Thoughts from Prague

Guidon Editor Sonja Jordan, whiling away time on the way to Prague, Czechoslovakia, to report on a Human Rights Conference for the Norwich student newspaper.

After many meetings, many email chains, and many nights of hard work at Norwich, Michelle Masperi and I found ourselves this week traveling 3,800 miles throughout the late night on a flight to Prague, in the Czech Republic, for an Interdisciplinary Conference on Human Rights. Invited to join the trip at the last minute, as both Guidon staffers and communications majors, our aim is to report on this conference, organized in part by history professor Rowly Brucken, who also arranged for a group of Norwich liberal arts students to attend. But first we had to scramble to get organized and pack and get to Boston for our flight.

The first flight was delayed 40 minutes and was nearly empty, with full rows of seats left unoccupied. I spent the flight dozing and watching World War II documentaries. I looked out the window and saw nothing but black, it felt like I was actually time traveling. Behind me, the baby who stared at me though the crack in the seat cooed quietly, and I dozed to be awoken by a woman with Swiss yogurt and the strongest airplane coffee I’ve ever had.

We arrived bleary eyed at a brief stop in Switzerland, where I purchased a small iced tea for the cheap price of $10, and had my first experience at customs. I got the very first stamp in my passport, and ran across the airport for a much needed nap at the gate. Simultaneous to our travel, a group of students from Norwich attending the conference with us were spending their layover in Dublin, where they drank real Irish Guinness at 6:30 in the morning (the only acceptable drink to have at that hour in Dublin).

We finally reconvened at the Václav Havel Airport Prague and filled two vans on the way to our hostel. Once we got the keys sorted, we broke apart into groups and went to our respective rooms. Nearly everyone slept for the hour we had between our arrival and welcome at Anglo-American university.

We showered using towels the size of plate mats. When our guide came to pick us up, he informed us to hold on while riding the tram, as we never know how drunk the driver may be and we run the risk of flying to the back of the vehicle, should he decide to floor the pedal.

Being in Prague is genuinely a surreal feeling. The air was chilly and filled with the sounds of a city so old, you cannot tell if you’re hearing the past or the present. Every building that surrounds you is older than your grandparents. Beer ads intertwine with the buildings, which is no surprise considering the Czech Republic is the #1 beer drinking country in the world. On the way to the hostel, one of my friends on this trip leaned over and told me the one word I really need to know was “pivo,” the Slovak word for beer.

What rights are innately human?
That is the question that drives us to have these conferences.

Anglo-American University makes its home in an old mansion, with spiraling staircases that seem like they never end. The courtyard has a café, where another girl on the trip and I tried espresso for the first time. The gardens have peacocks that casually roam them. Imagine getting in a debate with someone over who has the cooler school: Peacocks are the aces to lay down.

The night before the first day of the conference, I went to bed at 10 p.m. and woke up at 2 a.m., thinking it was closer to 6 in the morning. I have never felt the effects of being jet lagged ahead of your internal clock, but it was an odd feeling being able to message my friends at home with my roommates sleeping, while my friends at Norwich ate dinner.

The next morning we woke up and meandered down, dressed as if we were all going to job interviews. We ate breakfast at a table beside a bar, and then made our way to the Czech National Bank. The conference kicked off there, as we listened to why we need human rights, as well as what rights are actually human.

What rights are innately human? That is the question that drives us to have these conferences. For human rights to apply to all humans, we must realize as a species that all humans are born equal. However, that is not the case, and great atrocities have happened due to it.

A keynote speaker pointed out to us that human rights are easier to think of when we boil it down to the individual. She went on to point out it is easier to comprehend one whole life as opposed to thousand of lives.

When we broke for lunch, we walked to the metro on the cobblestone streets. The air was neither too cold or too warm. Every 30 feet was a stand for ice cream in round and puffy cinnamon cones. We walked down steps into Prague’s metro—the deepest metro in all of Europe – and rode the fastest metro I have ever been on.

Our three days here will be spent exploring critical issues that should concern all us at Norwich, in the U.S., and around the world. Stay tuned: Michelle and I will file more stories in the upcoming days.

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