Four months ago, I moved out of my childhood bedroom and flew 15,000 kms away to teach English in a country I’d seldom heard of let alone been to- the Czech Republic. I was 22 years old and hadn’t been to Europe since I was 5. I’m now 23 (wow!) and at the time of writing have travelled through 8 European countries and spent a little time in the UK too. I’ve had endless adventures but I held a lot of anxiety and stress before embarking on this journey and this place I now call home; here are just 5 things I’ve learned along the way.
1. Living within the parameters of a new culture
I have lived in Australia with my family my whole life. Well, there was 1 year in Spain when I was 5y/o, but that doesn’t really count. So, this experience was the first time I had come over to Europe since 1999, and it was as scary as it was exciting for me. Having only really experienced Asian cultures before this I didn’t know what to expect but it has been eye-opening and incredible. I love the whole vibe of Europe and especially Prague, but there are a few things/ tips I would’ve loved to have known before arriving and settling in. The food is a little heavy - meat, bread, salt and oil – but of course the other options and endless and the grocery stores are stocked and incredibly cheap so you can always cook whatever your heart desires! The American fast food is really expensive compared to any other takeaway and traditional restaurant or grocery stores. During Communism, there was no McDonalds/ KFC so now it’s considered a bit of a treat and therefore the prices are high! So, stick to almost anything else! Bakeries are great and takeaway pizza is cheap as anything! Everyone says hello and goodbye – ALL. THE. TIME. This is a necessity. ‘Dobry den’ hello/ good day (Ahoj for someone you know) and ‘Na sheldanou’ for goodbye/ farewell. If you can forfeit your seat on any public transport to elders/ pregnant women or anyone in need. This is a nice rule to live by anyway but is super common in Czech- I’ve seen it done endlessly so you’ll definitely get a smile and a thank you if you do it too! The ticket machines at metro stations are really annoying and fiddly as they only take coins so definitely get a longer-term ticket at any ticket office (yellow booths) at most of the main stations (Mustek has a good one and they speak great English!). These cards are great as you pay ahead (1 month, 2 months etc.) and you just carry it in your wallet, you never need to even beep it just have it on you at all times. Also, the individual tickets from the machine always need to be validated at the little stands near the escalators as you descend into the station.
2. Alone time is precious but making good friends in TEFL was hands down the best thing that happened to me this trip- and will change/ influence the way you experience everything!
I could very well just be quite a nervous and shy/ anxious person, especially when faced with the prospect of moving to a foreign city thousands of kilometres from my family, friends and home country. Whilst I struggled with this concept leading up to the big move and once I arrived it was real and daunting, I was slightly distracted by this enchanting city. This fear was almost immediately abolished with the commencement of the TEFL course, and not only because this was a little daunting in itself. I think being distracted by a large workload and a group of new people whom I spent 8 hours+ a day with definitely took the edge of the whole new-comer-in-a-European city thing. Surrounded by such friendly, hilarious and down to earth people was easily the best part of the course and has been the stable foundation of my time here in Prague. I have made friends I hope to have for years to come and we have experienced things and taken trips that I may have never had the opportunity to be involved in without them. I live with four other TEFL teachers from my course and we have dinner together every night, hang between classes and have adventures/ take trips every weekend. It has been incredible to share this experience with them and learn to traverse the city (and grocery store) and Europe with them over this time. I know appreciate and relish in my alone time (my bedroom is my little sanctuary) but hearing them come home or smelling their cooking and running into the kitchen to investigate are the little things that have really made this feel like home.
3. The winter will be bad BUT has not been as crippling as I thought it would be.
Having never seen snow and being used to humid and gruelling year long Australian summers I had been told and was fully under the impression that by this time (October/ November) I would be in complete hibernation. ALAS, I’m alive and well and this morning I was up at 6:20am in the pitch-black eating oats getting ready to leave for a class (and I only needed two layers)! Although it’s definitely nippy weather (highs of 10-17 degrees still), and getting a little colder at night (6-9 degrees), it’s nowhere near unbearable!... yet.
I don’t want to speak too soon.
All I’m trying to say is that leaving the house is still easy and a few tactical layers make all the difference. The ease and skill with which the locals handle the weather also makes it much more manageable for the rest of us. They don’t let the cool breeze stop their; exercise, dog walking, shopping, eating or drinking! This casual disposition inspires me to get out and do things even when my feet and hands may be feeling a little icy.
4. As much as I would love to speak Czech fluently- it is by no means necessary to get by.
Obviously, another worry plaguing my mind before arrival was the small case of the language barrier. As Germanic English and Slovak Czech have little in common, apart from some familiar letters, and there are sounds in each that don’t exist in the other. I’ve been able to pick up some basic phrases but 80-90% of shop assistants in the city speak at least a little English so there’s no problem getting by. It’s a great feeling of achievement when I do slip in some Czech phrases undetected. Plus, Tesco, being the large UK conglomerate that it is, has everything translated in English so it’s easy enough to manoeuvre. The Google translate app has also just made my life a million times easier by adding the image capture feature where you can take photos of labels, signs, anything and translate instantly! Incredible technology!
5. Grammar is definitely my weakest skill- BUT it is teachable!!
Moving 15,000kms away to teach English was a daunting prospect but surprisingly one pretty integral element didn’t occur to me until much later- and that was teaching grammar. English was my favourite subject at school but grammar was never my strong suit, but is obviously a vital part of teaching English as a second language. As I got closer to beginning the course my I became more and more nervous about the grammatical details, and worried about my lack of knowledge. I speak, listen, read and write in English every day, and always have, but that doesn’t mean I can sufficiently or even slightly explain the subtle nuances and intricate grammar rules and theory behind the odd English language. The great thing about the TEFL courses are the experienced, friendly and hilarious trainers assigned to guide you through each module. I was extremely lucky to traverse a recap through grammar with an incredible American lady whose passion and respect for language awareness was inspiring and made our classes with her extremely enjoyable. By the end of the course I finished this module with an 85% on the final grammar exam, and implausible achievement for me, and now it was time for me to use this knowledge to teach others. As nerve-wracking as this seemed to me at the time the grammar lessons always went really well. With a little more structure and presentation in these lessons you really have the opportunity to explain the grammar concept clearly and use many examples to reiterate the rules- great for students and teacher! PLUS- the textbooks always have a teacher’s copy that explain all concepts in depth and can give you some great lesson ideas!!
To sum it all up so far!
It has been an intense and incredible journey through which I’ve learned a hell of a lot about myself and my life. Living and working in Prague was presented and then embarked on at a time in my life where I was feeling a little lost and I needed some change and a challenge of a different kind. I’m endlessly grateful that I took this opportunity, and even though it hasn’t been easy it has truly changed my life and reinvigorated my journey.
Bella is an Aussie with a sense of adventure! She's living and working currently in Prague, Czech Republic, as a TEFL teacher.
To see the TEFL Heaven program Bella chose to start her adventure, see the Teach English in Czech Republic Program