Although I took some time to get up to speed, most of my experiences thus far have been pleasant, and everyone is helping out to make sure I can succeed in my role teaching in the classroom and to ensure that I have a comfortable living environment. Originally upon my arrival, I was living in a wing for students, which was offered to me essentially for free. It was particularly challenging to live there because students move out on the weekends and the building essentially shuts down, something that is not ideal for someone who is often (but not always) spending his weekends in town. I was able to move into special accommodations for teachers, and while I now have to pay rent, it is quite affordable and provides me a larger space, a more comfortable bed, and a private bathroom and kitchen. Unfortunately, the apartment was unfurnished, but teachers and staff were more than willing to help me out in acquiring furniture. The one thing to keep in mind, however, is that living in a rural community can be challenging at times. Sometimes it is hard to get stuff I need for my apartment because it requires a car, and sometimes Internet does not work properly (especially the email ports, which makes submitting this blog post a particular challenge). Overall, however, my accommodations are quite nice and much larger than anything I could probably afford in the States as a recent college graduate.
As for my teaching, it took awhile to figure out. I teach at two schools – one of which is divided into three different campuses, including one that is about ten kilometers away. I switch between schools each week. At one of my schools, I teach lower level students interested in technical subjects, business, and fields requiring apprenticeships. At this school, I sometimes teach whole lessons, which last for 45 minutes, but sometimes just add insights to other lessons. As Rychnov nad Kneznou is close to the second largest car factory in the Czech Republic, many of the students focus on eventually working as auto mechanics or technicians. Often this means it is helpful to tie my lessons in with automotive subjects. For example, this might mean planning a lesson on how one would apply for a job as an auto mechanic in the US. My other school is a college prep gymnazium. Here there are three different types of English classes: compulsory, voluntary, and open. I teach in all three. In all three, I often am responsible for the whole class period. With compulsory and voluntary English, the teacher sits in the back or the side of the room and we decide on a topic together, often with the teacher placing an initial suggestion in a calendar on my office desk. Open English, however, is a class that I teach on my own for a 90-minute period. I get to choose the topic, and it is essentially my own class. It is optional for students to attend Open English, but since it was so popular during the first week, we decided to add a second class every other week when I am at the gymnazium.
As for other things I am doing on the side, one of the teachers set me up with a recent alumnus who is interested in practicing his English. We’ve met so many times already that I think we could probably consider each other friends or at least acquaintances, something that is not particularly easy to do in the Czech Republic. Eventually we will speak with each other using just Czech (until I get stuck). Additionally, some teachers have promised to take me to their homes for different weekend activities like learning to cook Czech cuisine and watching movies. I also hired a private tutor to improve my Czech, something that still remains well within my financial means here. On Halloween, I will be helping out at the local youth center. I’ll also be helping out at the gymnazium’s open house and showing parents how the students learn in their English classes by giving them a mock lesson. In my free time, I have also started a project called What YOUth Eat, when I realized one day while sitting in the dining hall that Americans probably have no idea what Czech students actually eat. In the true spirit of international exchange, I also opened the site to contributions from all around the world. You can check it out at www.whatyoutheat.com. By the time my stint in the Czech Republic is over, I would love to see contributions from all around the world and have something that can exist as a sustainable project to share with as many people online as possible.