Sunday, May 26, 2013 - 6:39 PM CET
I know I keep saying I will post more often, but I have been reeeaaallly busy. Once this course is over I will hopefully have more time.
Anyway, Prague is AWESOME. I am so happy I planned it out to get here a few days early, because one person in our house got here right on Sunday and hasn't had any time at all to explore. I took pretty much every opportunity I had to be out and about and didn't spend very much time sitting around at all.
So my bus came in and a really nice guy named Michael picked me up and drove me to the TEFL house, where I would be living for the next month. He doesn't even really work for TEFL, just gives people rides every month for them. When we got here, he offered to show me around a little bit which I thought was really nice of him. He took me to the shopping center in the middle of town which is pretty much identical to any shopping mall you've seen in the States, complete with a 2-story Wall-Mart style grocery slash everything store called TESCO. I went in there and got the necessary supplies for the next day's meals because I had been traveling around for the past two weeks and hadn't had a home-cooked meal in a while.
Anyway, I got back to the house and unpacked my things. From what I could tell at first, I was the only one there. I figured people would be trickling in as the course got nearer. The first people I met were Amy and Ross, a couple from Michigan. They came up to ask if any of the food in the fridge was mine because they wanted to clear it out (sharing a fridge with 7 other people, by the way, has been an interesting experience). Amy is a few months younger than I am, and I believe Ross is around 28. They're really nice and we've been getting along great since I got here. They'd already been here for four weeks, traveling around and getting the visa process started.
Instead of going chronologically through everything I have done for the past week and a half, I will try to just cover the major stuff. Once I start writing more often I will try to include some more interesting anecdotes.
I did a lot of walking around and trying to get to know the city. As an experiment one day, I decided to take a bus, a tram and a subway halfway across the city and walk back, stopping anywhere that seemed cool. I saved the general area into the Maps app on my phone so I could at least know where I was. On my way back, I noticed that just out of my way was a bunch of green space on the map, indicating some sort of park. I wandered toward it and very quickly found that you cannot simply follow maps randomly in Prage, because I suddenly came face-to-face with a 200-foot wall. This has happened to me several times, actually. I walked along the wall, figuring it must mark some sort of border, and finally found an entrance. I had no idea where I was but figured I'd just investigate. Signs began to appear, but they were at in Czech so I hadn't the slightest idea what they meant. After walking a little further, I found myself in a courtyard full of a dozen or so stone statues, again with plaqs in front of them but not in English. Walking around a little more I found one of those incredibly elaborate churches you often find in Europe, towering a few hundred feet up with twin spires and incredible architecture. It turned out that this was some sort of popular tourist destination I had not heard of. I askd someone who spoke a small amount of English to direct me to some sort of information stand and I finally found out that this aea was a fort called at Vyšehrad, a property owned by the first kings of Prague, built sometime in the 10th century. It was fantastic. The architecture was beautiful all around, there were vendors selling hand-made goods everywhere, and the view from atop the wall was absolutely stunning. The thing about Prague is that it is built in a sort of valley around a river so there are countless places in the city with breathtaking viewpoints. It turned out that trusting fate was an excellent decision that day!
I've also explored a few of the parks nearby. At the top of the hill we live on is an old stadium that is no longer used, and infront of it is a large park with similarly spectacular views to the ones I described at Vyšehrad. This park is definitely going to be one of my main running paths once I have the time to run.
The bars here are also really cool be cause each one has its own unique style. I went to one bar that went deep into the ground and was decked out to
look dungeon-like. The bartenders did really awesome tricks while making your drinks. Oh, and did I mention how cheap the beer is? The absolute most I have ever seen, and people tell me these are "tourist prices" is abut 45 CZK for half a liter of beer, which come out to about $2.50. Most beers are around 25, or about $1.15. It's amazing.
The group we have living in this house is really great. Ross and Amy I met first, then Chris from North Carolina who showed up just one day before I did. Then there's Joe and Linda on my floor. Linda is a very nice, middle-aged woman from... somewhere in EnglandI can't remember. Joe is from Cornwall and is 26 years old. Upstairs are Emma, from LA, and Edwin, from somewhere else in California, not sure where. Edwin is 36 and kind of keeps to himself, and Emma must be somewhere in her late 20's and was a little shy at first but seems to be warming up with the group. Then there's Dave from Pittsburg, who I'd say Ive been getting along with the best. I think he's 27 or 28, and we have a lot of the same interests, especially when it comes to music. I'm sure if you read this regularly (thank you!) you will get to know this cast of characters a little better.
The really cool thing is that we can all just sit around in the kitchen after a long day and just talk. We all go out together, we hang out a lot, and we get along great. Ross said that the group before us wasn't really like that. EVeryone kind of kept to themselves. I'm really glad we have a more social group, and a fairly common age group, because it's made the culture shock a little easier to bear (even if the culture shock is usually about things that are BETTER here =P)
I also got to meet a good amount of people who don't live here. Amy, Ross and Chris have a few connections here so I got to meet some other people over the weekend. A lot of them have very similar stories: "A year or two ago, I thought why not, I'll go to Prague for a few months and teach English... I haven't been able to leave." It was from all these people that I figured out that I might not leave for a little bit either. I had been banking on the idea that I needed to get a 1 in this TEFL course to get any kind of job, but that turns out not to be true at ALL. Apparently as long as you pass it's pretty easy to get a job because the market for English teachers is so large here. So, before I knew it, a few days after I got here, I was already signing up for a 6-month visa. I don't see myself staying here for years though like the people I talked to, but 6 months seems just about right. It still hasn't really sunken in yet that I will be here that long, but I'm sure it will!
As far as the course itself goes, that hasn't been too bad. We have a few lessons each day about how to teach a given subject, and then we teach in the afternoon. We each have to teach two 45-minute lessons per week for a total of seven lessons. How the lesson is supposed to go is very structured. There are three or four stages, and you are only supposed to talk 1/10th of the time. So, in a 45-minute lesson, your talking should total less than 4.5 minutes. That's probably the most difficult thing.
We are divided up into two groups: lower-intermediate and upper-intermediate. Most of the people in the classes (of about 10 each) are older than 50, either pensioners learning for fun or people who need English for their job. They've all been really nice. Basically, how TEFL works is they come in as sort of guinea pigs for us and don't have to pay anything. If we do well and they take us on, we teach paid lessons. So there is a lot of tolerance from the students for our sub-par teaching skills since they know how it works and aren't paying anything for it. It's actually a really cool idea of a system.
I've only had one lesson so far, and I think it went okay. There are a few things I really need to work on, but mostly it was just great to actually experience what it's like to be in front of a classroom. I literally had no idea what that was like before last Wednesday. Sure, I'd done PowerPoints and led discussions tons of times in college, but actually being The Teacher was very new to me. I can't wait to get better!
I'm sure there is loads more I could be telling you about my time here so far but I think that is good for now. I should probably get back t my lesson plan because I have two lessons this week and have to meet a student one-on-one for a "learning profile" assignment. I will try REALLY hard this time to check in sooner! Thanks for reading, let me know if you enjoyed it =)