Friday, September 27, 2013

Off to Oktoberfest!!!!

Tomorrow night, I leave for Oktoberfest in Munich with my friend/fellow TEFL classmate!!!  We depart from the train station in Prague at 5pm ish and arrive in will Munich around 11pm.  On Friday and Saturday night, we will be spending the night with family friends of hers, which is incredibly wonderful since that means a free place to stay!!  Then on Saturday, we will spend the day at OKTOBERFEST!!!  I am really excited just to see this in general, to witness all the gigantic tents just bursting with throngs of people, to sample some of the food being sold at all the different stalls and to just see what the deal is with Oktoberfest in general (since I hear so many people rave about it!).  I will be sure to write a long post all about it when I return on Sunday evening!

In other news, lessons went really well this week!  I had three home run lessons and one fail.  My favorite lesson that I taught this week dealt with personality.  I taught words like confident, arrogant, intelligent, outgoing, shy, dependable, thoughtless, cheerful and sullen.  As one of my study activities (meaning, once I have taught them the words, they now have to use them in activities), I put a personal ad that I had written up on the board on a sheet of poster board.  I told my class I would be going out on a date tomorrow with the man who wrote this ad but I was unsure what he might be like and needed their help.  Therefore, could they please read the ad and tell me, how does he sound?  What personality traits might he have, based on what he is saying about himself?

This was super cute.  They read the personal ad carefully, discussing it amongst themselves.  Then they told me, he seemed arrogant because he said he was very good looking (correct!), he seemed intelligent because he had three degrees (correct!), he seemed dependable because he doesn’t like to be kept waiting (correct!) and so on.

As the final task, we played (ready for this one English’s???) Charades!!!  This was such a hit and so great to watch.  I called up each student individually and gave them a trait on a folded sheet of paper (using one of the personality trait vocabulary words they had learned) which they then had to act out for the class to guess.  They were SO into it, attempting to embody this personality trait in broken English.  Totally adorable.  I really got a kick out of witnessing this, and seeing my activity go over so well!

Last night, I had to teach a grammar lesson.  I was assigned to teach the difference between Would and Used to.  My actual lesson itself was good, my activities and such; however it was so difficult to teach!  They ended up questioning me aggressively, indicating that these two things meant different things to them (when in fact, I was trying to teach them when and how these two phrases could be used interchangeably).  My observer had to step in and help me out a bit.  So that was kind of a bummer.

However my other two lessons, my lesson on Monday night (I was assigned to teach a reading lesson, so I had them read an excerpt from Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, the book about the Tarahumara tribe that runs hundreds of miles over the course of a day or two regularly, which they found absolutely fascinating.  They kept asking me “is this fantasy…”) and then my lesson tonight (another grammar lesson, I had to teach “At, In, On” in relation to time) both went really, really well!!

In other news, it’s crunch time!  Our TEFL course ends exactly one week from today.  In seven week, I will be homeless, as I have to move out of the school-provided apartments.  I am planning to live with one other classmate, my pastry buddy actually.  So he and I need to get on finding an apartment STAT.  I also need to find a job, STAT.  I need income again as soon as possible!  And in addition to these large looming issues: this week on Wednesday, we have our TEFL grammar test.  We are required to get an 80% on it to pass the course.  If we get below 80%, we have to retake it.  And if we get below 50%, we fail the TEFL course.  So that is riding on my mind a little bit right now as well.  And finally, we have TEFL homework due on Monday, and I still have one TEFL one-on-one lesson that I am required to teach.  This is all in the course of next week.

Oh and lastly, I was contacted by one of the top language schools in Prague about a potential interview!  They asked that I sent them an original lesson plan within the next two days.  This means I have to send it over to them by tomorrow (Friday) at 3pm ish, because after that I will be gone in Munich for the weekend!  So that is also stressful, as a lesson plan can take quite a while, and what they are asking for is super specific.

So a LOT is going on for me right now.  I will feel much, much better once: the grammar test is down and passed, I have an apartment secured, and I have a job.  Those three things will work wonders in terms of giving me some major peace of mind!

Fun food update: when I worked at the Danish Pastry Shop in Medford, one of my favorite pastries to eat was a cream puff.  A TOWERING puff pastry, light as air, a flaky pastry shell filled with thick, heavy, sweet pastry cream.  This was to die for.  However the cream was so rich and thick that I always felt slightly nauseous after eating one.  Well, I have found the equivalent here in Prague, except its lighter and does not make me feel ill after consuming one.

They are sold at the little farmers market down the street from my TEFL school.  This is more like a soft, fluffy, light donut that has been stuffed in the middle with with light, airy, sweet pastry cream (it is not as heavy, buttery and rich as the cream from the pastry shop in Medford, which I certainly miss, but this lighter cream has a more light deliciousness to it).  The top of the cream puff/donut is sprinkles with granulated sugar which is absolutely delicious.  This might be replacing the gingerbread star in my heart!  Eh, no that’s too extreme.  We will say joining the gingerbread star in my heart ha-ha.

In final news, I am reading a really good book that I love so far.  It’s called “A Hundred Summers” by Beatriz Williams.  To all of my female friends, though specifically Alex and Sarah, I would highly recommend it.  Here is the synopsis from

Dashing football hero Nick Greenwald is catapulted into the rarified milieu of Park Avenue penthouses and Ivy League campuses in the uncertain days of the Great Depression when he falls in love with Lily Dane. The meeker (though more polished), moral, and beautiful best friend of Zeldaesque flapper Budgie Byrne, Lily is immediately smitten with Nick’s determination and strength, an attraction the manipulative Budgie doesn’t encourage, though she doesn’t necessarily discourage it, either. After all, Nick is Jewish, and Budgie is confident that Lily’s socially conservative family will never condone the match. They don’t, and Budgie profits from the rift, marrying Nick on the rebound, while Lily nurses her broken heart. Seven years later, the Greenwalds turn up at Seaview, Rhode Island, the perennial summer enclave for the Danes, Byrnes, and other WASP stalwarts, and their renewed presence in Lily’s life unleashes a storm of unexpected consequences. Williams’ sweeping saga of betrayal, sacrifice, and redemption trenchantly examines the often duplicitous nature of female friendships and family expectations

I am really looking forward to reading more of this story during the train ride to Germany tomorrow!  Wow, how cool is that?  I get to say “on the train ride over to Germany tomorrow.”  I love it. 

Well, I am off for now.  I will return to my writing after this weekend at Oktoberfest!!!

“The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams.”

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

OUTSTANDING blog graphics...major credit goes to Ms. Jenn Rabin!!!

Real quick, I needed to post something giving credit to one of my dear friends, Jenn, for the absolutely AWESOME blog graphics you are now seeing before you.  Incredible, isn't she???  I was shocked when she sent me the link to give me a preview of what she had put together.  She is so talented (as you can see).  Please see her website below to view more of her creative talents:

Jenn is a graphic and web designer, a front-end developer and a UX enthusiast.

She currently works in Boston, MA for Talbots.

I met her when we worked together at Atlantic Charter Insurance Co.  We were not really good friends when we were coworkers, we just had lunch together occasionally, but we never got together socially outside of work.  We actually did not become friends until about a year and a half after I had already left ACIC!  We had not kept in touch at all within that time.  However, we stumbled across one another again, happened to have dinner one evening and really hit it off.

Over the past year and a half, Jenn and I have become close friends.  I now consider her among my best.  She is incredibly considerate of others, sensitive and thoughtful.  She is a wonderful listener, compassionate and caring.  She is silly, insightful and SO much fun to be with.  I miss her company very much.  She and I used to eat sandwiches together often (about once a week) at a cozy little cafe called Crema in Harvard Square, back in Boston.  I miss our weekly meetups big time.

Jenn and her boyfriend, Steve are also currently giving my babies (aka my two kitties), Bug and Olivia a home for the time being.  So they are both incredibly generous and kind friends.

Jenn, thank you again SO much for working so hard to make my blog look FANTASTIC!!!!  I absolutely love it!!!!!  I am so lucky to have you as a friend.

Food...upcoming travels...and missing good friends.

September 23, 2013

Day one of teaching Intermediate level students (aka a brand new class) is down!  The day went really, really well.  My new class is a group of just 7 students, as opposed to my class last week which was 11 students and I am loving this new group!!  They are funny and incredibly interactive.  The topic I was assigned to teach was a reading lesson.  I chose to share/teach a reading about the Tarahumara tribe who live in the Copper Canyons of Mexico.  I basically clipped an excerpt from the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (which I read last year).  This tribe runs hundreds of miles over the course of just a couple days.  They are known as “the running people.”  The book is all about this fascinating tribe, how they live and what they are like.  It’s an incredibly interesting story.  However I had to go through and simplify the language in my reading big time for my intermediate level class, because the excerpt as is would have been way too advanced in terms of the language.

Anyway in terms of the overall theme of my lesson, I did “talents.”  I opened my lesson with photos on the board showcasing various human talents (flexibility, super long hair, etc).  As an introduction/lead in, I had the students get into groups and discuss talents they believe they have, and a talent they wish they had.  Then we all discussed it as a class together.

After this activity, I passed out my reading.  They were all very into the topic, asking me questions about the Tarahumara, if they are a real tribe or “if this is fantasy” and more.  They read the passage, answered the reading comprehension questions I asked them about it on a worksheet and then we discussed it together as a class.

As my final activity, I split the small class in half.  One side of the room was given the power (aka talent) to be able to fly.  The other side was given the power to be able to read minds.  They were given a few minutes to discuss with their side why their power was better than the other side (in order to form an argument).  Then I encouraged them to debate with one another this point.  This was SO cute to watch!!  It took them a few minutes, along with some prompts and encouragement from me, but then they actually began to debate with one another.  They got into it, attempting with their limited English to reason as to why their superpower/talent/ability was better than the other team.  That was a lot of fun to watch!

And in conclusion, my observer said I did a great first lesson!  Woo hoo!!!

In other news, today I have been thinking a lot about food lately.  Specifically Czech foods I would like to sample while living in Prague.  I want to be a bit more adventurous in terms of trying some of the local cuisine.  I do think I will be skipping traditional dishes, such as the roasted pork knee (yikes!) but there are some other dishes that intrigue me in terms of giving them a taste.  Here is my list thus far:

1.      Short roast pork with bread dumplings and stewed cabbage.  As all of you know, I am not super into meats or foods like dumplings, but this dish does sound rather delicious and homey to me.  I will give it a go at some point in the near future!

2.      Pivo (aka beer)!  I have already been sampling the local beer, as Prague is said to have the best in the world!  I am enjoying it even though I have never been a big beer drinker, but the beer here is tasty for sure.

3.      Ovocne Knedliky is a fresh fruit dumpling.  I think this looks delicious!  They are often filled with strawberries, apricot, plums or plum jam, and then topped with deliciousness in the form of chocolate, cinnamon or powdered sugar.

4.      Palacinky are thin Czech pancakes similar to that of a crepe, but are made using a different type of batter and are baked using a different cooking method.  Looks delectable, huh?
5.      And finally, more sweets.  I love all the different pastry options here, of course!  So I want to branch out from my current favorites of gingerbread stars and chocolate croissants to try some of the other local specialties!!

Aside from delicious foods, I was also giving some thought today to my upcoming travel plans.  Within the next few months, as of now, here is the list of my travel hopefuls!

1.      Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest!!!  Luckily this is not a hopeful, this is actually happening.  Next weekend, Sept 27-29 to be exact!  I am SUPER excited for this.

2.      Christmas festivals in Germany.  From what I have read, Germany is the country with THE best Christmas festivals literally in the entire world.  And since I have a wonderful friend who lives there, could the opportunity for me to check this out really be any better?  I think not!  Therefore, I am planning to venture up there sometime during the Christmas season to partake in what is sure to be one of my favorite travel experiences thus far in my life.  The most magical Christmas festivals in all of Europe!

3.      Christmas in Prague.  Prague is another city where I have heard they have amazing Christmas festivities.  And since I am likely going to be living here during that time, I will most certainly be checking out the Christmas festivals here in Old Town Square.  I cannot wait!!

And finally, to sum up my primarily photo-based blog entry for the day, I have been thinking a LOT about my close friends lately, missing them all very much.  I miss being able to call each of you easily, at a moment notice just to say hello and make plans.  I miss seeing each of you in person all the time.  I miss all of your weekly (weekly at least for most of you) presence in my life when I was living in Boston. 

I LOVE living in Europe thus far, but the one thing I miss big time is the people I grew close to back in Boston, all of you!

Linz, I don't have any recent photos of us together!  We need to change that sometime soon ;-)

The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have.” – Anna Quindlen

Friday, September 20, 2013

BIG news!!! My first European travel adventure....

Thursday, Sept 19

Home run on my lesson today!!!  I am back in the game!  As I said in my last post, Monday I did really well (with my book theme lesson), Tuesday I did a mediocre job with my “under the sea” theme, Wednesday I continued on the sub-par quality level with my “planning a party” themed class while trying to teach future tense using present continuous (my instructor told me that the actual content of my lesson was great, the flow, the activities, etc, but I did not teach the grammar point correctly, which is obviously a paramount fail), however today I got a “boo yeah” with my lesson I taught using a health theme to teach the second conditional grammar structure!!

The second conditional deals with things that are not a reality, they aren’t actually real, but they are a possibility.  It follows a specific format, like the following: “If I won the lottery, than I would be rich” or “If I ate fewer sweets, than I would be healthier.”  The format is: If + situation + would + result. 

In following the health theme, the first activity I assigned my class was splitting them into four groups and then giving each group a “profile” of a character.  They needed to come up with 3 things this person could do to be healthier.  As in “If Bill partied less, he would be healthier,” or “If Nina got more sleep, she would be less tired,” etc.  They seemed to enjoy this activity and were discussing it animatedly. 

Then I introduced my target language (words like: healthy, fit, injury, unhealthy, gym, diet).  It was interesting; they didn’t know the word injury.  To initially elicit the term, I asked, “Does anyone know the word for when you hurt yourself?”  Then I mimed the action of being hurt.  People were stumped.  I began to write the word on the board, “I-N-J-U…” and they were still stumped!  I wrote out the entire word and pasted a photograph of an injured man (with a broken arm and leg) on the white board.  Understanding finally dawned on their faces, very cute.

After introducing all the target language, I gave them their activity which was to create their own health centers (after splitting them into four groups).  They needed to come up with reasons why their health center was the best.  So if people came to their health center, then they would….(fill in the blank).

After coming up with their pretend health center, they were all to stand up, mingle with one another and discuss their health centers, the various benefits each one offered by telling one another, “if you come to our health center, than you would…”  At the end, each group was given a ticket and had to decide which health center they would join and why (not their own) using second conditional “If I joined so-and-so’s health center, I would _____.”  The group who had the most people join won a candy bar, which I provided.  So sweet, they really seemed to enjoy it.  Everything went really well.

At the end, my instructor told me the lesson was excellent, I have great presence up there, great activities, very smooth lesson plan.  He said my only critique was I could tighten up my lesson focus slightly, that I needed to make sure when people were talking about their health centers, that they were actually phrasing things in the second conditional, but otherwise it was great.  He said I did more CCQing and more error correction this time around which was good (though I could do a bit more).

And finally, we swap levels next week, so we will have all new students.  My new level next week is Intermediate (as opposed to this week, my level was Pre-Intermediate).  Therefore, last night, the students in our class from this past week rated us in terms of what they thought about our performance anonymously.  I got all 9’s and 10’s!!!!!  I was so pleased and shocked by this.  So that was really wonderful and a welcome surprise for the conclusion of the week!
Prague at night
In terms of Prague life, as mentioned in a previous post, it seems I have found a pastry partner in crime, which as you all know is basically a requirement for me wherever I am going to live. I need at least one, though ideally many fellow pastry partners in crime.  I am working on building up a team, but for now, one works just fine!  Today for our usual break during class between 11 and 11:30am, he and I walked down the street to the farmer’s market next to our school and choose 3 different pastries to share!  We picked what was basically a crumb cake with a sweet cream cheese layer in the middle, a light chocolate cake square topped with a white fluffy almost marshmallow-like cream and then a thin bark-like layer of chocolate, and finally, a sweet cheese pastry filled with raisins (my least favorite of the bunch as I abhor raisons, thought the sweet cheese part was delicious).  We brought them all back to class, placed them on a plate, moved our seats across from one another for the tail end of our lesson and devoured our delicious sweets as our teacher taught class.  This certainly sweetened the end of the day, pun intended.  This is one of the things I look forward to the most during the weekday now, pastry runs during break.  Outstanding!

A gingerbread house of Prague Castle!!!!

In the meantime, I have been trying to jump rope 3-4 mornings each week before I shower, to make sure I stay in tip top shape and maintain my weight while enjoying all these phenomenal European pastries.  Plus I have always enjoyed exercising in general anyway!

Now for the BIG news!!!!!!!!!!!! 

Drum roll….

I am going to Munich, Germany next weekend (September 27-29) for Oktoberfest!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I am SO psyched for this!!!

I was not planning to travel outside of Prague at all before I had finished my TEFL course and prior to having obtained a job.  However this offer was too good to pass up.  A classmate of mine with whom I enjoy spending time with told me tonight that she was going to Oktoberfest alone next weekend and that she would be staying with family friends.  I asked if it was expensive.  She said her train ticket was only $100 USD round trip.  Then she asked if I might like to come with her?  She said her family friends have an extra bedroom and had offered it to her, if she would like to bring a friend along.  I thought about it for a beat and then said “absolutely.  I would love to.”

I made this mistake once and will never make it again.  During college when I studied abroad in Italy, at the same time while I was in Italy, an ex-close friend of mine was in Switzerland.  He invited me to come and stay with him and his family there.  I was a total fool and turned down his offer, as I was worried about money.  To this day, I wish I had gone.  I was so close to Switzerland, it absolutely would have been worth the extra money.  It would not have even been that expensive, maybe $200-250.

Therefore, with that lingering travel regret in the back of my mind (don’t they always say “in life, we tend to regret the things we did not do, as opposed to the things we did”), I thought about it and realized $100 for a round trip ticket???  Free housing???  And that is during Oktoberfest when every single possible hotel and hostel is booked solid months in advance.  I can easily eat for less than $50 for the entire weekend.  That means I am going to Oktoberfest for a mere $150-175 tops.  I. AM. IN.  So that is where I will be next weekend!!!!  I can finally start living up to the title of my blog!!  Next weekend will mark the first of my many future travels around Europe.  I am filled with excitement and anticipation!!!

Exciting plans for this weekend: tomorrow night, my friend and I (along with some of my TEFL classmates who I have invited along) will be going to check out U Fleku.  Its Prague's oldest and most famous beer hall!! According to my guidebook (1000 things you must see before you die), it's "the Czech beer experience. Raucous and rowdy."  It should be an excellent time, I have no doubt ;-)
Alrighty then, I am signing off for now as my German friend will be arriving shortly and I need to get ready…Ciao for now!!
More stunning Prague buildings.
“Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Teaching extravaganza this week, yowza!

This entire week has been a teaching extravaganza so far!!!  Wowza!  I have taught a 45-minute Czech lesson every night for the past three nights and I have another one to teach tomorrow as well!

To recap, my first lesson (on Monday night) went awesome!  My topic was books and I was assigned to teach vocabulary.  I taught my Czech students target language which included: genre, fantasy, drama, suspense, romance, bestseller, paperback and hardcover.  Eliciting and helping them understand “suspense” was difficult, whoa.  That certainly threw me for a loop.  You do not realize the slight difference between words until you are attempting to teach them to people who do not speak the language, that’s for sure!  They were stumped between the difference of “drama” and “suspense.”  I mimed out suspense, I tried explaining using limited vocabulary, it took a while but they finally seemed to get it.

For one of my activities, I split them into small groups and handed out homemade book covers to each group.  They needed to guess what the book’s genre is, if it’s long or short, a bestseller, paperback or hardcover. 

And for my final activity (there was a bit more between the introduction and the first activity, and then more between the first activity and the final activity), I split them into groups again, handed each of them an actual book (I brought along 5 of my own) and explained: one of them was a book salesperson, the other was a critic.  The salesman had to sell/launch their book to the other person.  The critic had to decide whether or not they liked the book and would buy it.  This was very cute, they loved it.

One of our students, Vladka, is a quiet 17 year old girl.  Long, straight curtains of brown hair, big dark eyes and a sullen, serious look on her face at all times, she has been a rather difficult one, especially in the beginning.  Whenever she is asked a question, she answers with a stern “I don’t know” in a strong Czech accent.  However during the last two lessons, she has slowly but surely warmed up and began talking a bit more.

Another student named Karel, an older man, who I would estimate at around 55 years old, heavier set with large reading glasses, he barely speaks at all.  And when he does, his face turns tomato red and he shakes.  However my two fellow TEFL students and I have found that during activities, if we monitor him closely and quietly but directly give him some extra help, a large smile will slowly and shyly stretch across his face, similar to that of a bullfrog ha-ha.  He is super cute.

Anyway, in terms of feedback for my first lesson, my teacher said the following: “excellent first lesson Brooke, very strong, fantastic job.  Great presence up there, great topic, you need to do a bit more CCQing (concept check questions) and give more error correction, otherwise though, great job, very strong lesson.”

Now for my second lesson: not so hot.  I was assigned a “listening” lesson.  I chose to play “Octopus’ Garden” by the Beatles.  Then I handed the class worksheets with the lyrics printed out but some words were replaced with blanks which they had to fill.  As my final activity (again, there was more between final activity and fist activity), I split the class intro groups and had each group come up with a sea creature.  They had to figure out what that creature eats, who its friends are in the ocean, what it likes to do in the ocean, etc.  Then they had to describe their animal to the class without saying the actual name of the animal, leaving the class to guess what animal it was.

The content of my lesson was really good, my teacher said.  However my lesson was too short, I didn’t have enough CCQ’s and did not give enough feedback/error correction.  Ugh!!

Now to today’s lesson: hands down the biggest bummer of all.  I had to teach grammar, which is already terrible in itself.  I was to teach future tense, using the present continuous.  I bet at least half of you reading this just thought, wait, what is that!?  Exactly.  The future tense deals with making plans.  So I decided to have the class plan a party as their overall main activity. 

Again, I was told my presence in front of the class was great, my activities were good, everything was executed well.  However I did not do enough error correct, not enough CCQ’s and finally…drum roll….I did not teach the future tense with the present continuous correctly!!!! AHHHHHH!!!!  Such a bummer, especially because I suspected this might have been the case when I was planning my lesson.  My instructor said it’s all good, we are still in training, that is neither here nor there so not to worry, but yes, ultimately I didn’t teach the correct conditional.  Damn.  Huge fail.

Tomorrow, guess what I have to teach??  I can either: try again with the future tense using present continuous (awesome), or I can teach second conditional (double awesome) (I bet at least 25% of you reading this just thought, what is that?  Am I right?).  So wish me luck.  And we will see how it goes!!

In other news…I have found a fellow pastry lover, one of my classmates is just as into having a daily pastry as I am, how cool is that!?  So he and I have taken to making pastry runs during our break every day between 11am-11:30am.  As I mentioned in a previous post, there is a farmer’s market stall next to our school Tuesday through Friday.  Our favorite dessert so far is a large slab of spice cake covered on top with a thin layer of apricot jam, topped with a very thin chocolate in the texture of a thin bark.  It is DELECTABLE!!!  And it costs 28 Czech Koruna, which is the equivalent of about $1.50.
Beautiful Prague.

Tonight after class, I joined five of my classmates for a beer down the street from our school, which was a lot of fun.  We all swapped stories and shared lesson laughs in the lively, smoky bar.  Ah, another thing I have to get used to here.  Many of the bars and restaurants allow smoking inside.  A huge, huge bummer.  Not all of them allow it either, it’s sporadic depending on the place.  You kind of have to just peer in the window as you walk by to see if it’s allowed or not.

And in terms of final exciting news, my friend from Germany will be visiting me this weekend, which I am really looking forward to as we have lots of fun together!  He is sweet, thoughtful and incredibly silly, so I enjoy his company very much.
More Old Town Square action!

Stay tuned for a delicious dessert blog entry, coming soon!!!



Sunday, September 15, 2013

Challenges and joys of Prague thus far

Whew, one wonderful and exciting week/weekend in Prague down!  I ventured to a bar with LIVE Puma’s on the prowl just outside within the bar courtyard for patrons to enjoy watching, walked all over Prague to a farmers market and then sat along the riverside with some classmates, went into the city on Saturday night for FREE museum night with some fellow classmates, met a wonderful Czech woman for tea and pastries on Sunday morning with whom I had been put in touch with by a friend from back home in Boston, and finally spent my Sunday afternoon Skyping with two of my best friends from home, my Mom and my Dad.  LOVED it!

At the Puma bar with my fellow TEFL-ers!

By the way, for those of you who have been waiting for these…here are some photos of my apartment, finally!  This is the apartment I am living in now which I will be staying at until Thursday, October 3 which is when our course ENDS!  That is already so soon, I cannot believe it.
The outside of my apartment building

The little courtyard where I jump rope in the mornings

My tiny bedroom with all my HUGE bags in there.  Yes, I am still living out of bags as unpacking them and having to re-pack them again in 3 weeks seems pointless. 

The other bedroom in our flat, my roommates room.


Cooking area

So I have received numerous comments and messages from friends and family about how amazing of a time it seems I am having, which I am!  Thank you so much, everyone!

However I also thought it might be helpful for those of you not doing a huge, exciting cross-Atlantic leap like I did to hear about some of the negatives or challenges of this experience so far.  Some relate specifically to the city of Prague itself; others are just general challenges I have come across in a situation like this, now having had to deal with it.

Challenges I have met so far in my venture include:

1.      The language barrier.  Czech is a difficult language, and a rather isolated one.  For instance, you do not come across many other people in different parts of the world outside the Czech Republic who speak Czech.  However you do meet many people throughout the world who speak languages like English, Italian, French, Spanish or German.  Many of the people here in Prague speak Czech and Czech only.  English is up and coming in Prague, many more people are seeking out the language (I would be out of a job if they weren’t!) but Czech is still the predominant language here, followed closely by German.

2.      Dog Poop.  This is specific to Prague.  It is prevalent, it smells (obviously) and it’s gross (duh).  You frequently come across smears or piles of it when walking down sidewalks, strolling throughout parks, walking in the street or alongside of city squares.  It’s a bummer, to say the least.  I am rapidly learning to keep my eyes trained on the ground in front of me much of the time when walking instead of in front of me!

3.      The Czech stare/Czech people slamming into you.  I have looked around on the trams during my morning commute to be surprised to find numerous women staring back coldly at me.  And as opposed to an American who would immediately look away, embarrassed to have been caught, the Czech woman continues with her cold hard stare, slowly raking your body up and down with her eyes.  This is both intimidating and rather uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of.  By some of the instructors at our school, it’s been dubbed “The Czech Stare” and it tends to be older females who give it.  And secondly, Czech people seem to have neither a personal bubble, nor the words for excuse me.  They will frequently just slam right into you while walking and without pause, continue on their way without so much as a glance or even an acknowledgment that they just touched you at all.

4.      Grocery shopping.  I have rapidly discovered this to be a daunting venture.  Not only does one know none of the brands, as they are all Czech of course, but all the writing is in Czech too.  Now you would think that just looking at products to clear up what they actually are would be easy and that any bonehead could do so.  Not as easy as you think.  For instance, lunch meats.  You cannot tell which one is turkey, ham, salami or whatnot.  They all look so similar and the Czech words for these products resemble gibberish.  Same goes for various cheeses and other meats.  Figuring out which milk is full fat, reduced fat, low fat and non fat is close to impossible.  Therefore, just selecting your products and deciphering what they say to make sure you choose the right item is a trying task in itself.  Now you arrive at the checkout.  They move fast, and tend to speak ONLY Czech.  Also, you are to bag your own items.  Each time, I have found myself shaking with nerves trying to open my bags, which of course always refuse to open, while the next person is being rung in and now their items are rolling down the chute mixing with my items as the cashier glares at me with annoyance.  Not a great leisure activity, that is for sure.

5.      No social network.  This is not specific to Prague but to this experience in general.  That has easily been the hardest thing for me about this so far.  I do not really feel any culture shock (yet…fingers crossed) surprisingly.  It just feels like a big, fun, new exciting city.  I do miss my friends though, a lot.  I took time to build up some truly wonderful friendships back home.  All of them are loyal, loving, kind, supportive, SO much fun to be with and just generally great people.  I am so, so lucky.  Their physical absence in my life is beginning to loom larger as time passes.  I miss being able to see my Mom and sister on the weekends.  I miss being able to call my Dad, brother and other relatives up any time I felt like it to say hello (now this has to be scheduled a few days ahead of time and on Skype).  I know I will build some of these things in time, some close friendships here and such.  But not having that right now is a bit sad.  I miss it.  And I miss those specific people with whom I grew quite close.  Of course, I have many superficial connections for now, with my classmates and such.  Some of these have potential to become closer ones (depending on where I end up teaching) but that takes time to develop of course.  So right now it just is not the same.

“Get a life in which you are not alone.  Find people you love, and who love you.  And remember that love is not leisure, it is work.”

6.      And finally, no income currently.  This is incredibly stressful.  I do not think I have ever not had an income in my life, since I was 14.  Maybe aside from a period of roughly 8 months in high school, but other than that, I have always had some form of money coming in from a job.  It’s a very unsettling feeling not having that.  I do have a decent cushion saved, and I will almost certainly have a job secured within the next few weeks.  So I know things will work out fine, they always do.  But the feeling isn’t great.  It’s a bit of a nervous, terrifying, unsettling and insecure feeling.  That is certainly a new experience for me.

And now, the things I LOVE about being here so far:

1.      The architecture.  It is absolutely gorgeous, ornate, Gothic, old, intricate, distinct, colorful, romantic, art nouveau, charming and just a constant point of interest for me.  I love looking at all the fabulous buildings all over the city.

These are three everyday apartment buildings, about two blocks from my flat.  Case in point.
2.      Being in Europe, in general!  As all of you who know me already are aware, I LOVE Europe.  I have always felt drawn to it, and every time I have come to visit and left, I miss it deeply.  There is just something about this continent that consistently tugs at my heart, pulling me toward it. 

3.      Being a stone’s throw away from SO many other countries is incredibly exciting.  I cannot wait to have a job so I can finally begin traveling!!!  At the top of my list as of now: The French Riviera, Bruges in Belgium, returning to Italy, see more of Germany, ski the Swiss Alps, Austria and Greece.

4.      Travel by train.  I know, flying is often cheaper and quicker, but there is something so romantic and so quintessential Europe about traveling by train.  I think it’s thrilling.  And I cannot wait to do it again.

5.      Old Town in Prague, it makes me swoon.  It’s romantic, magical and incredibly charming, all the Gothic and colorful architecture, I love it.

6.      Parks, there are TONS of them all throughout the city, with grassy expanses that Czechs love to lounge on, most of which are couples lying against one another reading, napping, chatting or picnicking.
7.    Prague is SUPER cheap, very affordable in terms of a European city, that's for sure.  As a few examples, 100 czk dollars is roughly 5 euros, which translates to about $6.50-7 USD.  Beer costs around 30 czk dollars.  That is around $1 USD.  And this is for a HUGE beer!  A pastry at the little farmers market pastry stall by my school costs around 20 czk dollars.  That is less than $1 USD.  And it is DELECTABLE!!  I purchased a few groceries for the week which came to 250 czk dollars.  That is around 12 euros I believe, which is about $16 USD.  Here is what I bought:

This will last me all week.  I will make that happen. 

8.      And last but not least, the PASTRIES!!!  How could I forget??  As with most European cities, the pastries are just better here than in the US.  To name a few that I have been consuming in my time here so far: chocolate croissants, trdelnik, gingerbread stars and spice cake.

An excerpt from my roommate’s book, Let’s go Europe, 2012, the students travel guide, which I feel described Prague accurately:

“Prague is a city of magic.  No really, it is.  Skip the tourist traps and everything that claims to be “authentic Czech culture” and open yourself up to one of the most enchanting cities you’ll ever experience.  Prague is neither sterile Western European capital, nor Eastern European post-Communist wreck- it’s caught somewhere in between daily reality and the realm of legends.  These cobblestoned streets were planned by Charles IV, the ambitious Czech king who dreamed up Prague the way it looks today (aside from the fast food restaurants, of course) and walked upon by Franz Kafka, the famous brooding author.  And then there’s the more recent specter of Communism, which left the entire country with a hangover as well as some peculiar sights, like a Mala Strana tower where Communist secret police spied on foreign ambassadors and Czech citizens.  Today, the giant metronome in Letna Park that replaced a statue of Stalin stands as a reminder that time ticks on.  This is also Prague’s most magical vista, with hundreds of spires piercing the air, the roofs merging into one big sea of red, and the glistening Vltava River bending its way around the imposing buildings and under pedestrian bridges.  And we haven’t even told you yet about the beer that’s cheaper than water, the cafes filled with easy-going locals and the art, which creeps around in all forms, from the subtlest jazz melodies to the heaviest of modern sculptures.  There will be moments in between, when all you see are other tourists breathing at your neck, Western shops turning the city into just another European capital and silent Czechs staring at you on the Metro, but it’s the moments of magic that brought you here.  For these, the entire trip is worth it."