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Let the Journey Begin!

I began my journey with CIEE in December. Over the last seven months, I have received good news after more good news. Yes, there were definitely some stressful moments but I feel pretty fortunate overall. (I haven’t received word about my employee card application in a while, so hopefully no news is good news. Fingers crossed!) There are still several apprehensions that I have as I leave for Prague in one month from today, but CIEE has helped alleviate most of my stress. Now, I begin to pack and gather resources to take with me on this excursion. I look forward to documenting my journey through this blog and cannot wait to share more about my experiences both in and out of the classroom.

I'm officially an employee at ZSMS Klecany!

It was quite a process to get here though. Here are some details.

Visa applications at other embassies:
If you're applying to get a work visa through any Czech embassy besides the one in Chicago, you can send your application in by mail. Make sure you check and double check their lists of requirements, which can be found on their websites, but then go ahead and send everything in. Remember it can take 60-90 days to process your application so do it as soon as you can. However, it is possible to live here and volunteer at your school (for 90 days I believe) before your visa actually goes through. So have no fear! Your school just can't pay you until you get your visa.

Visa applications at the Chicago Embassy:
If you do apply to Chicago, you must schedule an appointment and appear in person with all your documents in order. If, for example, you live in Nebraska, you apply to Chicago and yes, you do still have to come all the way to the embassy to be processed. They'll go through them with you, making sure you have everything, fingerprint you with their little scanner, and send your things on your way. A fact I learned, teachers do not need a vacancy number, which people in other professions definitely do need. I had to go down there more than once to sort out things, but luckily for me I live only about an hour and a half north of the city so it wasn't too bad. Now, as big of a pain as it might be to have to go in person to the embassy, take comfort in the fact that I (because I am a procrastinating bum and because of some red tape (the vacancy number thing, the translation of my school contract wasn't correct etc)) did not get my application sent in until the 8th of August. (Let me repeat, the eighth of August. And yes, I was supposed to leave on the 22nd of August. And yes my job was supposed to start on the 5th of September. You might notice that there were not 60-90 days between my application processing and the start of my job. There weren't even 30 days.) However, the Chicago embassy is truly magical and I got a call on the 6th of September saying my visa had been processed and I could go to the Ministry of the Interior to pick it up. I was the last of us CIEE Teach Abroad in Prague teachers to apply and the second to get that call. 

Ministry of the Interior in Prague:
You will need two appointments here (but luckily for me I got three!). The first will be to sign some papers that are all written in Czech, take a picture, scan your fingerprints, and receive a form to bring with you next time, which says you must also bring some stamps. And the second will be the appointment to actually pick up your official employment card. 

As you might imagine the ministry is a very busy place even though there are several different buildings all over Prague. You set up an appointment (actually CIEE will do it for you) go to your assigned location (someone from CIEE will meet you at somewhere close and take you there. Be extra on time. That's very important), get your number, wait for it to be called, sign the papers, go home, come back in two weeks, sign some more papers, and take home your card.

(Fun fact, the ministry workers do not speak English and they have no hired interpreters. This won’t mater for a CIEE teacher because you’ll have a Czech-speaking CIEE employee of a Czech-speaking CIEE dorm buddy, but it is kind of an interesting tidbit that the place that every foreigner from every country all over the world will have to go to at least once during their employment does not employ interpreters.)

This is no longer directly Visa/employment card related, but my Czech employment card from the Ministry made it possible for me to activate my bank account here so I thought I’d note that.

During orientation CIEE will schedule time for you to go to AirBank to set up an account in your name where your school can send your direct deposits.

In order to set up the account you must provide two accepted forms of ID at the bank. For everyone with a driver’s license and a passport this was a totally painless process. (Quick note: If you have an American driver’s license you don’t need to read this. It won’t affect you.)

Lucky for the rest of us though, AirBank will not take a State ID card from the United States. I told several employees there on several different visits to the bank that is it exactly the same document minus the part where it says I can drive. No go. They would not take it. They tried, but it wouldn't go through their system. Of course, this literally means that if you can’t drive in the United States you cannot open an account here, which I also told them. And since the reason for my not driving is a visual impairment I then told them that they were essentially telling me that since I have a disability I can’t have a bank account. (Obviously this is insane!) I was polite because it wasn’t the fault of the people helping me set up my account and they were nice to me, but I didn’t conceal the fact that it’s really terrible they won’t accept a State ID and that I really hope they bring my situation up to someone with the power to make the necessary changes.

So I had no bank account until about two weeks ago. I had the debit card but it and the account it was associated with it were inactive because I hadn’t provided two forms of accepted ID.

(On the bright side, ultimately my lack of bank account didn’t really hurt anybody. It did cost me a little money because I had to use my American card instead, but since I could not be paid it wasn’t as if I had thousands of koruna laying around somewhere. Really no harm done.)

But now that I have my employee card I can be paid so I really do need the account to work so what do I do? Well, the day I got the card, I went straight to the bank and said, “Hi, here’s my American passport and my Czech employment card also my American state ID! Let’s activate this account.” Everything went smoothly and now I can be paid.

In summary, all of this is an adventure. Congratulations to you for reading all about it.

Just watch it. It's the cutest. He thinks he's a dog.

A short update from me in Klecany Square

What's goin' on in Klecany?



Lots of fun things that's what!

About two weeks ago one of my students invited me to go horseback riding with her. I love animals so, naturally, I said yes and since then I’ve been spending a lot of time with Cezana, Stazka, and Denis. Cezana is stubborn but she can be sweet. Denis, who is actually a pony, always thinks I have food in my pockets and Stazka is an angel except when she smells apples. Then they’re all she can focus on. Just to tell you how chill she is, I fell off her back last week (landed in sand so no harm done) and she barely even noticed.

This past weekend Klecany held a welcome for new neighbors get-together in the town square and Andrea, Milan, and I took the horses to the square to give some kids rides. I saw some of my students as well as some of the kids who come to the horse riding club and met some more parents. I speak and understand more Czech than I did when I first got here and it’s always fun learning how to communicate. And even if we can’t say much to each other just going and sharing the experience of being together is important.

A quick fun story: On the way back from Klecany square we had to ride up a pretty steep concrete ramp. Milan walked Denis since Denis is too small to bare more than 40kg. Andrea rode Cezana because Cezana cooperates better for Andrea than she does for me, and I rode Stazka, who you have to ride bareback because they don’t have a saddle that fits her. I’ve ridden both up and down a hill in a saddle before but bareback was something new. Ironically I was more nervous to go down than I was to go back up. We went down going to Klecany square and I was worried I’d slip off but Stazka is a champ and we made it just fine. Slow and steady, as they say. Going back up though I almost fell off her again because she had to gather a little speed to get up the ramp and I didn’t expect that (silly me!) and I had no stirrups to brace my weight in. But nobody panic. I definitely avoided the extreme inconvenience that falling would have been and we all made it back safe and sound.

In other fun language news I realized that I had an entire conversation with a perfect stranger entirely in Czech yesterday. Baby Czech on my part and slow simple Czech on hers, but I can express myself better and better every day. I learn random words from anyone who will teach them to me and find ways to use or recognize them whenever I can.

That’s all from me for now. I have an appointment at the Ministry of Interiors in Prague tomorrow so my next update with probably be about the process of getting to the Czech Republic as an employee and what you have to do once you’re here so keep your eyes peeled.


Andrea and I on Stazka and Cezana

Welcome to the Czech Republic!

And more specifically to Klecany!

I moved into my apartment in Klecany exactly one month ago yesterday and have officially completed my first month of teaching as of today! As you might imagine, quite a lot has happened in that time.

This is my third move across the pond (I’ve lived in Hannover, Germany and St. Petersburg, Russia before now) but the Czech Republic is a completely new experience in several ways.


First (and most acutely felt): nerozumim!

When I moved to Germany and Russia I had at the very least a basic grip on the language. That was not at all the case when I first came here. The full extent of my Czech was as follows: “Hello”, “Goodbye” (which I struggle to say because it’s difficult) “Excuse me”, “Train” (Closely Watched Trains), and “What is this?”. After a month here, I realize, I do have people with whom I only speak Czech. Our conversations are short and halting as I search for words, but I can make myself understood in some situations and can understand the person to whom I’m talking if they speak simply.

This means two things:

  1. Immersion definitely works. Just go to a new place and throw yourself into the language. You may not speak perfectly, but you’ll learn.
  2. You can always learn a new language and don’t let anybody tell you differently. Listen, speak, read, write. Practice. Don’t worry about making mistakes because every one is an opportunity either to learn something else, and/or for a funny story. And overall I’ve found people here to be extremely nice and helpful in teaching me a word or two. Just making the effort to speak some Czech, even if it’s not a lot, is important and fun.


Second: I’m a teacher, not a student.

It’s different leading classes than it was participating in them and I think teaching will make me an even better student because I’m learning what makes teaching difficult. I would rather have a class full of enthusiastic kids who make frequent mistakes than a class full of smart kids who are too nervous to mess up so they stay quiet. And so, both for myself and my future instructors, I will try very hard never to let silence stretch too long in my upcoming Czech classes, even if what ends up coming out of my mouth is nonsense. Nonsense they can work with. Silence is just sad.

Also, I’m working here, instead of studying. Really what this has meant so far is that I’ve had to go to the Ministry of Interiors in Prague and will have to go there two more times. It’s like the DMV, so that’s not great, but it does give me a chance to catch up with the lovely Tereza, aka TV, (who you will meet if you come here with CIEE) and that is great!


Third: I’m an adult

I grocery shop, have to buy things I don’t want to buy (like spatulas and laundry detergent) I’m the only one responsible for making sure my living space is neat and tidy etc. All of this comes with growing up and moving out. So that’s new for me, but it's new for everyone at some point. What's specific to the Czech Republic for me is that usually when living abroad I have a host family, and this time I don’t. This has its ups and downs. I like living alone, having my own private space, but I also know that if I had a host family I would be learning Czech faster. But since I can’t learn much alone in my apartment I have to go out and explore Prague. Woe is me, right? (No, definitely not!)


Fourth: I feel like a celebrity?

One last funny new thing about teaching: I never noticed when I was a student, but everybody says hello to teachers (or is that just here in the Czech Republic?) and I now know how celebrities feel when they walk anywhere and 100 people immediately want to talk to them. Only my life is definitely cuter because I get 25 excited 3rd graders all yelling, "Hello!" and "Good morning!" instead of paparazzi trying to take my picture as I'm leaving the gym. 


There are too many other new things to detail in one post so I’m going to cut myself off there, but stay tuned! I learn about a million new things every day. 

Keep Me Updated