Nicole’s flat seemed to be perspiring with this ridiculously massive wave of love from the moment we walked in! Petr realized that he had been in the exact same apartment years ago to take photos of a famous Czech actress. The flat had obviously undergone quite a transformation since then – fairy lights littering the doorways along with scattered hearts covering the blank walls. Also, the spectacular 360 degree views certainly added to the wow factor. This place was epic, as was Nicole’s story.
In our everyday rat race we often see Mormons and other Christian denominations taking to the streets and preaching the word of their god to many, but rarely do we get a glimpse of the inside… And I’m not talking about the “garments” protecting their skin and decency. Nicole referred to Mormonism as not so much of a religion, but a lifestyle. Scroll down for a look at this lifestyle as well as her transformation and sudden epiphany that her future was in the Czech capital.
Where are you from Nicole?
I was born and raised about 20 miles north of Washington D.C. I’m an east coast girl. Really near the city, the suburbs I guess.
What brought you to Prague?
Hmmm million dollar question! The easier answer or the hard answer?
Whatever you want to tell me!
Dissatisfaction with my own life… A lack of fulfilment. And this wanderlust that was growing inside me drew me to travel. As a teacher I was working two jobs because I wasn’t earning enough to support myself.
Really? The salary is that bad?
I was in the best paid county. I served by night and I taught by day. I was averaging about 70+ hours a week and I owned my own home. Basically, I was doing everything on paper that was supposed to make me quote unquote “happy”. But I was exhausted and uninspired. Before I knew it 5 years had gone, I had done nothing. I also have this bizarre fear of ageing!
I think a few people do now…
So I kind of made a decision to make a drastic change, if I didn’t I would be 40 and still not have experienced anything outside of that current world. The grind of serving and the 9-5 job was tiresome. Once I was serving on “Cinco de Mayo,” a big Mexican holiday and which also happened to be the day before my birthday. I worked at the stroke of midnight and realized that I was officially 30 and elbow deep in people’s leftover food. I remember thinking to myself, this cannot be ‘it’! So I left, but it took two years. I sold my home and everything that I own basically. And I dragged my ass to the Czech Republic!
Why the Czech Republic? Why Prague?
Why not?! Because it’s an amazing beautiful city that is preserved. The harder answer is more practical; I was thinking about how I could survive in another country. The only talent I had was English, so I looked at the teaching programs. And decided on (plug!), the Language House TEFL Program, it made it possible for me to be here. So I looked into that and went ahead! It also happened to be a place where I could teach and travel at the same time.
And what did you do in DC?
Well, I actually… I’ve kinda been all over the place. I went to Georgetown University and I took a hiatus from school when I was REALLY young. It was meant to be 6 months and turned into 6 years. I ended up doing two road trips across the country. That’s where my wanderlust blossomed a bit. After that I leased apartments in Alexandria, VA… just outside of D.C. So I lived there a bit, then went to Maryland’s suburbs to go to school and get a teaching degree and began teaching in the public schools system.
So you taught in public schools? What was that like?
Yeah it’s an extremely high stress environment. You are highly under appreciated and highly overworked. I personally taught a lot of underprivileged students and found it rewarding, but very tiresome. You kinda feel like you’re being professionally taken advantage of. I never fell out of love with teaching though. A colleague put it well, he said that “he loved teaching but hated being a teacher”. I love the idea of teaching, but the conditions of the job sucks the joy out of such a noble occupation.
What are kids like in schools over there?
The population that I taught was actually really challenging. Quite a few students came from broken homes. I had one who was abandoned by their mother and lived with relatives, then the mother killed herself, and all the while this was happening I was trying to teach him fractions. The value system has been altered a little bit. It felt like an upward battle.
I like that you call it such a noble occupation.
If you take away education, you have a third world country. It became an ethical dilemma for me to stay in that job. I didn’t agree with the way the US not making education a priority.
A lot of people have a negative opinion on education in the US. What’s yours?
I would actually say that public schools are making an effort to make it better. In saying that, most of the students I taught were globally stunted, myself also being a product of that – when I came here I realized that there was so much I was unaware of in the world. I felt slightly ashamed that I was contributing to that disservice. We could certainly do a better job.
What do you do here in Prague?
I taught English but it didn’t really suit me. I now teach first grade at an international school. I do exactly what I do in the states, only I don’t have to work two jobs and I can travel. I think I’ve had more personal growth in the last six months than I have in the last six years.
By the way, there are a lot of hearts everywhere on your walls! What are you in love with right now?
I got depressed for a second (laughs) because I’m not in love with anyone right now! But I do love this city. Making out is a big thing here too.
Would you say there is more affection in public here than back home?
Definitely more PDA for sure! My roommates and my friends will tell you that for sure. On the escalators in metro stations! So much groping! I actually don’t mind it, it doesn’t bother me. Because somewhere inside… I am yearning for that myself! (laughs).
We all need a little groping sometimes! And now to a different page, I heard you used to be a Mormon? What kind of lifestyle did you lead?
Yes, I did. Good question. I was born and raised Mormon and practiced it for 19 years. They practice the faith religiously. But eventually, I fell away from the church when I was around 22.
I understand that Mormons wear a special kind of body suit under their clothes? What is that all about?
They’re called ‘garments’ and they’re for both men and women. They’re worn closest to the skin because it is a symbolic gesture of covenants made to God. They also stand as a reminder to maintain respect for one’s body by adhering to modest dress, since it’s not possible to wear immodest clothing if you are wearing the garments, hence no strapless dresses or booty shorts.
Did you wear garments?
No, you don’t wear them unless you’ve been on a mission or after marriage.
Tell us a little bit about other customs that are involved with it.
It’s pretty straight edge. I don’t think I said a curse word until I was way older. I didn’t drink or smoke or drink caffeine. You pretty much just live a healthy lifestyle. It is more of a way of life than a Sunday religion. I went to church every morning for Seminary before high school. We would also have church activities on a Sunday too. To me, it was my life.
Funny story though, when I was a senior in high school we were learning a section of western culture on the states. I was shown the movie Tombstone which is an R rated film and I felt that it didn’t coincide with my value system at the time. I had to excuse myself from the classroom, so I was pretty dedicated. It was well received by my friends, surprisingly to me! I had a pretty large social circle. Everyone was respectful and people admired my conviction at the time. I wasn’t pushy about it. Some people can be, like in any religion.
How have you changed now?
I’m an evil evil person! Sorry Mum! (laughs) Just kidding! There was a tragedy in my life that made me test my faith – I had personal disagreements with the church itself. I admire my family and friends who still practice. It’s an incredibly difficult way to live in society.
What happened to you to make you question your faith?
I was always kind of the black sheep in the Sunday school class. I would say things like “NO, I don’t want to stay at home and make babies. I want to work!” I was outspoken! It had more to do with the woman’s role in the church.
What are some things that you miss from this time?
Oh wow. You know there is a really really strong community and a sense of comradery with the people you see all the time and it is really quite lovely when you see people come together. Some of the most thoughtful people and nicest people I have ever met, some of them happen to be Mormon. I do miss that spirit of togetherness which I don’t often feel anymore. Maybe protesters feel that too when they’re fighting for a cause.
It was really really hard for me to leave the church. It was almost traumatic. It was hard for me to come to turns with it.
How did your family react?
I was terrified of how they would react. I underestimated them and their unconditional love, because they were completely supportive. They have supported me a lot. My Dad is a convert so he has a bit of free spirit. He hitch-hiked around the country and went to the original Woodstock! He’s had an interesting life. So he understood my leaving and my need to figure things out for myself.
How would you describe Prague in adjectives?
Oh gosh! Unassuming, unpretentious, it’s one of the reasons why I love this city especially because D.C. is so pretentious. Simple. I live a very simple life now. I work and make crowns and feed myself – it’s lovely. For me Prague holds a special place in my heart because it is the first place for me abroad. So I saw my first castle here. I had a legitimate tour-gasm. I was crying!
If you could go back in time and see anything, would what you see?
Oh my! If I could go back in time. Jesus!
(Laughs) Jesus of Nazareth the end. No, just joking! God, you know it’s so overwhelming. I couldn’t tell you honestly.
If there was a movie about your life, who would play you?
Probably Sandra Bullock. She’s a little perky, feisty, fun. Some of her roles are serious and some are not. She would be a good fit. I love her in While you were Sleeping.
Where do you hang out in Prague?
I did the Clock Tower Bar Crawl for a while so I’ve done the touristy areas. Now I kind of prefer the local Žižkov scene. I just started finding the gay and lesbian community too. I’m discovering a little bit of that. In D.C. we have such a huge gay community, so I was lost and missed that but I’ve been reintroduced and it’s been nice.
Who is really important to you here? Who’s been a great help?
My room-mates I really adore. I’ve been blessed to meet them and live with them now. But, the people who have helped me the most are the people that don’t live here. I was surprised by the support. It really cemented for me who my real friends are. My grandmother died last month and that was hard for me because I was away from home. It was financially impossible for me to go back and the way that they extended the love to me is beyond words.
You’ve just run the half marathon? I see some medals up on the wall.
This was my fourth marathon. Since I’ve been abroad, I ran Barcelona in February and the Prague Half a few weeks ago. I figure that what I’ll do is run my way through Europe. Running is always good and close to my heart. I make it look very painful, but it’s mine.
Written and transcribed by Ryan Keating. Photography by Petr Kurečka.