Just a couple of weeks ago, the US Fulbright students in the Czech Republic crossed over the midway point of our grant term. I had an extended Christmas holiday this year because my school didn’t want to open dormitories for just two days out of an entire week – they just gave us an extra week off. I had the opportunity to attend three Christmas dinners with colleagues from my schools and taste the traditional Czech Christmas meal, which includes dishes like fried carp, schnitzel, wine sausage, potato salad, and lots of homemade cookies. I also spent the time off exploring Prague with some fellow UCSD alumni who were in Europe.
Since my last update, I’ve also spent some time doing various other things around town. For Thanksgiving, because the official Fulbright Thanksgiving for grantees actually took place on Friday, I decided to host a community Thanksgiving at the local youth center, which consisted of a meal of turkey stew (cooking a whole turkey here would have been a little too difficult) and had about 20 attendees present, including my students, several parents, teachers, and the local European expat volunteers community. I also participated in the events of a local language school’s intercultural evening, where I had the support of the US Embassy, American Center, and Fulbright Commission to run a booth and give a public presentation with info about the United States. I’ve also offered to volunteer my time to some of this school’s other cultural events (which I’ve also enjoyed a ton because they do an amazing job at bringing the community together). Teaching has also been going well. Some of my favorite lessons are those that focus on solving problems and activities I’ve named “There’s an App for That” and “Let’s Save the Zoo from Going Broke.” While I’d love to tell you more about these lessons, there really isn’t much to say beyond the title – I purposely designed them to be relatively open-ended and allow student creativity. The next big thing I’m looking forward to is a volunteer panel during the open lesson that I will be hosting for Czech students who might want to take a gap year and travel to another country through various EU schemes.
In my free time, I’ve been volunteering for the Multicultural Center in Prague helping to proofread and edit materials available for the public and papers to be discussed at an upcoming conference for both academics and immigration policy practitioners. I’m also going to be teaching a course that I’ll be calling “English Conversation for Social Science and Humanities Majors.” It’s an extracurricular course at my region’s university primarily for political science, anthropology, and sociology bachelor’s students. It’s amazing to think that this grant has provided me the opportunity to connect with a local university and be able to work with them through my own initiative, and I’m very excited for our collaboration over the next semester. In fact, there are so many students, it is looking like I will have more than one section. We have 50 students on the interest list. Additionally, I heard that a local organization that provides language classes to adults lost its volunteers and some grant funding. I told them I’d be willing to fill in because being a Fulbright grantee provides me with enough free time that I am able to share my experience and connect with local Czechs through other means than just my time at the school. Reaching out to places like local universities, language schools, and NGOs, while difficult, provides a venue for me to make the most of my time here.
As for my living situation, living alone still proves to be a bit of a challenge when you are not fluent in the language. There are often misunderstandings, but, with a few exceptions, the living arrangement has been acceptable. Most importantly, I’ve had functional Internet for the last month, after getting permission from the school to have the phone company drill into the apartment walls and finally reaching the person I think may have been the phone company’s single English-speaking employee. (I felt like Radim, the phone company customer service agent, and I had a special relationship from all the back and forth involved in the process.) Still, if I knew some things going into my Fulbright about how to handle renting an apartment abroad, I would have done some things differently. (Future Fulbrighters: I encourage you to start looking at the housing arrangements as soon as you have your grant and know your placement)