I Wish Someone Had Told me…

This entry might sound depressing at first but give me the benefit of the doubt until the end. It’s happy, positive, perhaps even corny so just keep reading, thanks.

It’s been five months since I arrived I’m at the halfway point of my year here. Term 1 ends this week with Term 2 beginning in a week. A good time to be a bit reflective, yes? So I came to the realization yesterday about the one thing I wish someone had told me before I left America to come here. I received a lot of training, got a lot of advice and knowledge. A year in South Africa also helped in feeling like I could tackle this next year. But one thing was not mentioned and I wish it had been. It is the following: If the first month or two is awful don’t worry about it. It gets better.

Now to be fair this was told to me in a bunch of different ways. ESI is (in?)famously known for drilling the idea of “low expectations” into our lowly first-year teacher heads. They give us as much heads up as can reasonably be expected. I’m not trying to blame anyone and I’m certainly not going for a pity party with this entry. The reality simply is, the first few months can be really hard. South Africa was nothing like this. On the surface I suppose that’s obvious but it goes deeper than that. A different language, less tangible support day-to-day, not many people you know in the area. I suppose the easiest excuse I could use was I had a medical issue with my nose and that was just stressful. But at the end of the day the heart thing was I just wasn’t happy here at first.

So where am I now? I’m thankful beyond belief to be content. Teaching is tiring and not always fun but what job is? I don’t feel overwhelmed by it anymore and while teaching English might not be in my future, teaching something definitely is. I have become great friends with fellow ESI teachers and those friendships will be one of the great legacies of this year for me I think. I have helped start one English club and participated in another one regularly, meeting some great students. I feel like this is my job, my life at the moment. Is it always fun? No. Is it always exciting?Not usually. But it is slowly, inexorably getting better. And I am content and feel blessed.

So final thought. If you go somewhere different and it sucks well yeah that’s supposed to happen (if it doesn’t you are indeed truly blessed). Give it some time. Pray. Keep trying. Trust God. And things will work out.

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I did it…I rode the bus…

This week my ESI teachers and I will reach the halfway point of our year here overseas. At times like these it is good to be a bit reflective on where we are and where we are going. Today I want to talk about adjusting to the culture here.

I have learned a lot. I’ve learned enough language and culture to feel reasonably comfortable in a restaurant and to read a menu. I’ve learned how to fill out the class book at school for every class and to sign it every time I do. I know where mostly everything is in the supermarket, though there are still surprises from time to time. I have gotten a lot of experience on the domestic and international train and buses here. But one thing I have not dared to attempt is…ride the local buses in my town of Sokolov.

Let me explain. I teach at two schools every weekday that are a mile and a half apart. My flat is very close to one and not so close to the other. So everyday I go to one school, teach in the morning there and then walk across town to the other and then walk home. My daily round-trip commute, if I don’t include any detours, is about 3.1 miles. Utilizing the local bus system here in my town would seem like an obvious choice. It’s cheap and it goes everywhere. So why have I walked for the past five months?

It’s mostly fear of the unknown. Learning stop names and bus routes and numbers and times, it’s hard to master, especially if things are in a different language. But that was the small thing. What I was really afraid of was stepping on bus trying to pay and not having a clue how to do it or how to ask. So I just avoided it and walked. Frankly, I’m kind of tired.

But last night I finally asked a teacher who has been here a long time what to do and expect.  Our train station is a 30-minute walk from our flat. It is no fun at all. I decided to try it. I waited for the bus, got on bus, paid for the bus, rode 10 blissful, not cold, sitting minutes in the bus. I got off and turned my head and my lovely green flat building was right in front of me.

The moral of the story? It pays to take risks when you live in a new culture. Because let’s face it…walking in the cold stinks.

This is Home.

First the facts. I am in a wildly foreign country to my own. The language is different, the buildings are different, the school system is different, the way people sneeze seems different. It’s pretty crazy to consider all at once.

Now since I arrived here in Sokolov in late August I have had the opportunity to travel to three other countries (the joys of being in Europe, right?). They are, in order: Hungary (4 days), Germany (1 day), and England (12 days). Each time it was really neat being able to visit and see different buildings and people. But it was also a bit shocking and disconcerting. In Germany and Hungary I didn’t know a word of the language. I didn’t even know the proper way to say “hello.” In England I knew the language (which was great) but the culture is still very different than America. I felt often in each place like I stuck out. In short, I didn’t feel at home.

The funny thing is each time I traveled abroad I kept having this feeling like “I want to go back to Czech, where I know stuff.” I have been completely immersed in this culture for over four months. I hear the language whenever I leave my flat. I go to the restaurants in town, I shop in the supermarkets. I walk 3+ miles around town on a daily basis. From time to time I see people I know on the street and say hello. While there is still so much I don’t know, much has become familiar. It is weird to say but in a very real sense this place has become my home and it is the place that, more so than any other place on this continent, I feel comfortable. Life isn’t easy but at least the country I live in is growing on me.

I saw Fulham!…and London too…

So this is my last night in London and as I should be horribly tired and busy with travel and school until probably Wednesday I thought I should give a recap while it’s fresh in my mind.

I ended my trip by going to my favorite English soccer team, Fulham Football Club (they play in London). As an American it’s hard to follow and get into European soccer but this is where the best players play and so a few years ago I picked Fulham as my favorite, most because they seemed interesting and had around five Americans at the time (they still have one). I been learning and following ever since. Going to this game today was undoubtedly the highlight of my trip. Fulham didn’t play great but they won and it was a great experience as a fan to be able to watch them.

Why was it so great? One word: atmosphere. British soccer just has it. In American sports, you have jumbo-trons, cheerleaders, time outs, distracting music. Often you’re so faraway from the action it doesn’t even matter. Here in Britain it is different. It’s just the fans and the soccer. Fulham’s stadium fits just over 25,000 people. The stands go right up to the field, you are so close to the action and players. No big screen, just a scoreboard with the clock. The fans know exactly when to cheer, clap and chant, it was awesome. I must also say the away fans were fantastic. One entire block of stands behind one goal was filled with fans of the other team and you couldn’t help but feel their presence. They chanted, jumped, jeered. They were magificent. I’m glad they went home sad but thanks for the effort guys.

So here in short are a few other things I did in London.

  • Went to British Museum and saw the Rosetta Stone.
  • Went to Tower of London and saw crown jewels and lots of cool, old stuff.
  • Went to a Church service in Wesminster Abbey. Very cool.
  • Saw Buckingham Palace and walked around a lot of London.
  • Met up with a few friends and had lunch and hung out in a London Pub.

So now I fly back tomorrow just in time to start teaching again come Monday morning. But it was a great trip and I’m sure after a few days I’ll be readjusted back to the lovely land of the Czechs.