Americans January Newbanks and Tasci Gibson are old friends from the same town in Zanesville, Ohio who, as teenagers, bonded over their mutual love of travel. In 2004 January came to visit Tasci, who has lived in Prague since 2003 and fell in love. In fact, she loved it so much that in 2015 Newbanks, her husband, and their daughter permanently relocated to Prague.
The duo’s easy friendship translates well into a conversational podcast that originated during a dark moment in the lives of many: the state of emergency and subsequent lockdown measures which essentially brought the entire Czech Republic to a halt for a period of several months this spring.
Gibson says that it felt natural to process what was happening together. “January and I have over 25 years of friendship behind us. We’ve done a lot of talking over the years. It’s what we do best when we are together. We’ve been through all life’s biggies together (birth, death, marriages, major life-changing decisions), so it felt natural to want to record this time of experiencing a global pandemic.”
As the Czech Republic emerges from quarantine, a little wary, a little relieved, and more than ready to reconnect, we checked in with the hosts of From Quarantine to see what’s next as quarantine draws to a close.
What was your quarantine experience like? Any memorable or challenging moments?
J: I think my biggest challenge was the podcast itself. Our initial vision was that we would talk for fifteen minutes every day about what was going on with us and Europe from our vantage point in the Czech Republic. However, it quickly became apparent that we had a lot more to say. Before we knew it we were sometimes talking for thirty to forty-five minutes regularly and taking on topics that fascinated us and answered some questions from the listeners who gave us feedback. Production for a podcast that length is time-consuming, especially with a twenty-four-hour turn-around, but it was definitely a labor of love.
T: I teach business English. I travel around the city to my students’ offices and help them navigate their individual language needs. From one day to the next my entire classroom model changed in March. I began to teach online with very little notice or experience. My students were gracious and supportive. There was new technology to adjust to and there were devices to update. I have a dog who can sometimes be quite a character in the middle of a lesson. And no matter how good the technology is, it does not quite capture the face-to-face chemistry.
What moved you to start a podcast about the subject?
J: As we watched the world and the Czech Republic react to the WHO declaring a global pandemic we realized we had a lot of questions about what a wide-spread shutdown would look like and we decided to use the platform of a podcast to both record what was going on in our own lives and what we saw going on around us. Neither of us being journalists but both of us being curious observers of global politics, psychology, and sociology, we decided we wanted to approach our project with humor and positivity with little tidbits of what would hopefully, be helpful info sprinkled in.
T: I remember that January and I were talking the day the State of Emergency was declared. I’d been spending a lot of time on the phone that week with friends and family around the world talking about the pandemic. I made a remark to Jan something like, “It’s too bad we don’t have a podcast so we could let everyone know what’s happening in one go.” And she said that that was a great idea! Why not start a podcast about our experience? And so we did.
Were you inspired by any particular format?
J/T: Some of our favorite podcasts are built around two or more people discussing ideas and research whether that be What You Missed in History Class or No Such Thing As A Fish. We wanted to riff off of that model but with a more personal epicenter.
What are your favorite podcasts?
J: This list could be really, really long: This American Life (the OG), What You Missed in History Class, Making Sense with Sam Harris, POD Save America, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History.
T: It’s like choosing a favorite child! No Such Thing as a Fish, BBC’s In Our Time, The Infinite Monkey Cage, Off Menu with Ed Gamble and James Acaster. (But that’s just to name a few!) I love humor paired with history and/or science, which BBC Radio4 does well!
Do you follow any Prague/Czech podcasts?
J: My favorite Prague-based Podcast is Strong Sense of Place. Melissa and Dave, the hosts, are fellow expats and friends. I also listen to CZECHMATE, and a couple of Czech language learning podcasts.
T: I listen to Radiožurnál from time to time but it’s easier to have some visual input when I’m listening in Czech. Although he isn’t a podcaster, of course I adore The Honest Guide on YouTube. I think that the genre of podcasts is an up and coming force in the Czech Republic. Even a year ago when I mentioned the word “podcast” I had students who were unfamiliar with this medium. That’s changing and I’m excited to see what people are creating.
What has been the response to your show and who are your listeners? Do you have a most-popular or most engaged-with podcast?
J: I think we were both surprised by how much feedback and engagement we got from our listeners. We have been surprised by the number of people who have reached out to us personally and on social media to give us feedback. Our listeners are primarily in the US and the Czech Republic, but as we’ve interviewed other friends spread out all over, we’ve picked up listeners in other parts of the world as well.
T: We’ve had a real range of people reach out to let us know they’ve been listening. I know that my students are listening while exercising or cooking lunch, as if they don’t hear enough of my voice during the week! My roommate from university told me that she feels like she’s part of our conversation and finds herself answering us as she listens.
Our most devoted fans are a retired couple in Maine who listen every day while they eat lunch and send us glowing emails. I think the episodes that people really gravitated to in the first week or two were the personal discussions about quotes that inspire, how to cope with anxiety, and connecting to loved ones.
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What has been your personal favorite episode and why?
J: I have loved all of our episodes with guests, but if I were to pick one with just Tasci and me, it would be the episode from March 25, entitled “Your Hopes Not Your Fears.” It was an episode all about the words that were inspiring us at the time, be they poetry, prose, or notable quotes. It was personal and uplifting just having the conversation with Tasci and it was really special to get to share it with others. I’ve also really enjoyed our more science-related episodes like “Soap Is The Real MVP.” Doing the research for an episode is really fun and it still remains our most popular episode with our listeners.
T: I also like “The Mystery of the Missing Toilet Paper” because it is something that seemed transparent at first glance but was much more intricate once we started digging.
Will you continue on with the project now that the restrictions are lifting?
J: We have transitioned From Quarantine to a weekly format after we finished the initial thirty-day project. We are now a couple of episodes into our season two and we plan to keep putting out episodes throughout the summer. In September we have super-secret plans to launch a more permanent podcast that is still under wraps right now. We are also doing a little spin-off series on the history of Pandemics with Daniel Schmidt who is a history teacher in the UK.
Dan is an amazingly talented educator with a really colorful personality which is great for a podcast partner. We are excited to release those episodes alongside our normal episodes throughout the summer. We have both really fallen for podcasting so I think you’ll be hearing from us for a while.
T: I ordered a new microphone this week so I’m in it for the long haul! Subscribe to our podcast and follow us on Instagram and we promise to keep up our lighthearted take on life in Central Europe for a long time to come.
Anything else you want to say about quarantines, podcasts, or quarantine podcasts?
J: We hope to continue in the vein as we publish new episodes and speak to new guests on From Quarantine throughout the summer and our new project that we launch in September will be somewhat of a pivot, but we want to keep the feel of chatting with us over coffee about ideas and goings-on the same.
T: The From Quarantine podcast allowed me to wear my anthropologist hat. We did research about interesting topics. We looked at how different countries and societies were acting and reacting. And from this experience, I came to appreciate this moment in history, unlike any moment before it.