I have lost the ability to eavesdrop on normal conversations. I stand at the bus stop completely tuned out from the world, hearing only white noise.
Nothing is wrong with my ears (although many have accused me of this after learning I love John Mayer and One Direction), it’s just a side effect of the expat life that no one bothers to warn you about. They tell you about the exchange rates and how much you’re going to love walking to the store and the lax drinking laws, but never about missing the sound of your language.
As it is now, I only hear English on the trams, at night mostly, from traveling 18 year old Americans who are already drunk at 7pm. It doesn’t inspire much confidence in my country as a whole, from me or the Czechs.
But I’ve jumped ahead of myself and this is a bit of a long one.
This is a story about how to move to Prague.
Step one, go to Rome.
When your dad gets the offer of a lifetime—to bear witness and report back the amazing events of canonization in St. Peter's—don't take it lightly.
Plead to go with him, pay your way, work for your supper. Go to Springfield to get your passport, at a tiny town courthouse that is more familiar with handing out gun licenses than international travel documents. Patch up old luggage and buy a new ID tag for your camera bag. Plan on wearing scarf neck ties and brown leather sandals, and watch Roman Holiday just in case you need to remember how to spot the Gregory Pecks.
When you get there, scramble out of bed at 2am to battle crowds of millions in the square, meet Charlie Rose, and forget about going to the bathroom. Feverishly update Instagram. Speculate whether that helicopter is security or Pope Francis. Fall in love with cobblestone streets, and nuns on cellphones, and the pace of an ancient city.
Rent a Vespa on your day off and get lost in a parking lot on your way to the Spanish Steps. Get sidelined by irate Italia police, have a mozzarella and veggie panini, take pictures of graffiti.
Wander. Not a little bit, but a lot. Down dead ends, before dinner, after dinner. Wander instead of sleep.
Eventually all of this will seep in. You'll be packing to leave and realize it's not just how much you love Rome, but how much you're not ready to go back to what you left behind. You'll square off with the bus taking you to the airport, maybe once, maybe twice. You think about grabbing the suitcase. You think about running.
But you don't.
Later, you get off the bus. You say goodbye to new friends and you walk through security. You sit for one miserable, hellish Sunday flight. And on Monday, you go back to work, and you try—you really do—to get back in the groove of things.
You won't notice it, not at first, how your brain is always somewhere else. Your computer is open to pictures titled "Global Contest Winners," your nose is buried in Nat Geo photo coffee table books, your fingers always itching to write about underground bakeries with orange cronuts instead of the task at hand.
Then something in you has to break a little. Because whole people don't go looking for themselves on the other side of the world.
So you start searching. Maybe a lion rehabilitation program in Nairobi, maybe a conservation project in the Great Barrier Reef. There's no endgame yet, you're just curious about questions that have no answers. You fill out forms, you make inquiries. You leave everyone, yourself, hanging.
After weeks and months of this, you think you'll never be brave enough to accept any of the offers. That's when you see it, a hospitality program in Prague; the kind you were after before you graduated into the real world and traded wanderlust for the American Dream.
And then, when it’s dark and early and cold in the house, while the rest of your world is sleeping, you buy a ticket.