Extended Stay Cultural Exchange

Edward and B.J. (Barbara Jean) Skinner arrived in Letohrad, CZ mid-March 2017 for an extended stay sponsored by the ECCB congregation there. The mission was to integrate into both the church and local communities. This was accomplished by arranging independent housing and encouraging self-sufficiency in travel, logistics and cultural interaction.

As we progressed into the experience we soon learned that ‘Flexibility is the Key’. Anything could be overcome with a bit of ingenuity and perseverance with some personal encouragement; always a way forward.
As mentioned above, ‘Independence is the Goal’ and we soon learned to appreciate that greatly. We had visited Letohrad several times previously, but only for a couple weeks. By integrating into the daily life around us, we gained a completely different perspective from our former abbreviated trips.
And finally, ‘Community is the Reason’. Community is the most important force in modern society; it provides identity and self-worth in today’s hurried world. Both the church and local communities were welcoming and forgiving to a couple self-absorbed Americans.

Cultural Take-ys:

We noted three broad cultural categories in which life in the Czech Republic differs from the United States.

The most prominent one which is readily evident is transportation; Czech mass transit systems are excellent and nowhere duplicated in the U.S. to the extent they are there. There are ample trails and access to roads for bicycles and pedestrians; local commuting is composed primarily of walking and biking to work and shops whenever possible. Automobiles are evident of course but tend to be smaller, more fuel efficient and easily maneuvered. Of interest is the fact no large commercial trucks are allowed on the highways over the weekend; inconceivable in the U.S. Also, there is a zero tolerance for alcohol for both automobiles and bicycles; a fact which encourages alternate or modified mobility.

The second category we noted was commercialism & shopping. This viewpoint was, necessarily, from a small-town perspective and will not necessarily apply for larger cities. Generally, local stores close early daily and usually on Saturday afternoon and some even on Sundays. (There were exceptions including the local Vietnamese convenience stores and the chain supermarkets.) People tended to shop more often and for more fresh products. Products are selected for more pragmatic reasons and seen to be less driven by marketing and sales.

Thirdly, we noticed a marked difference in approaches to daily life. There seems to be much less paranoia; it is not uncommon to see kids unaccompanied on busses and walking alone downtown, in parks and at the edges of the wooded areas. Extended family activities are the norm and Sundays especially display this tendency. There is a strong environmental focus with emphasis on recycling and alternate energy sources.


To say the least, our time in Letohrad was one of the most memorable experiences in extended memory. Now I, Ed, have lived in several places outside the U.S. during my Navy career, but they were all in context of an extended U.S. presence. This was the first time I have integrated into the local society and it was a very uplifting experience. B.J. has spent several weeks up to three months in Australia, Singapore and Sweden on extended business trips and did have a flavor of what to expect but this was not exactly comparable. We both highly recommend that anyone can benefit from a similar experience.

Some factors? We were both retired and had the time and resources to take on the adventure. It would be highly beneficial if a younger couple or group could do the same, but the practical factors of daily life make this difficult. Optimum would be to have one or two youth to visit but one of the primary requirements, that of living independently, would probably not be advisable unless the youth were at the level of personal responsibility to maintain a separate residence. Such an extended period would be impractical to be hosted by a member of the congregation. In short, extended stays would be situational, case-by-case, rather than regularly organized. Also, the level of scheduled programming requirements would have to be tailored to the individual to guard against excessive commitments adversely affecting the overall quality of the experience.

Week-by-Week Scheduled Programs & Activities


Primary activities focused around services at the church. At least monthly we participated in the service at some level; these included readings, communion, and social activities immediately following the service. During Easter week, we conducted a Christian Contemplation event; a very short Lectio Divina followed by a brief meditation period. Typically, afterwards we might be invited to someone's house for lunch or join a family at a local event, visiting another town or going for a walk.

One Sunday during the summer, we developed a complete Iona Service. The service was taken from an Iona worship book and focused on the Creation Liturgy. Bible passages from Genesis and the Psalms were used as the primary readings. Also included was a five-minute meditation with music background. Other music included mostly Czech songs specifically chosen for the occasion but also featured an English language song “Morning is Broken”.


Shortly after arriving we were approached with the proposition of taking over the English classes for one morning for each of the two basic schools (i.e. elementary school) in Letohrad, Kamenského and U Dvora. Monday mornings were designated for Kamenského basic school.

We were asked to cover three classes for grades 7-9 (Czech designation) which included kids aged 13-15 years old. Although the teachers had curriculums and lesson plans, we were asked to create lessons based on our material. The one point to note was that the classes were sometimes shifted, and we never were totally sure who we would be teaching, making it challenging to get new material to the students.

Of interest was the school cafeteria. The food was superb! We were invited to have lunch and we never missed the opportunity to do so. Also, the cafeteria was also open to the public and members of the community-usually the older ones- would drop in for a take-out meal. There was free and easy access to the school by the local community.


In addition to the basic school classes, we were not anticipating the approach by a couple members of the Letohrad congregation asking for some beginner English classes. Accordingly, we began meeting on Tuesday evenings with about six ‘Advanced Beginners’. The classes continued throughout our stay and turned out to be one of the highlights of our commitments.


Of our anticipated functions, the Wednesday night ‘discussion groups’ were probably the most appreciated effort. There were two separate classes; Advanced and Intermediate.

The focus of the sessions was to encourage discussion and move away from ‘technical’ English lessons. Accordingly, those who attended had a reasonable grasp of English (Intermediate) or a notably good understanding of English (Advanced); we did have a couple outliers who struggled through the sessions but obviously enjoyed the adventure.

We tried to choose topics which had relevance for both the American and Czech cultures. One topic, Education, lasted three separate nights and generated a lot of interesting comparisons between the two systems. Other topics were suggested by the group such as Mass Media and the designated session called “Rabbit Hole” in which all brought in stories or other subjects of interest.

By far the most interest was shown to the topic of ‘slang’; a topic which fostered a lot of discussion and interest in both the linguistic characteristics as well as the meanings of the slang- both English and Czech.


Thursdays did not have a regularly scheduled class but were composed of varying activities depending on the particular week.

These included such events as the Seniors Coffee Hour in which we relied on a translator to discuss church related issues (i.e., missions at First Presbyterian).

A couple weeks we lead the Bible study sessions using biblical imagery followed by a short contemplation session. These two lessons received a lot of attention even though the attendance was not overwhelming – those there really enjoyed the diversion.

Thursdays were also designated for the Letohrad church and the local Catholic church to combine resources to visit a special needs facility in Žampach, a neighboring town; groups singing, and just general interaction was the task of the day.

Thursdays were also targeted for our monthly Community Lecture Series. We conducted four formal, translated lectures; one per month. The lectures included The Election – Trump vs Clinton; Trump’s 100 Days, Healthcare and Racism. These lectures were definitely highlights of our time. The audience was very informed, and the subsequent discussions were challenging and informative.


Fridays followed a similar format as Monday’s except we went to U Dvora, the other of the two basic schools (elementary) in Letohrad.

This too was an exceptional experience as we interacted with these bright and determined youth. The classes levels were the same as Monday’s classes and we were equally well received by the teaching staffers. Also, we were treated to lunch and enjoyed chatting with the various teachers who happened to be in the lunchroom at those times.


Generally, Saturdays were ours to plan and we would walk, bike, take a local bus trip or attend a concert somewhere in the near vicinity... or just sometimes chill in place and enjoy the quiet.

Special Programs & Activities

Family Vacation Week:

One week in August was designated family week.  There were almost 50 people total, with at least half of them kids below the age of 10 or so.  We traveled and stayed a week in a facility in Dedov, in the northeast part of Bohemia. 

This area includes the Broumovsko Protected Landscape, a region with breath-taking stands of limestone rock formations. The week was a very good bonding experience with the families and friends from other areas of the Czech Republic as well as other European countries. There were ample family adventures with hiking, biking, and various programs by various members of the Letohrad congregation.

Personal Activities

In addition to our formal activities, we had several occasions to enhance our extended stay experience.

These included a couple events sponsored by the English Language Rotary Club of Prague. We attended the annual Rotary Dragon Boat Races and had the unique opportunity of a pre-dawn bike ride in Prague; a beautiful experience of biking in/through the city without the maddening crowds usually associated with tourist season.

Additionally, we had the chance to travel to several wonderful locations within Europe including: Bratislava, Slovakia; Budapest, Hungary; Waclaw, Poland; Czestochowa, Poland; Krakow, Poland; Lago de Gaurda, Italy; Rovinj, Croatia; Paris, France; and various locations throughout the Czech Republic.