Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

Posts tagged ‘Czech Repubic’

Why Central Europe should be on your list of dream TEFL destinations

Two different people have recently told me how Poland exceeded their expectations. Those who’ve never been here think they’re going to get some kind of post-Soviet, post-war, depressing, grey place to live and work. When I tell people I’ve decided to make Bydgoszcz my home and buy a flat here, I’m often greeted with surprise.

I’d never thought of applying to Poland and was always amazed that other people wanted to live there. Then I visited for a few days and was pleased by how much I liked it. I definitely want to move there now.

Why on Earth would you want to come here when your TEFL certificate could open the doors to Spain, Thailand, or any number of other holiday destinations? Let’s face it, very few aspiring TEFL travellers start out on their CELTA saying “I’ve always wanted to move to Central Europe. Sign me up!”

I am so surprised by Poland as I had imagined something grey and post war. I honestly thought we would be faced with abandoned concrete buildings everywhere! I also imagined old taxis and copious amounts of grey tasteless bread. When I told people I was going to Warsaw for the weekend I was met with incredulous looks or pity that that was the chosen destination!

Popular culture has a lot to answer for. So what’s it really like?

I first fell in love with Central Europe* when I lived in Brno in the Czech Republic.

Brno Cathedral

I have to admit that I started out with similar impressions to those in the quotes above, but thankfully it didn’t take me long to get over them. In fact, within 24 hours of arriving in Brno, I’d already decided I wanted to come back for a second year. I ended up staying for three, and made this video as a way of expressing my feelings for the city. I’ve since been back many times, and it always feels like going home. I left for two reasons: to be in the UK for the year before the Olympics and Paralympics and to develop my career further. Otherwise I’d probably still be there!

When I was offered the chance to move to Bydgoszcz, I knew that I would feel comfortable here and that I would get a lot out of my life and work. I haven’t regretted that decision for one moment.

*I know Germany counts as Central Europe too, and my love of the language and many trips there count too, but in this post I’m talking about the places that are still suffering from the impressions created when they were behind the Iron Curtain. I’m also mostly addressing this post to Brits thinking about where to move to as I know we have a lot of stereotypes to get over – I can’t speak for those from other cultural backgrounds. 😉

Why teach in Central Europe?

Because our schools are not at the top of the list as a dream destination, it’s in our interests to help you develop professionally to make sure we get good teachers in through the doors. (Please note, I’m speaking from my perspective as somebody who’s worked for International House schools – I can’t vouch for anywhere else!) Many IH schools in countries like Poland and the Czech Republic have good reputations as places to start out your career. Accommodation is also often provided in school flats, so it’s one less thing for you to worry about when you move here.

You’ll experience a culture which is similar enough to what you’re used to in the UK that you can fit in pretty quickly, but at the same time different enough that you’ll be learning new things all the time.

Candles for All Soul's Night at the Military Cemetary

Candles for All Soul’s Night at the Military Cemetary, Bydgoszcz

The food here is delicious and affordable. Czech Svíčková and Polish pierogi are two of my favourite discoveries, but any semi-decent restaurant will serve you delicious food for a really low price. I don’t drink, but I’ve also been reliably informed that Czech beer is the best in the world. One of my favourite quotes from a visiting friend:

Do you mean I’ve just eaten that huge meal and had two beers, and it cost me less than £10?

Poznan - Saint Martin's Day rogale, a kind of croissant filled with almond and poppy seed

Poznan – rogale, a kind of croissant filled with almond and poppy seed, traditionally eaten for Saint Martin’s Day (11th November), but available all year round

You can get fresh fruit and vegetables from markets all year. Polish apples have a well-deserved reputation as some of the best in the world, and the berries you can get in the spring are juicy, sweet, and (did I mention?) cheap.

Zelny Trh vegetables, Brno

Zelny Trh (Green Market) vegetables, Brno

Admittedly it’s a bit harder to eat out if you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, but it’s definitely getting easier and shouldn’t stop you from considering Central Europe.

There’s always something going on, especially in the spring. It’s rare that I went into the main square in Brno at a weekend without seeing some kind of interesting festival, show or performance, and the same is proving true of Bydgoszcz.

River concerts, Opera Nova, Bydgoszcz

River concerts, Opera Nova, Bydgoszcz

Slackline games, Bydgoszcz

Slackline games, Bydgoszcz

Far from being post-Soviet, the architecture on show across Central Europe is varied and interesting, and full of history.

Bydgoszcz Post Office

Bydgoszcz Post Office: from the 19th century

Cathedral of St. Martin and Mikulas and archaeology museum, Bydgoszcz

Cathedral of St. Martin and Mikulas and archaeology museum, Bydgoszcz

Bydgoszcz warehouses

The symbol of Bydgoszcz – warehouses by the River Brda

Poznan - town hall and herring houses

Poznan – town hall and herring houses

That’s not to say that ugly Soviet buildings don’t exist, just that there is a lot more variety than you might expect. Rare is the Polish or Czech town square that doesn’t have at least one building or monument that jars with the rest of the architecture to our British eyes. But that’s how you know you’re living in a different country 😉

Znojmo, Czech Republic, with the roof of a communist department store in the foreground

Znojmo, Czech Republic, with the roof of a communist department store in the foreground

Public transport is generally cheap, clean and very regular. A three-month tram pass in Brno used to cost me approximately £40, and I could use it at any time of the day to get all over the city, with hourly night buses on offer too. That was about 0.05% of my salary if I remember rightly! In both Bydgoszcz and Brno, they also often run old trams at weekends and holidays if you want to experience a bit of retro travel.

Trams in Brno

Trams in Brno

Old tram in Bydgoszcz

Old tram in Bydgoszcz

There are so many little towns and villages to explore, and hundreds of castles and stately homes. Did you know the Czech Republic has one of the highest densities of castles of any country in the world, with over 2000 in the country? Most of them are easily accessible by the afore-mentioned cheap and efficient public transport (though check what times the buses/trains come back!) I can’t drive, and have managed to explore many different places easily.

Lednice chateau, south of Brno

Lednice chateau, south of Brno

Hrad Karlstejn, outside Prague

Hrad Karlstejn, outside Prague

A much more flattering picture of Znojmo!

A much more flattering picture of Znojmo in the Czech Republic!

Hrad Pernstejn, near Brno

Hrad Pernstejn, near Brno

Torun

Torun – a World Heritage site 40 minutes from Bydgoszcz…

Torun - Copernicus

…and the birthplace of Nicolas Copernicus

It’s easy to travel internationally too: I’ve been to Budapest, Krakow, Bratislava, Vienna, Poznan, Warsaw, Prague, and Stockholm, all with ease, and mostly on the train or the excellent Czech Student Agency buses!

You get four seasons.

Autumn sunlight in the park by the Philharmonia

Autumn in the park nearest my flat

Admittedly, the winter can feel pretty long when you’re in the middle of it. When I was in Brno we had about 10 weeks with snow on the ground one year, and a few days of -20C. People here know how to deal with it though, and it very rarely causes problems.

Brno in the snow - walk from Vinohrady to Stara Osada

Having said that, global warming seems to be reducing the likelihood of a really cold winter, and this year in Bydgoszcz we had almost no snow. It was about five months of grey and dullness instead, but when you’re at work, that doesn’t really matter when the heating’s on 🙂 When the spring arrives, it’s stunning, and you really appreciate it. The city comes to life, tables and chairs appear in all of the squares, and there’s a real café culture.

Park near the Philharmonia in the spring

And if all that doesn’t convince you to come to Central Europe, here’s one of my favourite ever Buzzfeed collections: 27 reasons you should never visit Poland

So what are you waiting for?

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I am *super* impressed! (guest post)

This post appeared in my facebook news feed yesterday, and I immediately asked if Tereza would let me share it on my blog. In it, she questions the value of positive feedback.

Today I received my evaluation of the final project in my sports class and it motivated me for a little contemplation on one of the differences between American and Czech (or even European in this respect) culture. The task was to create my own workout and lead my classmates for the fraction of the lecture. Eventually, due to time reasons, it was ONLY 5 MINUTES. So basically, all I did was I came up with 6 exercises, explained and demonstrated them to my classmates and then we performed them for 40s each with 5s break in between. The whole time I commented into the microphone like ’15 seconds, almost there, you can do it!’ because that was one of the requirements. You can see my evaluation below. My teacher was SUPER impressed, I looked like a professional, I should be an instructor.

Tereza's feedback

Tereza’s feedback

And here comes my point – really? I did not do anything impressive, I have never led a sport lecture before so I definitely have no motivation or other techniques developed and yet, based on 5 mins of doing stuff we have been doing in almost every class this semester, I should be an instructor! Americans are just always mega super trooper supportive to students, to kids, to each other, to everyone. Whatever you do, no matter how good or bad, it’s amazing. If you ask a question, however dumb one, teachers always start their answer with ‘That was an excellent question! I’m so glad you’re asking that.’ Whatever you do, it’s awesome, whatever you say, it’s so smart, whatever you wear, it looks cute and wonderful on you. One might think that there is everything perfect in America and everybody is talented and smart here. And that’s exactly mine (and not just mine) observation – people here really do think that. People are convinced that they are all brilliant at everything they do and look great in everything they wear. This might be a too big generalization, I admit. However, I can see evidence that it is mostly true every day.

My boyfriend teaches a calculus class at university in Missouri and his students, all future engineers by the way, are used to being praised their whole lives, getting excellent grades for everything and being told they can do everything and they are the best and the like as you could see on my evaluation. So those students are all shocked when they don’t get partial credit for accidentally guessing the right result, they are all surprised that there is someone who wants them to work hard for excellent grades and does not tell them ‘great job’ if the job is actually not that great. Instead of feeling ashamed they did not learn something or did not do the homework and therefore could not solve some exam problems, they go to him to complain, to accuse him that it is actually his fault they could not solve it and beg for extra points because they are used to always do great. Some time ago I posted here a ‘proof’ which one of my classmates did in a graduate-level math class. It almost made me cry, in short, she factored ‘x’ out of the integral which depended on ‘x’, they would not have let me finish high school if I had done that in the Czech Republic. So this girl still happily attends the class and I got the honor to read one of her papers we had to turn it. It was a complete disaster, she copied every single thing from the paper which it was based on, she not just copied it but also made a lot of mistakes in copying it, her sentences did not make sense, you could not call her proofs ‘proofs’ even if you were drunk and for all that she got 15 points out of 20. I wouldn’t give her even 10. However, that might probably touch her self-esteem and that’s not desired here.

I am not saying that being supportive and appreciating someone is bad. Especially with kids you should do that a lot. However, here it is led to extreme and moreover, college students are not kids anymore. Or at least they should not be. I have already lost the sense of what is meant honestly and what is just ‘American-like’. I basically have no measure whether I did well or bad because I always get a perfect evaluation. You have no idea whether people like you or how high they think of you because they always say you did a fantastic job. At the beginning, it makes you feel good, like you are really special, you do really so well. But with time, you get tired of that because you already see through it. Again, don’t get me wrong, I do not think teachers should be harsh on students, it is good to give someone encouragement and ‘push’ but not the fake one. In the Czech Republic or Germany where I got a chance to study, or even in my family, we do not flatter each other all the time. I know my parents love me and are proud of me but they do not tell me how amazing and talented and extraordinary I am every time I do something. Therefore, when they do tell me that, when they appreciate something I achieved or succeeded in, I can be sure they mean it and I value it very much then.

Tereza Eliášová is from the Czech Republic, and is currently studying for a semester in the United States. She was one of my students in Brno

Tereza

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