Actually, I’ve been here for 2 weeks. I wanted to write before, but between jet lag, lost baggage, numerous technical difficulties, and adapting to my new surroundings, I’ve been, well, a bit overwhelmed!
I never thought I could undertake such a move alone, and let me just say, if You are considering a similar uprooting, be sure you have friends or family in that foreign place to take you in and help you get on your feet.
Kat (Kateřina) and her brother, Kuba (Jakub) were at the airport to pick me up. They live in a small suburb of Prague called Brandýs nad Labem. Nad Labem means “on the Labem River.” (The Labem is the Elbe River in Germany) Currently I am living with Kat, her mother Růžena, and Kat’s 13 year old son Bohdan in a lovely big house that sits high above the river. Kuba and his family live close by and I will introduce them to you later.
Růžena is an excellent cook and she prepares all of our meals. We sit at table together without the tv on, remember those days? Breakfast consists of various breads, ham and cheese, butter, local honey, and an assortment of Růženaś homemade jams: apricot, cherry, and strawberry. Lunch is the main, and only “hot”meal of the day. In the afternoon we have our coffee with a zakusek, a sweet pastry or dessert-often taken outside in the garden gazebo overlooking the river. Dinner is a light affair like open faced sandwiches called chlebíčky (chleba means bread).
The weather here is quite pleasant as the Czech Republic sits at 50 degrees north latitude. It is noon as I write this and 82 degrees. The high will be 87 with low humidity. Of course, like all people around the world, they complain about the “hot” weather.( I know all of you back home in the US, like me, are rolling your eyes right now.) So, when it is hot, we take our walks in the evening along the river. The scenery is simply idyllic dotted with ducks on the water and small boats anchored along the riverbanks.
Of course, my transition has not been without its share of difficulties and complications. I will say more about those later….. Until next time- Mějte se Hezky! Have a Great Day!
Voter suppression isn’t new. It’s been around since before Jim Crow Laws. It has taken on many shapes and sizes like poll taxes, literary tests, intimidation, and physical attacks. Laws like the Voting Rights Act of 1965 did away with some of these forms, but where old ones died, new ones were invented. Today, many are disguised as protection against voter fraud and some forms of voter suppression have never died, like intimidation by threat or force. But I recently discovered that it’s one thing to read about voter suppression, and quite another to witness how it unfolds first hand.
As most of you know, the Covid-19 Pandemic hs delayed my move to Prague. Since being temporarily grounded I have been finding ways to keep mentally active and to otherwise use my time in limbo productively.
When my county sent out an appeal for election workers a few months ago, I saw an opportunity to challenge myself with a new learning experience, and, to have a hands on participatory part in the most important election of my lifetime.
After testing and training I was selected to work as a “laptop operator” at one of the 9 “one stop” early voting locations in my county which ran for a period of 17 days. My job was to process voters in the data base and to print their paper ballots. Of course I also had to deal with updates, inactive voters, absentee ballots, and sometimes simply explaining to people how to mark the ballot. But my favorite part of the job was registering first time voters who could then immediately cast their ballot.
Living in a University town, as you might imagine, most of the voters I registered were young college students. Some were quiet and shy, others excited or nervous, all were polite and respectful. What you might not imagine is how complicated the process was to get them registered. The most difficult to process were those students who lived off campus and were from other counties and states. Besides a photo I.D. (school I.D.’s do not include addresses) they had to produce a document, from an approved list, that showed their current name and address together in our county. The state accepts utility bills, bank statements, pay stubs and government issued documents.
No student that I worked with had a utility bill in their name, only their parents’ name. Because they’re students they don’t work, so no pay stubs. They bank on-line and their accounts show their home-town address- as did every other acceptable government issued document like car registrations and passports. They don’t pay property tax or yet file taxes with the IRS so no luck there.
If you assume that learning to speak Czech is difficult- you would be right. I have been working at it for two years now and am finally getting the hang of it. In the introduction to one of my Czech textbooks, the author marvels at how the Czech people have managed to keep their language alive and well during so many occupations of their homeland. He comes to the conclusion that it is due to their “Secret National Defense System,”
….. their language!
“I imagine that Czech was so difficult for the foreign invaders that they were unable to interact in a meaningful way with the Czechs”… and so they… “eventually tired of not being able to communicate much of anything, to anyone, they left, leaving the culture unaffected.” (401 Czech Verbs by Bruce Davies and Jana Hejduková)
The most difficult part of the language is its system of 7 different Cases in which nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and most numerals change their endings according to the Case used. The Cases define the relationship between words in a sentence, ie. who or what is the subject, direct object, or indirect object, etc. (Word order is not necessarily important in Czech but is crucial in English) For instance, here are some spelling changes for the word: domawhich means home: “at home” is doma, “go home” jdi domů, “leave home” opustit domov, and “in the home” v domě.
On the flip side, Czech is a phonetic language, which makes it easy to pronounce and spell- unlike English with all its silent letters like: “k” in knee, “b” in climb, “h” in hour, “w” in answer, and “gh” in thought. But more about the history and structure of English in another Post…
Did You Know That Queen Elizabeth I Spoke 9 Languages Fluently?
“She possessed nine languages so thoroughly that each appeared to be her native tongue; five of these were the languages of peoples governed by her, English, Welsh, Cornish, Scottish, for that part of her possessions where they are still savage, and Irish. All of them are so different, that it is impossible for those who speak the one to understand any of the others. Besides this, she spoke perfectly Latin, French, Spanish, and Italianextremely well.”
–Giovanni Carlo Scaramelli, Venetian Ambassador 1603
People often speculate as to which language is the most difficult to learn, usually assuming it’s the one that they speak. But difficulty is all relative. Relative to how similar the language is to your own (grammatically and phonetically), how well you learn in general, and of course, how motivated you are to learn it, among other things.
That being said, I checked out the Foreign Service Institute’s (FSI) ranking of world languages based upon their level of difficulty for native English speakers. The FSI provides training for U.S. foreign diplomats, so I figured they would know. They have divided languages into 4 categories with Cat 1 being easiest and Cat 4 labelled as “exceptionally” difficult. No surprise that Spanish and French fall into Cat 1 and that Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean are Cat 4. The bulk of the languages fall under Cat 3, which is where you will find Czech. (I won’t argue)
Of course, I am highly motivated to learn Czech as I plan to live and work in the country. But why should you learn to speak another language if you don’t plan to leave the U.S? Why should you be a polyglot (like Queen Elizabeth) and not a monoglot? Based upon my own experience, and with the help of Dr. Neel Burton, author of “ Beyond Words: The Benefits of Being Bilingual” (article appears in “Psychology Today” online July 2018), I would sum it up this way….
It enriches your life. As Dr. Burton points out,multilingualism is closely linked to multiculturalism. As we investigate and learn another language we naturally come to know and appreciate that culture. Your understanding, empathy, and compassion will expand.
It connects you to the world which is increasingly interconnected through the Internet and other technologies. Now more than ever before we travel, trade, and work with people and businesses around the world.
It’s good for your brain health. Learning a foreign language is a great brain exercise that increases gray matter. It works the part of your brain that handles executive functions like analysis, problem solving, working memory, multi-tasking and attention control.
But, I suppose, there is a fourth, and very simple reason to learn a foreign language- it’s fun! How cool is it to be able to talk with another person in a second language? In my next post I will talk about tips for language study that have helped me.
Dear Readers, do you speak a foreign language? What has been your experience with learning another language? I’d love to hear about your language journey.
“Due to recent Government cutbacks, The Light At The End Of The Tunnel has been turned off.”
I laughed out loud the first time I read this clever quip painted on a small plaque in a Hallmark store. But in today’s Pandemic environment, these words have the sting of truth about them and they’re not so funny. When every daily event, and all future plans must be filtered through the reality of the Coronavirus, with no end in sight, it feels like there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
As most of you know, for the last two years I have been working to bring a dream to fruition— to move to Prague and teach English. What you don’t know is how close I came to realizing my dream before the Pandemic struck. Last November I went to Prague for two weeks, had two job interviews, and got two job offers. My plan was to move there in June of 2020. Now I’m in indefinite limbo with no idea as to when the light will reappear at the end of that tunnel.
There are only two real responses to finding yourself in a darkened tunnel. You can scream and curse the darkness, ( all the while eating too much and “doom scrolling” online until you create for yourself an inert depression.) Or, you can stumble your way forward into the darkness with no assurances about what lies ahead.
Literally speaking, the human eye requires very little light to see in the darkness, even the dimmest of starlight will do. When confronted with darkness, our eyes automatically adjust. The pupils expand to let in more light and a transition occurs in our light sensing cells from the use of cones, which see color and detail, to rods that give us our night vision. The whole process only takes about 20 minutes to be at full capacity.
Now, if only the darkness of mind and spirit adapted as quickly or as easily! If you are like me, you may find yourself alternating between determination and despair. Most days I’m hopeful and productive, but some days I am too despondent to even try to accomplish anything. While contemplating my (our) current dilemma, I remembered this poem by Emily Dickinson that perfectly articulates our struggle to adapt to this new reality that we find ourselves in.
We grow accustomed to the dark—
When Light is put away—
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye—
A Moment—We uncertain step
For newness of the night—
Then—fit our Vision to the Dark—
And meet the Road—erect—
And so of larger—Darknesses—
The Evenings of the Brain—
When not a Moon disclose a sign—
Or Star—come out—within—
The Bravest—grope a little—
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead—
But as they learn to see—
Either the Darkness alters—
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight—
And Life steps almost straight.
I try not to be too hard on myself during these uncertain times, and I suggest you do the same. Eventually, either the darkness will alter or our sight will adjust itself. Of course, things won’t be the same post Pandemic, but we will all find our equilibrium again, and Life will step “almost straight.”
Dear Readers, have you found yourself in a darkened tunnel of late wondering when the light will be turned on again? If so, I’d love to hear how you’ve been coping.
The writer has made an attempt to draw the hammer and sickle, the symbol of solidarity between the peasant farmers and the industrial working-class- first adopted during the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Every day as I tromp up the stairs of the parking garage returning to my car after teaching, my foot falls on this message written on one of the step landings. I often wonder about the stranger who wrote it and why? Was he or she in need of an encouraging word at the end of every day in order to come back to work the next? A reminder that their paycheck wasn’t the whole story?
After recently receiving my first pay check from my new teaching job, this message has been on my mind a lot. As most of you know, I am in the midst of pursuing a new career in teaching ESL. In case any of my readers are considering the same, I should make it abundantly clear that ESL is not a lucrative career. It is difficult to find anything more than part-time work here in the U.S. I teach a four hour class five days a week. I spend long hours of preparation for which I am not compensated. Class attendance is sporadic and within the same class I must adjust to students who are at multi-levels of English ability.
But still, the work is rewarding! Most of my students are appreciative and motivated, thanking me at the end of every class. Watching them with heads bent tackling a worksheet, I feel so proud of the effort they are making. It is the combination of our efforts that creates the payoff. The school doesn’t half compensate me for what I’m worth, so I have to seek the intangible wage. And I’m grateful to the mysterious encourager who scribbled these words on the step knowing that someone else needed a reminder of their true value at the end of every day as well.
“The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Unlike a motor boat, a sailboat cannot proceed directly into the wind. If that is its desired course, a sailing vessel must use the wind, allowing it to blow the ship from side to side, a maneuver called tacking. Thus progress forward is achieved by patiently and intentionally navigating a zigzag line.
As many of you know, my goal is to teach ESL in Prague, Czech Republic. My journey toward that end began by volunteer teaching and getting my TEFL certification last year. Now I’m tacking. I was offered a job teaching ESL at the Community College, and I started three weeks ago. I’ve signed a contract through December and fully expect to renew it in January for the spring term.
What may seem like a detour or delay is in reality an intentional tactical maneuver that I believe will propel me forward toward my intended destination. The experience and knowledge I’m gaining in my new teaching position will open doors to better job opportunities when I do make it to Prague. As much as I want to charge ahead, I know I will arrive at just the right time if I stay this course of the zigzag line.
Dear Readers: what has your life’s voyage been like? A motorboat, or a sailboat heading into the wind? Do tell.
Where did the time go? Everyone asks this question as we contemplate the expiring year and the emerging new one. Especially as we get older, we shake our heads in disbelief that another year has passed. But today I want to talk about the opposite feeling- the feeling that time is standing still. That feeling when the hours, days and weeks seem to drag by. Have you ever had periods in your life when you felt just like that?
A week or two before Christmas I found myself standing in a long line at the post office in order to mail a package. When I took my place at the back of the line I was just barely inside the door. Ahead of me stood the many disgruntled postal patrons whose body language telegraphed their irritation and frustration about the interminably long wait. But were they correct in their assumptions?
I too used to enter the post office, see the long line, and feel my mood sink in a kind of despair over the anticipated wait. In that moment I would experience a sudden suspension of time. But one day I decided to “test” that reality and time my actual wait. This I did on numerous occasions, and always I was surprised by how short the wait was. I found that there was a big gap between my perceived wait time and my actual wait time. I had to confess that my perception was actually based not in reality but in a preconceived idea about postal lines. In spite of all the people in line with all their packages and envelopes, the line moved surprisingly quickly.
This little anecdote has a parallel to another perceived passage of time that I’m experiencing right now. As I prepare and plan to make my move to teach overseas, the waiting seems interminably slow. Will it ever happen I wonder? Time seems to be standing still or at best inching forward toward a day of departure that can be marked on a calendar. Again and again a sense of anxious impatience rises within me that needs a reality check.
Although I can’t calculate my wait time in minutes as at the post office, I need to put this waiting period in proper perspective so as to minimize my discouragement. The best way to do that I’ve found is two-fold. First of all I look back at all that I’ve accomplished since making the determination to move. By volunteer teaching I have gained 11 months of classroom teaching experience and have created numerous lesson plans that I can use in a future classroom. I also completed my TEFL certification and created a new targeted resume. I started studying Czech with materials sent to me by my cousin in Prague and she and I Skype every two weeks.
The second thing I do is look ahead and make a list of all the things that will have to be put in place in order to go. It is a very long list: research potential employers, make preliminary contact with those employers, sell my house, put furniture in storage, buy a new laptop, arrange for banking, phone service etc. etc. etc. Contemplating this list is sobering and makes the waiting time seem very short indeed.
Please don’t imagine that I’ve only had to process through this cycle only once. I do it on a regular basis and each time that I regain clarity on my perspective I realize that things will unfold as they are meant to unfold. I cannot speed up or slow down time. I can only put one foot in front of the other, tackle the task at hand and believe that eventually I’ll be at the front of the line.
Dear Readers: Are you in a place of impatience for something to begin (or end) in your life? Was there a period of time in your life when waiting made the time stand still? How did you get through it? Please share in the comments.
“You know if you are born a Renaissance Woman, or have met a Renaissance Woman, because: You/She can mix the knowledge of what is considered disparate spheres into a new whole…”_____ Urban Dictionary
Have you ever asked yourself the question, “What’s wrong with me?” I have. Usually I ask it while reflecting on something really dumb or unkind that I’ve thought, done or said. But there are also times when I ponder this question when comparing myself to other people. In particular, their career path compared to mine. How my jobs seem to have randomly wandered from field to field while other peoples’ seem to have been targeted toward a known end and stayed the course.
Just as in the past, when I got my resume all organized and looked it over, I saw this meandering, very nonlinear work history that made me pause and say “What’s wrong with me?”How I envy those people who I imagine to have always known what they wanted to do and where they wanted to go, and so, have very linear, logically progressing work histories! “Why can’t I be like everyone else,” I wonder?
In a world that tends to reward and more readily validate those who have climbed a logically progressing career ladder with aplomb, its easy to feel like you’ve missed the boat or failed somehow if your career path looks more like mine- a sailboat tacking across a tempestuous sea. After-all I have been a travel agent, environmental educator, musician/song-writer, legal assistant, and hospital chaplain, just to name a few.
But I’ve learned, (and truthfully, I’m stilllearning,) to embrace this uniqueness about myself. To see it as an asset and not a liability. To not ask, “what’s wrong with me?” but instead, “what’s right?” I have always been driven to explore, inquire, and learn in many fields, which has led me to multiple proficiencies. This is who I am, a Renaissance Woman.
The better question to ask now is, “how can I use this to my advantage?” Quite honestly, I can hardly imagine a better field than teaching to bring a broad base of knowledge to bear. Maybe not having a specific trajectory has allowed me to arrive at this moment in time. Maybe now I’ll have the opportunity to coalesce my “disparate spheres” into a greater whole to the benefit of my current students and to my potential future ones. I’m hoping that employers will feel the same way as I move forward with my dream.
Dear Readers: Are you a Renaissance man or woman? Have you ever struggled with a similar view of your life’s path and wondered what it all meant? How have you, or haven’t you reconciled yourself to it? Please feel free to share.
The essence of leaving home is change. Change brings the excitement of new adventure as well as fear of the unknown and the unfamiliar. As children going away to camp, or as young adults going off to college, many of us have felt the temporary, but very real pangs of homesickness. Those times when loss of the familiar feels like a trap door has opened beneath our feet. But eventually we embrace leaving as a part of natural growth.
And then something happens over time. We work hard to create a comfortable world around us that is to our liking; our home, friends, activities, the work we do- they all become part of a rhythm of days that flows like a well-worn river bed. Life becomes more complicated too, and entangled with responsibilities. No longer can we simply “pack up and go.” Sometimes there is so much effort involved in getting away that we simply don’t. Pretty soon complacency begets inertia. And once again, we find that leaving home is not so easy to do for a whole new set of reasons.
As I contemplate moving to Prague, I wonder if I will be able to leave home when the time comes. The immensity of leaving all that is comfortable and familiar to me; my great little house, my routine, my senior pets, for a place that is entirely foreign sometimes overwhelms me. How will it all get sorted out? Physical aging too has shown me just how easy it is to succumb to inertia. It brings new meaning to the law of physics that states “a body at rest, tends to stay at rest.”
I assure you that my decision to go has not been taken lightly. I believe that acknowledging doubts and fears is not a defeatist attitude, it’s just being honest. Even with all the uncertainty and complications known, and yet to be discovered, I’m still going to continue to work toward my goal in the coming year- because, of one thing I am certain. Just like exercising your body to keep it able to exercise, change is a muscle that must be flexed in order to keep it loose and limber. Remaining flexible and open to change are what keep us young as we age. Leaving home and moving overseas to an unfamiliar place is a big and scary thing, but oh, the possibilities!
Dear Readers: Have you experienced the inertia of complaceny? Resistance to change? Maybe it was a time when you too were leaving the familiarity of home. How did you, or are you dealing with your fear? Please share.
Sometimes a door opens in front of you that you did not anticipate, but seems so right to walk through. That is exactly what happened to me in January. I went to an informational workshop at The Literacy Council to learn about volunteer opportunities. While there, I was invited to take part in their one week English as a Second Language (ESL) program that was starting the next day. I took the training and by February I was teaching the advanced class two mornings a week.
I knew immediately that the job was a perfect fit. My students are a joy, and I love helping them to progress and be successful. My own success as their teacher led me to complete a certification course this past summer that will allow me to teach English overseas.
What began as a desire to volunteer, opened a door onto a new path that has the potential to lead me into a whole new world of experience. But isn’t that the way it is most of the time when we volunteer? We come willing to give and to help others, and yet we seem to be the ones who benefit the most. We walk away with a full heart, amazed at all we’ve been given.
Dear Readers, Has this ever happened to you? Please share about a volunteer experience in which you gained as much as you gave.