SpainSpainSpain!

SInce my last post right around Christmas, I’ve been home once for a month-long visit, visited Budapest, Berlin, and even more of the Czech Republic. I think I’ve come pretty close to exhausting all my options there. I missed seeing Český Krumlov, a picturesque town with a Disney-worthy castle and garden Shakespeare theatre, but that’s about it for left-out Czech sights.

Thanks to that fact, but mostly the God-awful winters, I happily decided to apply for the Language and Cultural Assistant Program in Spain…and I got it! So as of Monday afternoon, I’ve set up shop in Madrid!

I’ll still be teaching English, but in a much different setting, and in a much different framework: in Prague I taught exclusively adults and almost always in a business setting, whereas in Madrid I’ll be assisting in a public school and used as a resource by teachers in multiple disciplines.

I did like living in Prague…when it wasn’t winter, but I have to admit I’ve had a stupid-looking grin on my face from nearly the moment I stepped out of the airport. Number one, I got to go back to wearing my warm clothes; it is already 7°/45° C/F in Prague. Number two, there’s an almost tangible feeling associated with southern Europe: everyone has their windows open, you can hear the sound of dinner dishes being washed, and somehow city air manages to smell good.

More to come on the job description and new flat, but so far, so wonderful!

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No typical Christmas comparing-of-cultures article…. This is a rant.

Taken from my company’s monthly newsletter, and, originally, from my brain.

When I was eight years old, two Czech university students, Kristýna and Martina, came and lived with my family. They brought me storybooks in English from Josef Čapek and told me stories of the Christmas carp swimming in the bathtub.

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Excuse me while I make a note never to eat this.

Hold up, what? You mean to tell me Czechs get a big fish (and let’s ignore for now the fact that it’s an omnivorous fish that eats anything it can find including but certainly not limited to mosquito larvae, sludge worms, bloodworms, dead fish, mud, and plants [Ok, that wasn’t really ignoring it, I’m sorry]), they put it in the bathtub, let kids make friends with Christmas dinner, then bash it over the head, and serve it on the most celebrated day of the year?

Well, that’s different.

I mentioned this article to my Czech roommate and she told me how every year her father would buy a carp for Christmas up to a week in advance, bring it home, and put it in the bathtub. The carp was a sort of a temporary pet for her and her siblings to play with in the days leading up to Christmas before helping to kill it Christmas morning. (I blame this for the fact that my roommate sees no sentimental value in pets. For example, she brought the family goat home to our apartment in the form of a sausage the other day.) Fine. This is all well and good up to the point where she described getting the carp from the tub to the kitchen.

“Well my father, he would pull the carp out of the bathtub, but it was really slippery you know, and sometimes it would wiggle out of his hands and land on the floor of the bathroom. And you know bathroom floors, no matter how often you clean them, there is always hair on the floor. So the carp would be there, flapping on the floor, getting hair stuck to it. We thought it was hilarious.”

Oh to have grown up in a Czech village…

The truth is, I love Czech Christmas traditions. No, I won’t be eating carp this year, or any other year, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t see the value of other Czech customs.

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It must surely be as fun as these kids make it seem…

For example, I think I might shake an elderberry tree this year and wait for a dog to bark, then follow his bark to my future husband. I might have to wait for a while, and maybe go find a garden, with a dog, next to an elderberry tree, but besides that I’m sure Lady Luck will sort me out. I like the fish scale trick too—that carrying one in my wallet will keep my money from running out. That is a very handy tip; maybe then I can finally take that trip to the DinoPark in Galerie Harfa…

My favorites though, are the extra place set at the Christmas dinner table for a person in need or an unexpected guest and the parents secretly decorating the tree. The extra place I really like because it’s wonderful that Czechs think of others during the holiday and prepare (even if metaphorically) to help anyone who may need their help. And the tree I love because my favorite part of Christmas has always been the element of surprise, the building of anticipation, the moment of reveal. I used to wake up so early on Christmas morning and run to my parents’ room. “Come on, wake up! It’s Christmas!” I’m sure they were less than thrilled to be woken up at sunrise, but I know they loved the excited look on my face.

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It looked similar to this kid’s face upon getting a Wii for Christmas.


Yes, that feeling was much easier to come by when we were 5 or 6 years old, but we still feel it in smaller doses, when someone gets us an unexpected gift, when we get wrapped gifts and can’t tell what’s inside, when old friends call to wish us merry Christmas. So I hope you all have a season full of excitement and anticipation of the good things to come. And, whether you have carp or ham or turkey, veselé Vánoce!

Slugs and other big news v Česká Republika

I’m terribly excited to give you this, my blog of musings. I know that many of you want to know what it is that I think about during my 15 hours of work travel time per week, and I’m willing to give you a small window into those thoughts. (I did actually go to Madrid a couple weeks ago and had a great time, and I have some great books with quote-worthy passages, but doesn’t the mundane deserve its time in the sun too?)

Number One (hereafter followed by 2), 3), and so on): There are 12 Czech (rust colored, fat as a man’s finger, and four inches long) slugs and three snails (that, to my Florida eye, look as though they ought to be housing hermit crabs) on the path leading up to my flat.

2) Sometimes I forget what it was I was complaining about so vigorously about yesterday.

3) I really should stop fixating on my happiness/unhappiness.

4) There is a take-away restaurant called “Doner Kebap” near the Jindřišská tram stop. I never heard of kebab being spelled kebap, but sources say it might be correct.

5) I ate my last Easter chocolate Wednesday.

6) I want to have two lessons in Czech a week and start again with lessons in Italian too.

7) Internet’s, like, really cool. Like Skype and stuff? Like, I don’t think I’d be over here without it.

8) I don’t want to wear my winter clothes for a long time yet.

9) I went to Ikea for the first time in my life yesterday. I bought a pillow.

10) I forgot my new pillow at Dan’s flat when I helped him carry his new trash can, two bowls, tv, and water pitcher home yesterday.

10) One of the reasons I want to improve my Czech is that I want to learn how to say “Hey, that button isn’t lit up, so pushing it is irrelevant: the doors are going to open automatically. It’s only the lit ones that you need to push. Hey, aren’t you Czech? Shouldn’t you know this?” when riding on the metro. It’s key to my experience in Prague.

12) Geez, another huge slug.

Tests

I don’t mind them. I don’t mind prepping students for them, administering them, or grading them. Actually, I am usually curious to the point that when a student hands over a test, I have difficulty waiting to pick it up until he’s left the room. I love the satisfaction of having taught well and seeing the rules that I explained, invented witty and relevant examples for, drilled, and reviewed used by my students with comfort and familiarity.

My language school decided to try giving everyone the same test and titled it a progress test. In theory this is a good idea: have one scale by which to fairly measure all. It hasn’t worked.  We were given a test obviously written by a non-native speaker and skewed towards specific vocabulary, regions, and colloquialisms. This is what I don’t like. I find it unfair that if I happened to skip teaching “Cheer up” and “so as to” and focused instead one of the other myriad of topics available and useful, my students’ official level of English could be affected.

The levels of English language proficiency are as follows:
Beginner>Elementary>Pre-Intermediate>Intermediate>Upper-Intermediate>Advanced>Proficient

I administered this test today to seven pre-intermediate students. Not only did none of them advance as hoped for, but none of them even passed the Pre-Intermediate section. I promise: I may be green, but I certainly didn’t teach seven people so poorly that they actually regressed in learning! On the other hand, another of my students took the test on Monday and, having lived in Australia for a year, is much more comfortable with daily spoken English than with grammar. He not only passed his level, but came one question shy of moving up two full levels. I’m not that much of a miracle worker either.

Having to possibly manipulate the number in my assessments, it seems I might as well have skipped the test and evaluated my students’ levels according to the opinions I’ve formed after teaching them for nine months.

Alright, I feel better.

The importance of the sun in Prague and Florida

“Spring is coming to the Czech Republic. Very, very slowly, but still surely. I have never in my life been excited for 55 degree weather until now. And 64 has me wearing skirts, and waiting for 75 is like looking forward to Christmas.  The sun changes everything here. The grime of melting snow and the blank sky and the various other shades of gray I’ve been living in are giving way to light and color and warmth.

By comparison it looks as if I was living in a Claritin commercials where the colors are dimmed and the sharpness is dialed down. But the colors are coming, if only in the grass and a few brave flowers here and there.

Spring is coming, and that means that summer is coming, and summer is always the best of the year. All my favorite memories are of favorite, wonderful, smiling, loving people and the sun and running outside and being barefoot and hot. If I can make that here…”

I wrote this March 25. Things are better still, thanks not only to increased daylight hours and long-awaited green trees, but also to a well-timed, impulsive trip home.

Home was incredible. I would be hard-pressed to think of a better visit. It was a much-needed dose of familiarity, relaxation, love, and appreciation. I spent time with my best friends, my family, and some especially quality time with food that wasn’t dumplings or sausage. Flippancy aside, I was floored at the reaction of my friends from Rollins, who I surprised by showing up to celebrate their graduation with them. I know. I know they love me, but some of them cried; some of them hugged me for ages, warm, healing hugs that I had missed terribly over the last 8 months. Some of them invested great deals of time asking me about my life, and not because I live an enviable life in Europe, but because they care if I am happy.

Surprising my mom for Mother’s Day was nothing short of great fun. Then I wrung out every shred of wisdom I could from her in the 11 days I was there. It was all amazingly therapeutic. I can’t imagine the version of myself I would have been if I had waited to from Christmas ’11 to Christmas ’12 to go home. My friends, my professors, my old bosses, my family buoyed me up and reminded me who I am. I returned to Prague revitalized, confident, and supported. Support. That would be a great singular word to sum up my wonderfully-fated trip home.

(Pictures from the whole visit can be found here.)

Simplifying

I think I’ve been making some things harder than they need to be.

In college, everything was about logic, and I liked it and I like it now, but maybe I let it change my perception too much. For example, I’ve been so busy trying to find a way to logically explain why we need someone to help us. I have a lot of friends who believe there is nothing bigger than ourselves and that there is no afterlife. So I got distracted into trying to find a way to counter those ideas. But I think maybe it should go more in this direction:

Many times in my life, I have done something wrong. I have been presented with choices, and I have chosen wrongly. Most people usually feel the same. Many, many times, I have regretted my choice. I have felt bad, I have known that others were angry with me or hurt because of me, and I have carried that weight around in my mind.

But, I believe a few things which are rather fanatical for now and certainly uncommon among my friends. I believe in Jesus and that he really lived on the Earth and was God in human form. I also believe that he died voluntarily on a traditional Roman cross and that because he had lived a perfect life, he was able to and did voluntarily take on all the wrong actions of the world, from then to today and beyond, because he loves us. I believe that this choice bought absolution for all those wrong actions, and therefore for all the doers of those actions as well.

So I believe all those things, which in the end leaves me basically with forgiveness and absolution on tap. So why in the world do I insist on moaning about when I’ve done something wrong and realized it? Why wouldn’t I go straight to the source of absolution I believe exists and get rid of the guilt? Because I kind of forgot it was there. Like I said, I’ve been busy trying to defend my faith against logical arguments. But everybody knows you can’t fight a feeling with logic, and I feel lighter and guiltless and carefree and clean when I turn on the tap.

Oh I know there’s a million other aspects and angles, but just let me deal one at a time.

A happy, happy birthday

What a great birthday.

It began this morning with a sleepy “Happy Birthday” song; I was listening while still in bed with my 6:30 a.m. face on (utter slack), and my mother was singing also from bed with her midnight face on. From there I bounded to Facebook to be cheered by the sight of waiting birthday notifications and to set my tone for the day (which I did with a “It’s today, it’s today!!!” status).

After that I opened my present from my roommate Marketa—a sweet coffee mug to inaugurate my collection of dishes in our apartment and some Camembert cheese (she already knows me and cheese)—and carried on with eating the blueberry-lemon cake I made last night for breakfast.

On my way down the hill from my flat, I picked my way through slippery snow and praised myself for learning how to choose where to safely step. Then I fell. It would have been such a great video: me prancing along, gathering speed and confidence, all building to the moment I stepped, then saw, the patch of ice.

Both feet shot out and forward, and with a very comical thump I sat quickly on the ground. Or maybe the ice sat me. It certainly wasn’t a matter of my choice. I then slid for about a foot and a half, scratching my hands on the ice. I later realized on the tram that somehow in the episode I had completely broken my Czech phone. The SIM card is fine, but in all my pride and wisdom, I had been storing numbers and messages on the phone memory, so sayonara to them. Thankfully, Marketa saved the phoneless day with an old phone, so I can begin the storing process again, on the SIM this time. (This is a great moment to plug that I now need numbers from all my friends currently in Europe, please and thank you.)

Once I began the teaching day, a very smiley Filip brought me German chocolate, 75%, which happens to be my favorite. The bar even had a “Happy Birthday” script and a bow. I was also rewarded by a late cancellation (didn’t have to teach a class, still gonna get paid for it). In the afternoon I met with two of my favorites—Petra and Zuzana—who raided the TV Prima closet and came up with wine, a flash drive, and a pen. Too good to me, they are! They also added an Avon lipstick as well.

All day I ate cake with my students, then came home and found lasagna made by Marketa (which I followed with cake of course) and a bevy of loving Facebook posts.

What a great birthday.

And today wasn’t even the celebration.