Europeans, it was difficult to write something with artistic value in English, I am not very proud of my piece, but I surprisingly did not get bored during the reading, which took about 3 hours. Some pieces from Authoring Action people were very strong and moving. The social problems, racism and repressing of human rights still exist in the U.S., so they precisely addressed real problems (see the video below).

Wednesday (Final workshops, farewell dinner)
The Nathan´s workshop Ever, never, never........vote was based on a discussion why we should vote and why not. The fundamental were the argument that if people do not want, they cannot complain and counterargument that voting is just promoting and enforcing the power of the existing system, considered as wrong. Nobody won, but I supported the first statement, as I am not really a kind of a couch revolutionist. Mads and Sarah had a workshop about successful BFTF follow-up projects. There are dozens of them, usually focused on working with youths.

Tomorrow we are presenting our final projects, so they gave us a free afternoon to get prepared. At 7 pm the farewell official dinner started. Our host families came as well, while we were eating some kind of pretty bad food, there was some performance like singing, reciting or beatboxing. Mr. Allan Louden, nestor of the whole BFTF, had an impressive speech about main ideas of the program. Then we said thank you and good bye to the families and a big part of the BFTF was over.

When we came back from the dinner, most of the people just started working on their presentations. My roomie Gabin turned out as a master of procrastination. He said it did not matter if he started few hours later, as he would sleep bad anyway. So he started about 1 or 2 am, nonetheless he managed to finish it successfully.

The final picture from the dinner

Thursday (presentations)
On Thursday we were supposed present our projects. We were divided into few blocks (environment, tourism, communities in need etc.) according to what our project was focused on. Every presentation could not be longer than 10 minutes, there was a place for questions and answers after all people from the block were done.  On this link is a record of every presentation.

My project is on education, so I presented it in the morning. I was one of the first and then could enjoy watching the others. I enjoyed that, every project was good and was professionally introduced (see the video on the link).

Friday - the final day of the BFTF
We did two thirds of the presentations yesterday, in today´s morning we did the rest of them. There were blocks on environment, education and equality and equity.

When we finished all the presentations, we had a final ceremonial, where we were given some diplomas confirming our participation in a program funded by the U.S. Government, which should be something prestigious according to what we were told. 

Graduation - I was holding a someone´s diploma in cyrillic as they had forgotten mine somewhere

In the evening we had farewell party in a place called Barn (it really was something like a pseudo barn). We had a lot of coke which was probably supposed to make up beer (many Europeans could not get over it)  and a lot of food. There was also some music and most of the people were dancing. It could be quite fun.

There was no curfew this evening. We are departing soon morning tomorrow, so the sleeping would not be worth it either. I was enjoying the environment of a beautiful university´s campus and had some last deeper night talks with few people. Then I wrote some farewell letters and about 4 am went to sleep for two hours. 

Of course, I overslept, I packed all the things in ten minutes, then gave back the keys of my room. Pathetic goodbyes could start. It was hard to leave great mentors and great people I spent an unforgettable month with. I never cry, but I was near to it that time. If I could I would. 

Most of the people from Europe were flying at the approximately same time from Greensboro, so I experienced same again and then got on the plane to Chicago, where I spent 4 hours waiting for my next flight to Frankfurt.

Monday 27 July 2015

The Second Weekend with My American Family

After energy demanding week we finally had a free weekend. Besses never let us know where we are going. Few days ago Vlad asked them how far the ocean was as he has never seen Atlantic before. It is few hundreds miles, about four hours driving.

After asking them we were told that we were going to swim in a lake near the city. In the morning we got in the car and set out for the lake. When we had been driving for more than two hours we realized that our destination is not the lake. In four hours we arrived in Wilmington by the ocean. We accommodated in the hotel and then went to the beach. Collin, Vlad and I went swimming, Jim and Tamara stayed on the beach controlling whether some sharks appeared. Despite the fact they sometimes attack the people there, there were quite many swimmers in the sea.

Enjoying big waves of the ocean

We had a hotel breakfast, which Jim called as "all you can eat". Afterwards we went to see the famous battleship North Carolina, probably symbol of the whole Wilmington. After the tour we drove home, four hours again. Jim took me to promised beer store, filled with hundreds brands of American beer, after long searching I found Pilsner Urquell, which increased my Czech patriotism. In the evening we tried to prepare for a tomorrow´s model of the EU. 


Thursday 16 July 2015

Week of Workshops on Civic Engagement (July 13 - July 17)

We got a list of different workshops. We could choose approximately one out of three.     
Monday - (volunteering)
Our week of workshops on civic engagement began by an introductory lecture of one of the faculty staffs. Afterwards we moved to a warehouse of a local charity organization Second Harvest Food Bank, which focuses on delivering the expired or gifted food those in need. We were divided into few groups. My group was checking the date and quality of the food. We had a table for different kinds of food (milk, meat etc.), according to which we had to asses if the expired food is eatable. Then we put the checked food into boxes, which were being delivered to customers. In every box had to be different kinds of food. Later it turned out as impossible to comply with it, as we had too much of meat cans and macaroni. I have never seen such a big amount of it before. 

Too much of macaroni

Working (everybody in motion)
In the afternoon I cooked for my family a traditional Czech dish called bramborak(y). It is a potato pancake with flour and eggs, tasted by garlic and marjoram. I could not find any marjoram in an American supermarket, so I made it up by some Italian fusion, it tasted differently, but everybody liked it. I do it almost every time I am abroad. It works, people love it.

Tuesday - (Social Movements and Authoring Action)
We had a workshop Social Movements by Nate French, who works as a teacher at Wake Forest. We did types of social movements and different stages of their development, emergence, coalescence, bureaucratization and decline. He was giving us some examples of movements and we tried to sort them out according to what he had said before. He let us to discuss why some movements failed, and why some were successful.

In the afternoon a writer and a filmmaker Nathan Freeman came to have a workshop on creative writing. He is also a founder of Authoring Action, which focuses on working with youths and developing their artistic abilities. This enthusiast explained us what riff in poetry is. We all tried to write something, he gave us feedback then. Afterwards we tried to write a piece with emphasis on the art of expression. We are going to present them the next week.

Nathan in his yellow T-shirt speaking
Wednesday (Performance at Retirement Home)                           
In the morning we had the second part of Social Movements. Today it was more creative. Nate divided us into three groups. Every group was supposed to find one social movement and connect the facts found on the Internet with the things he taught us yesterday. Groups chose Femen, Marijuana Legalization Movement and Fair Trade. We tried to explain why Femen failed and Marijuana Legalization Movement succeeded.

Afterwards we all went to a retirement home Salemtowne. Some of us prepared performance. There was singing oriental songs by girls from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, solving Rubik's cube in extremely short time or beatboxing. Then we started informal talking to open-minded and nice retirees.

Thursday (Campus garden, Workshops and Bowling)
We divided into two groups on Thursday morning. I was in the group which went to help out to campus garden. The second group stayed at WF and tried to prepare for tomorrow's afternoon with children from Boys and Girls Club. The garden was nice, North Carolina is fertile and besides tobacco suitable for many other plants. They try to be as organic as possible, but the way of gardening, they consider as something revolutionary, is not very different from the way practiced by majority of Czech gardeners. We did not take of plants, unfortunately, but building a new compost was quite fun as well. After few weeks I finally did some manual work, which I after so many classes needed.

The compost is built
Afterwards we had a set of few workshops. During Fundraising BFTF alumni Matt and Sarah explained us different ways of getting funds for our projects. If you have a good idea, it should not such a big problem to get money from the U.S. Government or the EU.

I went to Len to discuss a logo of my project called Projekt Kepler. He came up with a great idea. There will be an old portrait of this man with a small retouch. He will have a shirt with palm leaves instead of authentic clothes.
Projekt Kepler...

In the evening we went to play bowling. I was against this idea as I do not like bowling, but here I am supposed to do what the others want. Everybody here is afraid of our safety so we must move just in the bigger groups. However, eventually I enjoyed, I was still excited due the successful creation of my logo, so I had a lot of energy and did not have any problem playing this interesting game.

I enjoyed a workshop Civic Journalism by a young Bulgarian journalist Mladen Petrov. He explained us principles of pitching a story to medias. If you do it well, there should not be a problem to publish some of your articles in the news. 

We can apply for faculty lunches with different teachers of WFU. There always few of them every day. A small group fellows go to the lunch with one staff and informally discuss whatever they want. Today I had a lunch with Barbara Lentz, who teaches law and in her free time also works for humanitarian organizations in Nicaragua. It was great. We discussed many things and she gave some useful advises about our projects.

Faculty lunch
We had a bit of time to prepare some games and entertaining introduction of our countries for a group children coming to spend their afternoon with us. We wasted all the time for our preparation, but our improvisation worked. They did not pay a lot of attention to countries' presentation, but they loved the game on imitating pigs. I liked how impudent they were. It was fun when 10 years old guy asked for the numbers of 18 years old girls and then one of them said that he would have liked to play with her boobs. 

Sunday 12 July 2015

Weekend with My American Family

It is Sunday evening and I am sitting in the garden of the house somewhere in a Winston-Salem suburb. It is still hot and the air is humid, it reminds me Southeast Asia. It does not differ in temperature and humidity. All around me are satellite houses, each with at least one American flag and four cars parked around. I have just finished a portfolio of my final BFTF project, so I have some time I can dedicate to this blog.

From this Friday till the next Sunday we are staying with the American family. We have free weekends to explore Winston-Salem and its culture, during weekdays we normally participate in classes and workshops at Wake Forest University.

Friday - July 10
When we arrived in Winston-Salem, we were picked up by our host families. My host buddy is Vlad from Ukraine and we are hosted by Jim and Tamara Bess. Tamara is an elementary school teacher. Jim does something with pests, people say he is crazy, but they do not mean it negatively. Vlad and I love his jokes. Since he found pronunciation of my name Josef [Jozef] too difficult and non-American,  he simply calls me Frank. They have two sons. Collin is 17, same as me and Michael is older. They live as a typical American family, have a quite big, equipped comfortable and nice house in a suburb and five cars (for me unimaginable). 

About 5 pm we had a dinner in a Chinese restaurant. Jim told us that most of the Americans are lazy to cook by themselves and usually eat out. It could be one of the reasons why the American economy is so big, they always spend most of their money and do not save anything. Czechs would never pay money for such a big number of services if they can do then on their own and would never eat in restaurants if they can eat home.

Afterwards we went to one of the many supermarkets all around. Jim correctly called the U.S. as a "country of waste", they do not care how much waste they produce and just buy everything they can. Many people use just plastic cups, plates and cutlery as they are lazy to wash their utensils. Nobody cares if someone leaves the house for a week and let the air condition on.

In the evening we went to visit their friends nearby, host family of Lukas and Mark. The children in the U.S. are considered as children until they reach 21 (exactly according to the law). Adults stayed downstairs talking and we went to a game room to play table games. I found it funny as the last time I did this few years ago. Most of the children could have been over 18. Anyway, it was a very nice evening. 
Bess Family (except for Jim who was a photographer) with Vlad and me eating a breakfast

Saturday - July 11
We had sausage gravy with biscuits for breakfast. Breakfast is rather lunch than breakfast here, but I am already getting used to American food. We had a little walk with dogs in the park grounded by  local tobacco barons Reynolds.

The weather is hot and tiring
After a little lunch we went to old Salem, grounded by immigrants from Moravia. In spite of houses built in an American-British colonial style, I had an opportunity to taste Czech traditional sweets, which tasted originally. In the pictures I saw many traditional Moravian traditions, which are still kept. It was pretty nice and surprising, that the old Czech tradition got here and survived for hundreds of years. In Winston-Salem are many Moravian churches and people are generally proud of this tradition which distinguishes them from the other American cities, usually founded by Dutch and Irish people or Scots. 

They have Moravian streets, sweets, churches...
We never get to know where we are going. Jim and Tamara always want to surprise us. In the evening we all got in a car. When I asked where we we were going, Collin showed me where was the north. Later we were told we were going to a concert. Jim said it was a concert of Rolling Stones.  We approached some stadium and when we came in, we got to know that it were not Rolling Stones, it even was not a concert. We went on famous Winston-Salem car races. There could be over one thousand people, who were watching this popular kind of entertainment. They were right, if they told me it before, I would have never gone there. At least it was interesting experience. This is probably the real American culture. When cars crashed each other, people stood up and started clapping and cheering...
With Vlad enjoying local cuisine
Sunday - July 12
In the morning we both were busy doing our portfolios for the final project. Afterwards Jim and Tamara took us by car somewhere, it was supposed to another surprise. We passed stuff like Tobaccoville. They grow these plants everywhere, which makes the landscape much more impressive and exotic. After half an hour driving we got to the mountains, to the national (state) park Hanging Rock. The skyline and atmosphere of the mountains reminded me dozens of books by Karl May I read when I was younger.
Tobacco field

Saturday 11 July 2015

Trip to Washington 

From Monday afternoon till Friday morning we were staying in Washington D.C. We spend our time going to museums, having lectures and enjoying time together in this beautiful and a little bit crazy capital city of the U.S. 
Since I have been super busy recently, I am going to come back to this trip later and describe it more as it definitely is worth it. 

Thursday 9 July 2015

Our Trip to Philadelphia

Saturday - July 4
When I woke up, I met all the other participants and mentors. It was over 50 names to memorize, so, even I strove a lot, I got just some of them. We got on our bus and departed for Philadelphia. The journey was long, we spent the whole Fourth of July traveling. Despite of that it was fun.

About 6 pm we arrived at our hotel Hampton Inn located in the center of Philadelphia. We all were surprised how luxurious it was. My roommates were Carter, Giullio and Niko, we shared two double beds together. 

In the evening we went to see the city, that was my first real interaction with the U.S. The city center composed of old skyscrapers, abandoned warehouses and traditional Victorian houses was impressive, though I cannot say it was beautiful. It is different from Europe, especially the people and the way they express themselves in, their appearance and life attitude or accent. We had a pizza for dinner, I had two pieces and was full. I will have to get used to American food.
                                                                             Our room

Sunday - July 5
For breakfast we finally got some food which was at least a little bit similar to what I am used to from the Czech Republic. It was great, then we set out for Franklin Museum, which was done enjoyably and interactively, even the small children did not get bored during exploring it, the museum's creators in the Czech Republic should learn from their American colleagues.

After lunch we got our BFTF T-shirts and the visited American Constitution Center, where we initially watched a little bit stupid movie, as is usual in all American museums, and then learnt a lot of stuff about the American history and a long way to democracy.

After 4 pm we could do whatever we wanted, as every day. A small group of us was walked through the city and did some kind of sightseeing, we got on the suburb of Philadelphia, which was quite contrasting to the rest of the city (see the photos).

Suburban street
Suburban street

American (suburban) street

Our group photo in the T-shirts of the BFTF 2015

Monday - July 6
We packed our things up and then went to Independence Hall, where we got to see "original copies" of Constitution and other important documents, afterward, we got on the bus and departed for Washington D.C. 

Wednesday 8 July 2015

Arrival in Winston-Salem

On Friday morning I could finally set out for the U.S. My flight was long, it took me the whole day, about 17 hours, to get through Dusseldorf and Chicago to Greensboro, my final destination. Len, one of the mentors, picked me up at the airport and took me by his Nissan (made in the USA) to Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. I had considered this city rather as some insignificant town somewhere in the countryside of North Carolina before Len introduced me with its history. It used to be one of the centers of tobacco industry and it was grounded by Moravians and keeps the old Moravian tradition. It pleased as I am from Moravia. I had not been able to even imagine Moravians being known anywhere else outside of the Czech Republic, but here are obviously pretty famous and popular. My mother would be happy to know it.

It was late night when I arrived, so all the fellows were already in their bedrooms. I met some mentors and got basically recognized about the campus. I met my awesome roommates Sean and Gabin. We had a nice talk, I got the atmosphere of the BFTF that night. Later, I got to know that we were going to Philadelphia the following day. I could not imagine the next traveling after such a long journey. I was exhausted, since it was already morning in my country, and fall asleep.
With Sean after my arrival