“Can I practice my Czech with you?” my friend asks the bakery worker at the register.
“Of course!” he replies. “I’m actually practicing my Czech too!”
That was all that was needed for a conversation to be sparked.
Suddenly, we were asking him where he was from and how he ended up in a bakery in Prague. Within minutes we were learning his whole life story and listening in awe as he explained how he left Israel after the Ukraine war broke out and opened a bakery in Prague with his family just six months ago.
At the age of 26, Lion Tulchinsky is running an aesthetic bakery just outside of one of Prague's most popular street markets: Havelské tržiště. He and his family sell honey cakes — which come from a recipe given to him by his Russian grandmother — along with many other pastries and coffees.
He welcomed us with open arms and let us into his past with a smile.
When I returned later in the week to ask him if he would let me make a documentary on him and his bakery for my film class, he said “yes” without hesitation.
His family greeted me with smiles and lots of pastries the day I came to film, and everyone shared pieces of their life with me. I got to create a film about his amazing life and see the world from a different point of view.
A couple days later, our class went on an organized tour of Prague. The Council on International Educational Exchange, the company we were studying abroad with, gave us a tour guide who spent hours with us explaining the deep history of Prague.
Our tour guide was named Eva. Within minutes of meeting her, all of us wanted to be her best friend. She was open and genuine. She joked around with us and met our humor with quick comebacks. But it was when she began to open up about herself that we all truly connected with her.
Eva told us about how much the Czech people have been affected by the war in Ukraine. According to Eva, many locals in Prague have a Ukrainian refugee living with them or at least watching over them, including herself.
She told us how she has been taking care of a mother and her young son. The mother has cancer and has had to keep traveling to Germany for treatment. Eva spoke of her like a sister. Someone who she barely knows, yet she cares for so highly.
She showed us how much the Czech people truly love their country and how much love each of them has in their hearts.
Later in the trip, I met a young man who worked in the Berlin Icebar. He was Russian but moved to Berlin to pursue acting. He worked at the Ice Bar as a side gig while he pursued his dream. As he served the group of tourists in the bar, he told us his story and we got to know more about his life.
On our last night in Prague, we went to a bar that happened to have a massive hostel pub crawl taking place. The bar was swarmed with hundreds of people, but one really stood out to me.
As I talked with a group of the hostel volunteers, one of them tried to convince me to come volunteer with them. As I explained to him that I was still in college in the States, he pointed across the room to a girl who looked around 19 or 20 years old.
“She just dropped out of college four days ago and now she works with us,” he said.
I never got her name, but I talked with her for a brief moment where she explained that she was sitting in her college town in Ohio and she began to question what she was doing.
She told me she decided she wanted to see the world and within a day she had dropped out of classes for the following semester, bought a one-way plane ticket to Prague, and applied to volunteer at the hostel.
I stood in amazement, no idea how to respond.
On our first day in Amsterdam, we walked into a café that turned out to be a health food café, Pilates studio and clothing/thrifting store all in one. The building was divided into three separate rooms, but all connected.
As we paid at the register, we started wondering how the girl running the café got started. We learned she had a similar story to Lion. She moved to Amsterdam only six months ago and opened the store about five months ago. She told us it was a stroke of luck that the other owners in the building fit the healthy, sustainable aesthetic she desired her shop to have.
At 24, she owned a thriving business and brought in mass customers.
Since I was young, I have believed that everyone has a story to tell. It wasn’t until I discovered journalism that I realized I could be the one to tell it.
I found this passion in sharing stories from all around the world that otherwise wouldn’t be told.
Everyone has a story; you never know what someone's life looked like before you walked into it. The secret is, you’ll never know unless you ask.
Gentry Keener is a junior studying journalism and political science.