Interview with Virginia Baynum

Virginia went to the Czech republic for about two weeks last May.

What made you chose a trip to the Czech Republic?
Honestly, its because I heard about how great the city was, and I don’t want to go to a place that everyone goes to on their first time out of the country, because this was my first time out of the country. It has all that culture, so I thought that it would be really cool. Seeing the things that we did there, like going to the concentration camp, which I wrote about, I thought that would would be really beneficial because you can’t get that in the States.

What did you notice about the people you met?
I don’t mean to put down America, but they take way better care of themselves. If you just look at the people they’re way more put-together. It could just be the city atmosphere of it, but the city was very clean. You saw beggars, but they weren’t the type of beggars you would see in New York City. They left you alone. They didn’t come up and talk to you and ask you for money. That is one thing with Europe. Everyone left you alone. The people that owned stores and things like that, if you didn’t want to buy anything they didn’t bother you. No one pressured you for anything. I thought that was really different than the cities I was used to in the States.

In your story, you talked about writing and how everyone wrote. Why was writing so important to them?
From what I saw when I went to Terezin, being a writer, that was really interesting, going there, because it was a place where all these creative people went. They were able to write, obviously they didn’t write the things they probably could have written if they weren’t in a concentration camp. A lot of them wrote plays, stories, poems that I think they wrote because they needed to keep everyone’s spirits high. The children at Terezin wrote poems and you can get a collection of their poems called I Never Saw Another Butterfly. I think these kids needed to write because, when you first write at least, and how most people get into writing is you write about something that bothers you, something that they don’t like about their life, and normally its not very good but something comes out of it. These people have actual problems, so I feel like they can reach the emotions that we, who have very luxurious lives, cannot reach.

What was your most memorable experience?
I went to the Franz Kafka museum. That was a place I wanted to go to. It was so cool. You can’t take pictures inside, so I can’t do it much justice because it is something you have to see because its so bizarre and well put-together. I was just really looking forward to that. Not too many people wanted to go with me, but I think they missed out.

You’ll have to let me know what that is.
The first half of the museum is just Franz Kafka the writer, his life. He wrote Metamorphosis, The Trial, The Castle. He was born in Prague of German descent. He wrote all these surreal, absurd novels and short stories. I was really pumped to go there. The first half of the museum was his life, which was cut short. It discussed some of his novels, which were unfinished, unfortunately, and it discussed where his novels were probably going to go. That was really interesting. Then the second half of the museum was his stories and his characters, so it was really entertaining.

What surprised you about studying abroad?
Well, studying short, you have to stay so close to this group that you’re with. You’re with this group for a long time, and my group, I didn’t know anyone before hand, because there was only one other writer in my group, but they all knew each other, so they were very interesting. They were very nice to me. Not so much to each other, but they were nice to me. There was all this stuff going on. What I found interesting was that, and this is more so human nature than the trip, that nobody put aside their anger or anything in favor of this trip. People missed out on things because they were so angry at each other, so I was surprised about that. We were doing all these really cool things, and we were going to all these cool places. We did wine tasting while we were there, which I don’t think they’re going to do again, unfortunately. Me and one other person were the only people who drank all the wine and were sober. Everyone else got really drunk after a couple sips. It was pretty funny. That surprised me, I’d say.

What was the food like?
Really good. If you’re a foodie, I’d definitely recommend going. I was completely unfamiliar with Czech food. I come from a family that is half Italian. To me European food is Italian food so I was really interested to see the type of food there. They have this tray that you can get in any restaurant, and its going to sound disgusting. We all thought it sounded disgusting and then we tried it and we liked it. It’s this meat that they have in this sauce that they make and they have a side of cream, sort of like whipped cream, and cranberries. You’d have to sort of have the mixture of food, the meat and the cream and everything. Most of us were put off by it, but we wanted to try it anyway because its one of the big Czech plates. Once we ate it we had it a couple times after that. I wish I could find it now.

Would you go back and stay longer?
Yeah, I would. I think because there are so many places that you don’t get to touch upon. Prague is very touristy, you know, there are tourists everywhere, but the other places we went to had less tourists and they were nice and quiet and cool. I don’t think we really touched about everything that we could have. I’m not much of a traveler, which is why I went short. I get uncomfortable when I travel, but I was surprised by how much I liked it there. It was very interesting. I wouldn’t go to live there or anything, but I would go to stay longer and hit the places I didn’t hit and go back to have the food again.

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