September 4, 2011
So, here I sit on a flight from SEA to LAX on a Sunday morning… while my friends and family are enjoying a relaxing long weekend and perhaps preparing to grill for Labor Day, I am embarking on a 30+ hour journey back to the land I left just a short 2 months ago… the Czech Republic.
To say that summer flew by is an understatement, and to say that I am completely and undoubtedly prepared for everything ahead of me would be untrue. It will be my second September in Prague, but instead of arriving into the welcoming arms of the TEFL bubble, I arrive alone, in 30 hours, at midnight, to hail a cab to an apartment I’ve never seen with people I’ve never met. And must travel out of the country again 2 days later to pick up an all-too necessary visa under the name of a school I no longer work for (and must figure out how to change ASAP, because being legal seems like a good plan.) I guess I did want an adventure…
And I think about the fact that I’ve already spent a year in Prague, and that somehow seems impossible. An entire year? How time flies. In that time, I made amazing connections with people who share this crazy need to travel the world, discovered I wasn’t the only one not quite fitting in at home where the post-college grads seem to be settling down into more permanent lifestyles. We became lifelong friends, learning that veering from the “traditional” life path, though a bit nerve-wracking at first, was the best decision we ever made. In that year, I moved in with strangers who became my travel partners-in-crime, visited 8 countries, struggled with the Czech language yet succeeded at getting by with my limited vocabulary and a smile, socialized with Czechs over Pilsners, taught English to the most adorable 3 and 4-year olds I’ve ever met, took said preschoolers horseback riding androck climbing, watched the sunset from Charles Bridge, and realized with my fellow expats that “we live in a postcard.” I trudged through snow deeper and than I’ve ever experienced for days on end as a traveling English teacher, and taught lessons to students at Starbucks (after they teased me for suggesting the location… “so American!”) I heard stories of Communism and the revolution first hand, and was welcomed into the home of Czech families for dinner after tutoring their children. I bicycled through the Czech countryside, rafted through Cesky Krumlov, took art classes and saw my first peacock with its wings spread out J The scope of adventures I was fortunate to experience is broader than I can even remember at this moment…. and as I sit on this airplane, in front of some kids just tickled with excitement to be going to Disneyland, I finally can relish in the excitement of adventures and learning experiences to come in the months to follow.
But I enter my new life with a new dedication to truly living in the moment and savoring the present. It sounds new age-y and cliché, but I have learned just as much this summer living with my oldest friend in Seattle, as I did in the last year in Prague. I have learned that I can slow down, and should. That the moment is all we have, and no moment is less precious than any other. Even those 30 hours spent lugging bags, trekking between terminals and even airports (in London…crossing that bridge when I come to it)… even all of these moments are to be cherished.
So in my journey today, I am simply observing and enjoying the small pleasures of the moment. The plane taxiing next to ours painted like the Genie from Aladdin (the Disneyland plane!!) Getting to talk to my Prague roomie from last year just before boarding today. My mom and I laughing through our tears as we said goodbye again (ridiculous! I’m coming home for Christmas! But always… waterworks!) Even my little sister coming to eat with us last night at the Lobster Shop, even though she hates fish (which the waiter relentlessly teased her about…threatening to chop up calamari and sea bass in her meal.) It’s the little things I choose to appreciate, in my endeavor to live solely in the present. My family means the world to me, and I won’t say it was easy to leave again, for the second time, for a second year abroad. But I’ve traded my red four-door Focus wheels for a spankin’ new suitcase on wheels… (hoping the car salesmen were just joking about sending my car to the demolition derby) …and that means it’s time to fly.
So… sitting back to relax, enjoy the flight, and let the words of Jack Johnson do the rest. 🙂
who’s to say what’s impossible
well they forgot
this world keeps spinning and with each new day
I can feel the change in everything
and as the surface breaks reflections fade
but in some ways they remain the same
and as my mind begins to spread its wings
there’s no stopping curiosity
I want to turn the whole thing upside down
I’ll find the things they say just can’t be found
I’ll share this love I find with everyone
we’ll sing and dance to mother nature’s songs
I don’t want this feeling to go away
It may not be easy to move to a foreign country. But it’s definitely harder to stay there (without a coveted EU passport…)
But instead of stressing out about the visa challenges I face, I just remember why I want to stay here. I see the beauty around me in a deeper way, and I feel how Prague has changed me already.
Sometimes you can’t think too hard about where you “should” be. Sometimes you just have to feel where you feel peaceful and in touch with the world, and yourself…
If things work out the way they are meant to, as I have always believed, then Prague has much more to teach me. Challenges teach you to enjoy every moment where you are, because you never know when things can change. But they should also teach you to examine your drives, your passions, and your goals. The smooth times allow you to enjoy the ride from where you are, but it’s the bumps in the road that bring you to the next level, of anything you pursue in life.
I’ve been living in one of the most central countries for European travel for just over 6 months, but with the majority of that time spent either studying furiously for TEFL training, or staying warm during the winter months! Now that spring is upon us, it’s time for a little preview of the places I’m planning and dreaming to go in the next few months!
First…. where I’ve been:
Okay, onto the REALLY fun stuff: Where I’m (for sure) going:
Oops, this post has taken me past my free time and it’s time to go to afternoon preschool English class! We had only 2 children at school today due to illness, so I’m hoping more than that show up for jungle crafts today! It’s one of my favorite topics! Save the rest of my dream trips to for next time…Nasle!
One of my favorite things to do this winter was to spend a morning with friends in a coffee shop, or “kaverna”, reading, chatting, browsing the internet, and watching the snowflakes fall (and maybe even lesson planning! ;)) Maybe it’s my Seattle roots, or my love of anything caffeinated, cozy and sweet, but unique cafes and kavernas always have a special place in my heart. A quick tour through some of my favorites so far: Mama Coffee is a cute, 2-story little cafe in New Town. It is the perfect place to feel a
Another favorite haunt of mine has been Friends Coffee House, also in New Town, just down the road from Mama’s! While their cappuccinos lack the extra dose of special that comes on a fancy silver platter…I can’t resist the plethora of comfy armchairs, and a large library of (mainly Czech, but some English!) books. (and free tap water! This, my friends, is a big deal.)
Not exactly a kaverna, but a delightful place to grab a bite (monstrous blueberry waffles, nachos, or after-work drinks! I can testify to all), Radost FX is too funky not to love!
And finally, the art of latte decoration. A subtle but skillful hand puts the final touches on a highly-anticipated, steaming cup of foamy love. Before diving in, I stop to appreciate the artistic finale to my beverage.
But I suppose it can’t go without mention that every now and again, an American expatriate in Europe must find small touches of home, even in the most trivial of ways. Sometimes, it comes in the form of sharing a smile with a fellow North Face-wearing, English speaker on the metro, or jamming out in public to your favorite song on your Ipod with a grin on your face, amidst the austere exteriors of surrounding Czechs. And sometimes, it comes in the form of a syrupy, overpriced, oversized take-away cup of caramel macchiato from the one chain I try my hardest to avoid like the plague.
1) Yes, the prospect of being the only native English speaking teacher in a Czech preschool sounded “challenging” from the outset back in November, but I remember thinking, “how hard can it be?” Well, playing head honcho to a gaggle of unbelievably energized, Czech-speaking little ones turned out to be literal on-the-job training! There’s no real way to describe my first English lesson other than “disasterous”… but 4 months later, the kids and I are having just bundles of fun speaking English together, singing songs, making crafts, baking Czech treats, and taking random field trips… which leads me to…
2) No field trip is really off limits to preschool here, it seems. My first month in, we packed up and headed to the horse stable for horseback riding day. But by “packed up,” I mean we herded 13 3-and-4-year olds (some are even 2 going on 3!) by bus, metro and bus again to a village-area where we found the stable. After a bit of riding, we made the whole trip back again. I think this picture of our kids in bright orange vests on the escalator in the metro station sums it up:
3) Czech people are really into the salt caves. We took one field trip to a “salt spa” which was supposedly good for the breathing. The kids played on some play toys and I sat in the lounge chair and thought about how we were breathing in the salt and maybe it’s canceling out some of the horrendous amounts of smoke my lungs have experienced here in Europe… anyway. Fun field trip again.
4) Dressing is a really big deal here. Inside clothes, inside shoes, outside clothes, outside shoes, sleeping clothes…you name it, we dress them. I’d say a good, respectable percentage of the day is spent dressing kids. If there was ever a contest for speed dressing, or something, you know you wouldn’t want to face me now.
5) Kids here like gingerbread, but not banana bread. (I’ve baked them both, and had the first devoured and the latter firmly rejected.) They also adore meat and potatoes in cream sauce, and are revolted by any sort of vegetarian dish (though vegetarian lunch days are few and far between.) Le sigh.
6) Fireworks (well, sparklers..but really, really big ones!) are fair game for handling both indoors, and by very small people. 7) Karnival is a huge deal, and kids will go all out in dressing up- but Halloween’s not such a big deal.
8. Birthdays are a really big deal (obviously!!) but name days are a pretty big deal too. Not “cake-worthy”, but “sing-you-happy-name-day”-worthy, and maybe even give you a happy name day card/book. Cool deal for everyone who’s name day isn’t the SAME day as their birthday (moi!)
More preschool pictures and stories to come, I am sure… the #1 thing I have learned so far is that there are few jobs more rewarding than impacting a young child’s life and experiences, and seeing the effects of your work through their smiles, hugs, artwork, and English!!!
It’s always hard to know how to begin something which you have such high aspirations for. I have wanted to create a blog to express my various passions and travel experiences for quite some time, but never was quite happy with a “theme” or “niche”. It’s the perfectionist in me. That voice that comes out saying, “if something isn’t perfect from the start, then why bother with it?” But living in Prague has changed my mindset quite a bit. I’m learning that there is no perfect way, no “right” path, no need for a foolproof plan. Because what fun is a foolproof plan?! Anyway. I’d like to use this blog to share my experiences in Prague living as a foreigner for the first time, and throw in some fun stories about preschool kids, cooking adventures, traveling, and finding so many new passions living in Europe.
Yesterday, my friend Hannah and I joined up with a Couch Surfing group to go on a 12-kilometer walk outside of Prague. We took a train 30 minutes out of Prague, and started the walk with about 10 others from all over the world. We spent the day (about 7 hours!) walking and talking with people from all over the world, and stopped for a great lunch at a pub in a Czech village.
When we arrived (starving!) at the village after walking about 9 or 10 kilometers, we found a small festival with some food stands and balloons; a Greek man selling tzaziki and cheese stuffed peppers; another stand selling typical sausages, and… a huge pig. I know, really cool photo for a first post, right? But, it is the Czech Republic, and such sights are not uncommon at all!
It was a wonderful day spent in nature, and made me so grateful to be living in a place with such diversity of opportunities! Not only can we take a train and hike to a Czech village, but we can do it with locals and travelers from all over the world, and share our experiences together. I’m not sure if it’s the warm sunny weather, new collection of springy dresses hanging up just waiting to be worn, or plethora of opportunities like this that have been coming up lately…but I am loving Prague in a way I haven’t really seen it before. It has always been amazing to be living here, but it finally feels like “home” and I feel free to explore new groups and activities and villages and everything else. And the Czech is coming a bit easier; today, I learned that “Dekujiem” is not in fact the formal version of “Dekuji” (“thank you”.) It actually means “thank you from all of us.” So when I express my gratitude to the grocery clerk at Billa, she’s undoubtely laughing inside that I’m thanking her from “all of us”; me, myself, and my invisible friend buying the bread, cheese and wine. And more cheese. Speaking of which… now that I have this blog, I’m determined to cook more and expand my horizons from above mentioned grocery list. But for now… it’s recharge time, for a week teaching 3-year olds English and singing about Five Little Speckled Frogs!