I have spent two of the past 3+ years living on different continents from my own. I have lived under a thatch roof in a former game reserve in South Africa. I have lived in a communist-era style flat in the Czech Republic. I have learned about different cultures and (however clumsily) embraced them. I wouldn’t trade the experiences I have had or the people I have met in those places for anything in the world.
One downside to my travels is I have missed out on the fall season the last two years here in New England. Fall in New England is my favorite season and place in the world. It gets colder but not too cold. The leaves are beautiful. Cross Country, my sport, is in full swing. Returning to America this summer I knew I had a job lined up coaching cross country. I was excited for all the expected reasons. The past couple months I have been able to live, breath, and experience the sport that I have missed for 3 years.
It all culminated this past weekend on an absolutely stunning mid-60s, mid-November day. My team had its last race, a regional championship against private schools from all over New England. My school had the privilege of hosting. Three large races were part of the race program. I could only take a small piece of the credit because I wasn’t the meet director but things went off without a hitch. People were giving me rave reviews about how well everything went.
After the day had ended I was exhausted from running around and yelling all day. It took me a good two days to recover. But it was a fantastic day and a fantastic way to end the season. South Africa was beautiful and incredible. The Czech Republic was fascinating and awesome. But there can be no doubt, sometimes Home is nice too.
I talked with my mom and sister last week. They are coming to visit in less than two weeks. I haven’t seen a family member since early July so this is exciting. I’ll get to show them my town and a bit of my life that I have been living here this year. One question they asked stuck with me. “So have you thought much about coming home in a few months?”
To be honest I haven’t.
I miss home. I miss my family, friends, New England. I miss people speaking English. I miss sitting on the couch in my family’s home watching TV. I certainly miss Dunkin Donuts coffee fresh from the shop. But I haven’t thought much about it.
I live in the Czech Republic. I eat pork and dumplings for lunch. I live on the 12th floor in a flat building. I drink Czech beer in local pubs. I sing worship songs in Czech at a little church on Sunday mornings. I teach English.
It’s my life at the moment. And I’m content.
Many of my students have little catchphrases in English that they use repeatedly because it’s one of the few words or phrases they know. One of them is “That’s all.” For example, “I like sports, nature, TV….that’s all.”
I’m here in the Czech Republic. I’m a teacher. It’s pretty neat. That’s all.
One of the fun things that almost everyone brings up but you never think of until you get over here is that the students don’t speak English. At least not fluently and certainly not confidently. To be fair I have to say the majority of my students can handle simple conversations and understand most of what I tell/teach them. However I have a few classes that quite literally know almost nothing. They speak to me in Czech without a second thought and have trouble reading short sentences in English properly. A fun challenge to say the least.
Another fun thing that Czech schools do is they substitute in-house. That means if a teacher is ill or absent they will just throw that teacher’s students into another teacher’s classroom. I would say this has happened about once every week or so on average here. Now if I spoke Czech this would be simply a mild annoyance of having an extra 10-15 kids in the classroom. But I don’t. And the students who get put in my class usually only take German, not English. Do you see where I’m going with this?
A funny side effect of this is students invariably have to go to the bathroom during class (heaven forbid they go in the 10 minutes before or after class…) But of course my German sub students have no clue how to ask this in English. One daring students however asked his english classmates for help and gave me this note a month ago,
“KAN AJ GOU TU FARMA”
I looked quizzically at this note for a second before I figured it out and students told me what he wanted. You, dear reader are probably confused. Let me break this down for you.
Kan=Can. “C” is very different in Czech. Whenever they have a hard “C” sound they put a “K” instead. For example California=Kalifornia. The English student probably told him “can” and he thought quite logically “kan.”
AJ=I. Czech is phonetic so every letter has the same pronunciation. “J” is always pronounced like “Y” in English. So when this student heard “I” again he logically produced “AJ.”
GOU=Go. Simple Mistake.
TU=To. Again simple mistake.
FARMA=?? Not a clue what he was going for here but perhaps it’s close to the German word for toilet? I kind of doubt it though.
The moral of the story is I often have to do as much thinking and deciphering as my students do when we are in the classroom. Oh, and I let him go to the bathroom.
I’m in Hungary this week for my spring break. Traveling in Europe has been cool. Partly because you get to see new and cool things but mostly because you get to meet up and, however briefly, reconnect with fellow teachers who I trained with and got to know very well back in August in Pasadena. It is really good to check out how different teachers are experiencing their year and how they do things in their country, town, or city. It is also cool if you get to go to church with them because it is a very different thing depending where you are over here.
The church that most ESI teachers in Budpest generally go to is a Calvary Chapel right in the middle of the city. While it is attended by and most of it leadership is Hungarian, the head pastor and a few others are American. So what you end up getting in the service is a lot of Hungarian/English combined. The songs are mostly sung in Hungarian, with English translations below. It was pretty neat.
We started singing a song and I realized we sang it at my Czech church all the time, except in Czech. Up to this point I had only been able to translate one line from the Czech : “Ja verim, Ja verim” (I believe, I believe). So the song was being sung in Hungarian but now I could see the English words below and realize exactly what the song is about. So I started following along and singing the English words best I could. When I got to the “I believe” part though, a funny thing happened. I just felt like singing in Czech. It just felt like the good, right,cool thing to do. So I did. While a song was being sung in Hungarian and being translated into English, I sang the one line that I could in Czech.
A small thing to be sure but it was also a powerful thing. It was a reminder of how blessed I am to be over here. And a reminder that God and Christianity is truly big enough for every culture, every country, every nation and indeed every language.