Route J-1


From Burning Man Art to Black Bears, Our (un)typical year in America

Posted on Monday, October 23rd, 2017 at 12:29 pm.

By Eva Dolezalova, J-1 Short-Term Scholar from Czech Republic

Eva’s wedding day in Las Vegas, Nevada

You can see my husband and me on our wedding day in the picture above. If you guess that we married in Las Vegas, you are right. We married in 2012 and since then we fell in love with the USA. The breathtaking view of Half Dome at sunset will always be imprinted on our hearts. We were just tourists at the time, but we knew that we wanted to come back and stay a little longer to experience more of the life and culture in America.

A few years after, I applied and was accepted for a post-doctoral position at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. I should also say that something changed since 2012, my husband and I had a beautiful little daughter. I was worried about moving and about her, especially because I was a new mother, but we eventually decided that this was “the chance” not to be missed.

Eva hiking on Appalachian Trail with her daughter

We are now almost at the end of our one year-long stay. Your question is probably “Can you evaluate your stay?” Coming to the USA as a visiting scholar was a huge opportunity for my professional development as well as an enriching cultural experience. My husband and I wanted to try living as an ordinary family in the USA and not just as tourists. We wanted to see what is behind the scenes. I would say that overall our strength increased and we broadened our horizons. We met a lot of nice people who accepted and helped us adjust to life in the USA. We found an amazing group of people with children that go for a beer once a month to discuss everything from diapers to politics. This gave us the opportunity to try almost every brewery around Norfolk. Local beer is really awesome (and that means a lot from Czech)!

Because we love America’s beautiful wild nature, one of our main goals was to go camping during the summer weekends. What is better than hearing a sweet song of birds when you are waking up in your tent? Nothing, indeed! We went camping at several state parks around Norfolk area, but also to Shenandoah National park. We experienced the freedom that derives from peaceful wilderness.

Eva and her daughter enjoy Burning Man exhibition

One day following a hike with our daughter on my back, my husband and I encountered bears. It was pretty scary, because we were isolated in the middle of a trail in the forest. Just US, our little family, and HER, the bear mother with two cubs. The ranger’s advice is that you should clap your hands and the animal should leave. Unfortunately, this was not the case, so we spent 15 minutes motionless staring at quite a big black bear and her cubs. At one point, she was only 20 meters from us, so we decided to pass by her. She did not notice us and let us go by, probably because I was singing songs about bears. Our reward that day was not only a spectacular view from Bear Mountain, but also meeting a cute little bear family.

As I was walking to work every day, I noticed that the local Hermitage museum displayed several art pieces from Burning man, an amazing community of people that share, experiment and self-express themselves through interactive sculptures, performance and art. Moreover their motto was step out of your comfort zone, which I actually have done, so it was the right event for me to get involved in. I decided to volunteer at the Hermitage Museum, because I wanted to meet the artists and see how such an event is organized. It was a great decision because I realized that Norfolk is not just an ordinary concrete American city, it is awesome and vibrant city with a huge artistic community.

Categories: Program Spotlight

About G. Kevin Saba

Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange


G. Kevin Saba serves as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange at the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). In this capacity, he oversees the Exchange Visitor Program, which brings around 300,000 foreign citizens to the United States annually to teach, study, and build skills. He is the Director for the Policy and Program Support Division in ECA’s Office of Private Sector Exchange.

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