Report From Prague

August, 2003

After our retirement in 2001 Kay and I thought it would be fun to live as expatriates for a few years. To prepare to live in other countries we enrolled at New York City’s New School to earn TESOL certificates. Our idea of teaching English to speakers of other languages was not in order to earn our living but rather to give ourselves a focus abroad and to better integrate ourselves into whichever country or countries we chose to live in. The culmination of our program was to do a three-week practicum in which we would teach a class under the supervision of an experienced TESOL instructor in order to show we had learned our lessons. Along with seven of our classmates, we had the opportunity to do our praticum in Prague. Following is an account of our experience.

Many of you have replied to my previous e–mails, and it’s so nice to hear from you. I apologize to those of you who haven’t received my earlier reports; I’ve had some problems managing my e–mail in Europe, but I’m learning. The Great North–East Blackout of ’03 is big news among our little expat community. I admit that when I saw all those sweaty, exhausted, New York faces yesterday morning I was glad not to be able to share their pain. That said, we’ve been sweating some ourselves here in Prague where air conditioning is a true novelty.

Our Apartment 2

Life without AC was a distant memory until this summer. Although we haven’t had the extreme heat reported in France and Italy, the high 80s is hot enough. Our basement apartment is cool enough, but we haven’t spent much time there. The worst has been the 4th floor room where we’ve been teaching three–hour classes during the hottest hours of the day. Opening the windows is futile since it just lets in additional hot air. Mercifully, the heat wave broke yesterday and temperatures are in the 70s. This, our last weekend in Prague, is very comfortable.

Yes, we can finally see the end of this European adventure. We’ll be home in about two weeks, a prospect that makes Kay very happy. We have one last week in Prague followed by a week in Germany.

We’ve all been working pretty hard in the Czech Republic. We all spend the early hours of the day preparing to teach. Planning lessons, rehearsing our grammar presentations and creating materials. (We’re new at this, so it takes awhile.) Then, we teach from 3 until 6 pm.  Kay and I are team–teaching an advanced class of six students whom we like very much. They’ve all studied English for many years in Czech schools, but haven’t had much opportunity to actually speak English.

Our class of advanced English-language students
Our class of advanced English-language students

During the communist years English was the enemy language, and to study it was dangerous. There were many teachers of Russian in those days, and after the regime fell in ’89, a good number of them were retrained to teach English. You can probably imagine what that was like. Although all but one of our students were produced by that system, a couple have had the advantage of spending some time in Anglophone countries. No surprise that they are more fluent than the others. The exception to the Czechs is a young Iraqi woman who, until recently, has been living in Sweden for several years. Her name is Mays and she speaks English comfortably.

A Grammar Game

As I’ve said, we enjoy all our students; they’re motivated and make us feel as though we’re doing something important. This feeling of satisfaction, which we experienced during our volunteer teaching in New York, is the real payoff in the ESL/EFL profession. Second language teachers work hard and give a lot of themselves, but it feels good when the lessons are so well received.

Karlovy Vary aka Carlsbad
Karlovy Vary aka Carlsbad

Since we started teaching, we haven’t done much in Prague outside of school. It was a good choice to come early and do some sightseeing. We did have a long weekend last week, so eight of us piled into a van and drove a couple of hours to Karlovy Vary, better known in the West by its German name of Carlsbad. The town was once the greatest spa in Europe and, until the fall of the Hapsburg Empire, the playground and gathering place of the rich and powerful. It went through hard times under the communists, who didn’t seem to be much into preserving the symbols and monuments of the Imperial past, but these days it looks very good, indeed. It was interesting that, besides Czech, the languages spoken there were German and Russian. It was hard to find a menu in English.

On the same trip we also visited nearby Marianbad; yes, the putative setting of the Renais film much talked about in the 60s. It was different than Karlovy Vary, but very interesting also.

We get along well with our fellow teachers. Though we come from different backgrounds and experience, we’re all curious about our surroundings and we like to laugh and have fun. In some ways, Kay and I will both be a little sad when it ends next week. There are so many interesting things to say about the details of our daily lives, and I know I could keep writing this for hours, but I’m anxious to get back out and enjoy the beautiful weather. Besides, you need a break from reading this, and the clothes are almost dry in the cyber–Laundromat where I’m writing to you. We’ll be home soon. Love and best regards to all.