Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hunting Jamboree

Because of my lack of teaching hours and my patience in teaching him, Milos is now my student. Sometimes I teach him for eight hours in a week, and sometimes we have no classes at all. It's very casual, I sit in his office with his dog Pink (the other dog, Floyd, died recently) and we slowly make our way through his pre-Intermediate book, with frequent distractions on Google earth or looking up words and then hearing stories from him, which I almost have to make up for myself, because his lack of vocabulary and coherent conversation leaves a lot to the imagination.
Milos has been taking English for the past 17 years and his status as a pre-Intermediate student is a very generous title. I feel that in some ways he's improving, but our methodologist, Vendula, said to not hope for much and to not get "depressed" about him.
Mostly the lessons result in utter disbelief on the words that he does know, introverted, anorexic, memories, theology, etc. and the words that he doesn't know, shy, slim, tomorrow, to think. My room mate Devon says that Milos seems to only have experience in reading English medical journals, which results in his colorful collection of vocabulary. I had to edit a research paper of his the other day, and I must say the scientific language was all used correctly, as far as I know....

This Friday was the most hilarious lesson yet. We made tea and went into his office and I said "Milos, what will you do this weekend?" So he proceeded to tell me about his past weekend. He has to pantomime a lot of what he says and when I suggested "hunting festival" he said no, no, no. Heproceded to look it up and settled on "hunting jamboree" for the event that took place in his village last weekend.
He looked up emails that had pictures attached and they were of his very Czech looking friends standing over the bloody bodies of wild boars, or "black pigs."
Milos: My friend.
Me: Wow.... did he kill the wild boar?
Milos: No, I kill the black pig. My friend only shoot it's legs, so I have to aim and kill.
Me: Uh huh.... Wow.


Milos: Here's more picture. (A lot of deer, pheasant, and boar carcasses strung up in front of spruce brances). Here is what we kill.
Me: what did you do with the meet?
Milos: we write numbers and someone shooooop (pantomimes picking a number) and they get the meat to take to home.
Me: which one did you win?
Milos: oh no, no one. I only am hunter.
I proceeded to ask him about why he would hunt and not eat the "delicous meat" and he gave me a long winded, flabbergasting explanation:
"In the autumn the woman pigs have to be eliminated. They are very self-conscious so it's not scary to hunt. But they have maybe 15 extroverted babies who are very aggressive. They eat the corn in the field and eat dogs and we eliminate them and have a raffel and the meat is very good. Here's a picture of us at dance."
Milos showed me a picture of a school gym and older people dancing, and on stage there was the collection of meat on display.

Milos knows I'm a vegetarian because when he makes soup at school for us to eat he always tells me, "Carrie, no meat. Very good."
This is just one of the many stories from Milso. Trust me, more to come.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Landlady Emails; A Collection

Now for some lighthearted sharing. (All in good fun.)


Goog evening,
I have some important information for you from Mrs. Krčmová.

The waste was blocked again. The reparation cost 1000 CZK, because had to come two servicemen with the special machine. It wasn´t possible to repair the waste by hand as last time. You will give me this money with the next hire. You must never pour out the rest of coffee nor tea or oil from pan to the sink. The rest of coffee or tea have to be discharged into water closet or given to the basket. The oil is neccessary wipe out with the paper from the pan and not wash the pan before.
You disobeid my prohibition - temporary not use the sink because of the waste disorder. Doing that you have been caused the repeated flowing out of the water into the kitchen forniture, which was considerably damaged.

The flat wasn´t locked. You should lock it, somebody could pilfer you.

So that´s all.


Good afternoon,

regarding to the complaint of your neighbours I want to ask you for observance of contract terms, where´s mentioned the behaving liability according to house order where the night calm begins at 22:00 hours!!!!
Thank you for performance of it.


Good evening to all,
I have again a message for you:

I hope, that the heating heats. Please don't let open the windows and close the door to the hall. In the case of that the consumtion will be higher, I have to heighten advancemets.

Best regards

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cultural Sensitivity

Everyday I try to be as culturally sensitive as possible, which mainly involves me trying not to be noticed as a foreigner. I don't want to step on toes and offend anyone, because this isn't my country and I have no more entitlement to live here than any other foreigner. And I already feel that I am asking too much, to have people speak English to me or to demand this service in my everyday life.
But there are obvious places where and when I will be questioned about my intentions here. Yesterday I was at the playground with the primary school children and the Czech teachers were there as well. Through a translator, my assistant teacher, the other teachers questioned what I was doing in the Czech Republic, and why, if I don't speak the language, am I here. I tried to articulate as best I could, what I don't know. They curtly thanked me for my information.
My friend Radek who I help with English, wants to know why i won't learn Czech, and seems offended when i say that it's very hard, and therefore sort of insurmountable. But really, I could at least learn a little conversation and please some people, to show them that I am at least trying.
My landlady doesn't speak English and therefore we have to involve her daughter in our conversations... isn't that a lot to ask? To live in her apartment and to demand, through our lack of Czech, that she speaks or uses English with us? She may be crazy and disrespectful in her own way, however we are disrespecting her as well through our language barrier.

Everyday I feel a twinge of guilt about living in Prague and not knowing the language; I feel sometimes that I am an English language missionary, spreading the language of 'Merica, furthering the globalization of American culture.
Of course, living and working abroad is an absolutely amazing experience. However, I often question my own intentions, mainly brought on by the above mentioned situations and inquisitive stares of the Czech people who I unintentionally offend when i don't understand them, or when I cause a faux pas which I am only semi-aware of. Such as sniffling, which apparently is very offensive, but men blowing snot rockets on the street is not....
I try to live here without an eye of scrutiny, but rather one of observation and learning. I wanted to write a post about all of the insane cultural idiosyncrasies that I've noticed, but not today, or this week, when I'm wallowing in doubt about what exactly I'm doing here.
I think admitting that it's purely selfish would clear the air a little bit. I'm here because I love Europe, I loved the year I spent here in college and wanted to continue living here. I'm teaching because it's the most available job for native English speakers, and I also enjoy it.
Simply, I am happier in Europe, living the way Europeans do... Dad probably created this yearning and identification with the general way of life here; extreme frugality, reusing napkins and paper towels; homemade everything, bread, wine, beer (and on several unfortunate occasions, ginger ale); guilt about everything, a victimized, pessimistic view of life which I've found is the main view point in Eastern European literature, and thus culturally.
I'm here because I love traveling and learning about new cultures. I live here because I want to and am fortunate enough to be able to. I'm here because I want to grow as a person by being outside my element. I'm here because I'm avoiding what would potentially be my American life after college.
I think the guilt arises from my reasons for living here, selfish ones, and from the things I unintentionally demand of others through my unavoidable lack of knowledge.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

My Favorite Places

While living and exploring in Prague I've taken a lot of photos, but often times I find myself taking the same picture repeatedly... Here is a collection of pictures of places that I continually photograph because they are so beautiful and warrant not one, not two, but maybe ten or twenty pictures.

This is a view of the "Prague Castle" (with the cathedral in the middle and the palace complex around it) taken from Charles Bridge.

Na Kampa Island. It looks like a quaint little town square, and is so peaceful even though it's next to Charles Bridge, the most crowded and touristy part of Prague.

Yes, another castle picture! Isn't it beautiful?! It's pictures and moments like this that help me have what my friend Julian calls "adventure moments." It's easy to become accustomed to the city and have a routine, but this helps me to realize how amazing it is to be living and working in another country.

This is a view looking east across Charles Bridge. Some of us stayed up all night to watch the sunrise, many bars and clubs later we made it to 5:30am and the view was completely amazing!

A view of Prague from the "Eiffel Tower" on Petrin Hill.

Along the river. Four of my friends live right around the corner, lucky girls.

Old Town Square.

The John Lennon wall.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Alternativ seems to be in a constant state of relaxed chaos. None of us have full time schedules yet, but the majority of jobs are at schools in the suburbs of Prague or in the business districts near to where Alternativ is located. Devon has a Friday night classes way out in the country, but that's a different story.(Needless to say, he comes home and showers while drinking a beer, because he "doesn't have time" to do these separately.)
As we speak my schedule has been town apart a little bit. But up until yesterday it looked something like this:
On Tuesday mornings I wake up at 5:30 to make it to Bujeovicka metro stop to teach a 7am lesson with Mrs. Zamberska. She is a secretary at a company which pays for all of its employees to have language lessons. Even though it is very early, and extremely depressing to arrive in the dark to teach and leave when the sun is finally lighting up the sky, I find this lesson to be very fulfilling. She's an intermediate student so communication is pretty basic, we've just started on one of the future tenses. Emphasis on one of. Apparently in Czech there is only one future tense; I sense a challenge ahead of me.

My other job is in the afternoons, five days a week at a primary school called Kunratice Skola. After two weeks of working there i finally learned how to pronounce it. I have a group of children 6 to 9 years old. Which is a huge age difference in every aspect. My favorite children are the 6 and 7 years old because they aren't corrupted yet...

I think this may have been the original school. However I'm in a different building that has been renovated and added to.

I take the metro for about 20 min and then a bus for another 10 through the old communist housing blocks (pictures to come) and arrive in what was probably an old village before Prague swallowed it up. It's a very quaint and peaceful area.

I arrive in the afternoons in time to eat lunch with the children and then help my colleague Linda to bring them to the classroom I teach in.
For about an hour I teach them new vocabulary and talk to them. Linda, who is Czech, helps me when the children need something that wild gestures and a few words in English can't communicate. After that I take them outside and play if the weather is nice, or we stay inside and paint or color. We have yet to use the kitchen to bake, I'm a little fearful of all of the factors involved in this:
-Children. Baking.
-Finding an English recipe, but then using European measurements.
-children. baking.

Then we have snack and play time.
I was semi upset that I traveled all the why to the Czech Republic to basically babysit every afternoon, however I see the improvements everyday. My training in teaching young children comes in handy, and comes naturally. I teach them phrases by hitting the floor and giving them a rhythm to attach to their words. When we learn new words we whisper them and then shout them... It seems chaotic, but a lot of the children couldn't communicate with me when I arrived, but now can ask to use the bathroom or to play games, or in one instance ask me how my lunch was, "Your lunch is good, yes?"
I think language and fluency comes very slowly, however with the children, now that they are comfortable with me, have no trouble mimicking everything i say (when we play games I say a word and they, without prompting, repeat it). Even though I'm not supposed to be teaching them a proper lesson everyday, because this is an after school program, i think that in no time I will have 23 new English speakers on my hands.
Which makes the discipline easier.

You better watch out, the Pope is in town

The Pope was in town this past weekend. There was a three day weekend because Monday was a bank holiday celebrating Saint Vaclev, or King Wenceslas, a king from the 10th century. I think there is something political about the Pope's visit, however I find it incredibly humorous that he's here because apparently 59% of the Czech Republic's population say they are atheist or agnostic. My friend Radek told me that "no one is religious." Yesterday he told me it was silly that the Pope came to the tiny Czech Republic because he only visits big countries, or rather, more important ones....
My friends live a couple blocks from where the Pope was staying and so I walked by a couple times and each time there was roughly 30 people waiting to see him emerge from his posh hotel suite into his waiting armored Audi. A strange juxtaposition with the thousands of people who wait to see him in all of the "big" countries that he visits.
Here is a link to an article that Devon showed me, that perhaps better explains the Pope and his visit:

Because my Czech is non existent other than Dobry Den, I can't really read the news and figure out if his visit was successful or not...

So in a country full of beautiful churches that no one uses for religious purposes, what are they used for? I've heard that they are hired out for weddings and other events that call for a beautiful space, but there is nothing spiritual about the events...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Employment! Alternativ Jazykova skola

After the course we, the newly certified English teachers, were sent off into the world. My good friend Nicole had to go back to California to finish her teaching contract there. My friend Barbara went to South Korea, Domhnall went to Japan in search of work but is now in Australia, Kliment to Ethiopia, Lowell to Romania to propose to his girlfriend, my Slovakian roommate Zita went back to England and then hopefully to Spain.... literally, everyone all over the world!
About ten of us stayed in Prague and therefore scheduled interviews and spent the next two weeks telling language schools why we were all legit people and why our skills were exceptional from all of the other applicants.... Prague boast over 200 language schools, and therefore we were all bound to find something, despite the economic crisis. And wouldn't you know that six of us found a job at the same company, Alternativ Language school.
I interviewed at Alternativ as well as another school I'll leave nameless, but found the latter to be a very strict and cold environment, not something I imagined for a place of learning. Also, on my interview at Alternativ I was told I resemble a Czech movie star.... can't tell you which one, though... the majority of what was said in the interview was very broken English and a whole lot of Czech. But in the end, I found myself with a job along side some wonderful and familiar faces, including the roommate, Devon.View from the balcony of Alternativ

A few things about Alternativ:
1) The school is in a house in Prague 11, a rather longish commute for us from Prague 3.
2) It seems to be a family affair. Tanja is the director. She has her sons working as receptionists sometimes, and her niece acted as the Guinea pig of a student while we were training. The best employee is Milos, the husband. His job description went something like this: "You have paperwork problem, talk to Milos. You have technology problem, talk to Milos. You're feeling ill, talk to Milos." There is also Vendula, the methadologist, who is a striking woman from the "Paradise of the Czech Republic." Her enthusiasm for teaching us, both methodology and Czech lessons on Friday is incredible. However I think it is aided by:
3) Alternativ Wellness, which is housed upstairs from the language school. They offer homeopathic medicine including messages and acupuncture. For the employees of Alternativ, they give a 50% discount. Although Vendula probably gets her services for free; I've counted three times now when she has come back from one of our ten minute breaks with around 30-40 needles in her ear for her "thyroid."
Dad says this place sounds like a Saturday Night Live skit. I couldn't agree more. However, I enjoy it besides the humorous aspect. There is always coffee or tea waiting and on Monday Milos gave me a piece of cake that Tanja had made over the weekend. To find myself sipping tea and eating cake while I lesson plan, well, it's great.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Moving Day

After my windowless room at the hotel I'm happy to report this is the view from my new room!

At the end of the course we had a champagne celebration and then everyone from the group went out all night long. I got home at 5am and then got up at 7 to pack up my room at the hotel to move to my new apartment. Needless to say it was a very hard day! The only time I've ever taken a taxi in Prague was to move...
I found an apartment in a neighborhood called Vinohrady, in Prague 3. It's about a half hour walk from my apartment into Old Town, but it flies by quickly because it is a beautiful walk through Wenceslas Square and through the winding, cobblestone streets to the famous clock. I live a couple of blocks away from the famous TV tower and one block away from Church of the Sacred Heart, designed by a Slovenian architect. The Church is very modern and far from being beautiful, but you can see the clock from my apartment and it's quite a silhouette at sunset.

My apartment is one block away. You can see the Church of the Sacred Heart and the famous TV tower.

This is the courtyard of my building.

I originally lived with two guys that I took the TEFL course with, Devon and Keith. However, Keith was unable to find a job in time to complete the visa process before his three month tourist visa was up. One doesn't have to be extremely aggressive to get a job, however the people who treated this as another study abroad experience ended up regretting their procrastination and paying for it with a crappy job, or in Keith's case, going back to the States.
Devon and I found a job at the same company and so we live and work together. He is from Scottsdale, Arizona and is a recent graduate like me. He has pretentious taste in music, like me, and is easy to boss around. Therefore we get along splendidly. He's a great guy and my closest friend here.
Keith's replacement is a guy named Pete. He's from England, and has been living in a lot of different places the past couple of years, including Australia and Vancouver, Canada. He and I have been on a run or two together and I'm happy to be living with him.

Me and Devon. I call him Strawberry because of his complexion and strawberry blond hair.

Of course any living experience wouldn't be complete without a crazy landlord. Ours isn't an exception. She's about 50 or so and is very particular about every detail of the apartment. She doesn't speak very much English, and I don't speak Czech, so her particularities come through in pointing at things and shaking her head or waving her hands dramatically and saying "No! Yes? No!". She also says "Hello" as a greeting and a farewell. So after yelling at us, shaking her head, pretending to pull her hair out, she leaves the apartment with a "Hello."
She also comes to clean the apartment every month when rent is due. Which sounds nice, however the relater told us this was so she could check up on things, to make sure we're not destroying the apartment. She also cleans our rooms, and we have a feeling goes through our things.... All in all I appreciate the cleaning however, because living with boys is hardly a clean experience.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Update for the past 2 1/2 months

Introductions Because post cards no longer suffice after two and a half months, and because they're expensive to send, I think my adventures here in Prague call for a blog. A way to communicate to the wonderful people I have left to come here to live and go on adventures for a while.... I have neglected every single person at home and abroad in part, because of the chaos of life here, the amount of people to write to is daunting, and the hardest part of traveling for me is being away from my loved ones; I therefore neglect them, which is terrible. This is my third attempt at a blog. My first was in London and the second was Vienna. This one however will be a success because I'm actually living here; I am a citizen of Prague, Czech Republic and not a student or a traveler. There is more routine to my life here and therefore more time to write and update. Also, in the future, this will be amazing to refer back to. Update
Synopsis of the TEFL Course For the past two and a half months, life has been nothing but chaotic. I haven't had time or energy to sort through the experiences, but here is a tiny and detail-less synopsis. When I arrived in Prague in July, I lived in Prague 9, a rather newish suburb of Prague. My neighborhood was called Vysocanska. It was far from the romanticized version of Prague that I had imagined.
Vysočanská metro stop

I lived in a hotel which was right next to my school, TEFL Worldwide. It was convenient, however I lived on the top floor which resulted in me only having sky lights for windows, and walking up 82 stairs multiple times a day. The four week course, to earn my TEFL certificate (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) consisted of classes in the morning on methodology, meaning how one exactly goes about teaching English in a realistic and understandable way. The method that I learned is amazing, and I wish that in all my language classes that I've ever taken I had learned this way: very slowly, with a focus on not translating from the mother tongue, but simply using the language. We had Czech lessons every Monday, so that we would understand how tough it is to learn a language, and how the teacher can actually make it easy and fun.
We taught our second day of the course. It was intimidating and scary! We were observed by one of the two instructors and graded on our teaching and given feedback for improvement.

Teaching the 3rd Conditional

Each week we had to teach two, 45 minute lessons to learners of all levels and ranging in age from 14 to 82. My favorite was the 60+ crowd. We also had to meet with a student for one to one lessons, three times. At the end of the course we had to turn in a 10+ page paper about our one to one meetings, the students abilities in reading, writing, speaking, areas for improvement, and personal observations. Within this essay we had to liberally use the proper language to describe our student, including Lexis, Phonology, and parts of the mouth where words are said, such as: unvoiced dental fricative consonants. To say the least, it was the most arduous four weeks of my life, but incredibly satisfying in our progress of learning and teaching.
The July TEFL class