Initial Impressions + Brno ETA Orientation

Hello, everyone!

I have now officially been in the Czech Republic for one whole week! Each day has been full of meeting new people, getting settled in, and preparing for the months ahead. In this post, I will share an overview of my arrival to my town of Český Těšín, orientation in Brno, and cultural differences that I’ve noticed thus far.

As always, please leave a comment below if you have any questions or would like to request any specific posts!

**Český Těšín is pronounced (Ch-eh-ski Teh-shin).

Arriving to Český Těšín

In the Czech Republic, I have learned that individual teachers often take responsibility for hosting a “project” or beginning a new idea at his or her school. I was under the impression that my school had applied for a Fulbright ETA, but it turned out that my mentor, Gabi, was really the one who applied and has been planning my stay here.

Gabi and her family have been extremely generous to me already during my time here and I am looking forward to getting to know them even better during these 10 months.

Gabi arranged a flat for me at her next-door neighbor’s house. It is the upstairs portion of the home and is spacious and cozy. I have a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and a hallway with storage space for hats and purses and such. I knew as soon as I saw the purple bed and bookshelves that I would quickly feel right at home.

The flat is also in a great location. It is approximately a 10 minute walk to the school, a 10 minute walk to a grocery store, and a 15 minute walk from the train station and the border crossing.

Of course, my pillow pet swagasaurous made the journey
Experiencing a wonderful Czech welcome on the night of my arrival

After sleeping a lot and unpacking, I set off with the other Fulbright ETA in my town, Sarah, to explore the town. We are the only two Czech Republic ETAs who are placed in the same town, and I feel very lucky to have her here!

As I’ve discussed in a previous post, my town is split by the Czech/Polish border. It was an incredible feeling to walk across the bridge for the first time. While the Czech side feels more residential, it does have a few restaurants, grocery stores, and shops that are all very walkable. On the other hand, the Polish side is more lively with people out and about shopping and sitting outside at cafes and most people that I’ve met so far agree that it is more beautiful.

The Czech town hall and main square in Český Těšín
The Polish main square in Cieszyn
One thing I love about the Czech Republic so far is the importance placed upon having a beautiful backyard (always called a garden) and spending time outdoors.

My school placement

One thing I was surprised to find out during orientation was how much importance is placed upon our position not only as a teaching assistant, but also as an American ambassador in our towns. For example, we do not teach a full-time teacher course-load as it is also important for us to be active members of our towns and our communities.

The Czech Fulbright commission purposefully does not allow schools in Prague to apply for an ETA, and prefers to give opportunities to schools in smaller towns who do not have convenient access to native English speakers.

The Czech secondary school system is much different than in the US. Students apply to two secondary schools at the age of about 14 or 15 and can pick a school anywhere they please. In other words, many students commute to the school, which makes it challenging for students to stay for after school clubs or sports.

There are SO many types of speciality schools, but the two main categories (from my understanding) are “gymnasium” schools, which typically prepare students for university, and practical or vocational schools, which prepare students for trades and careers.

Vocational schools can have one focus or many focuses. Some types I’ve heard about so far include military, engineering, nursing, art schools, pedagogical teaching schools, forestry schools, and many more.

Here is a photo of my school, Albrechtova! It is home to 750 students and about 60 teachers and is located in 2 buildings.

At my school, I will teach English lessons every week to students of various ages and also visit practical lessons. Gabi informed me last night that some of my additional activities will include visiting agricultural classes and learning to milk a cow and plow with a tractor as well as collaborating with culinary students to cook Thanksgiving dinner.

I am hoping to run an after school English club, but I am waiting to see how the first week of school goes and what students are interested in since many commute. The first couple of weeks, I will mainly be observing as the school has a temporary schedule for a while.

I was surprised to learn that schools have no particular start time or end time. While the government sets a start date and end date for school, each school day can start and end at various times. If a teacher does not have a lesson until “3rd period” or is done at the end of the day, it is also fine to go home.

Additionally, it is easier to take students on field trips or outside during the day because there isn’t really a need for waivers and paperwork like there is in American schools.

Many of my students who work in trades such cooking or becoming a waiter work at this local coffeeshop called Avion.

ETA training in Brno

New friends!

I spent Tuesday-Friday in Brno, the Czech Republic’s second largest city. Brno is located in the Moravian region of the Czech Republic and is very lively. My cohort of 31 spent each day from 8:30-5 in sessions about the Fulbright program, teacher training, cultural differences to expect, and safety guidelines.

In the evenings we tried local food and of course, some local Czech beer. It was so nice to meet the rest of my cohort and spend the week becoming friends. We have a limited amount of days allowed out of the country, and are highly encouraged to spend some weekends visiting each other and getting to better know the Czech Republic. We will meet again soon for a further orientation in Prague!

Enjoying various Czech folk performances in the Old Town Hall

Exploring the city of Brno

Cultural differences

Since I have only been here one week so far, I have not yet been able to ascertain more complex cultural differences. However, I wanted to note some smaller differences that I have either noticed or were discussed by the Fulbright Commission during our Brno orientation.

I think that this list will be fun for me to look back on after 10 months immersing myself in the culture.

  • Air conditioning is rare
  • Showers mainly have detachable shower-heads and not overhead showers
  • Bug screens are not common on windows/doors
  • The drinking culture is more relaxed and can often be seen on the street or in some workplaces
  • If a Czech person asks you to get coffee or come visit their vacation home, they firmly intend to set a plan
  • Shoes should be taken off in the home and some schools even require teachers to change shoes from street shoes to school shoes
  • Czech women have the ending “ova” added to their last names. For example, my last name would be “Kobosova”

People are known for being more direct and may smile less or appear less outwardly friendly to Americans

This evening, I am attending the birthday party of Gabi’s husband in their garden and then attending a local beer festival on the Polish side of town with a colleague!

Since school will start on Monday and orientation is now over, I will be spending this week observing various classes at the school, continuing to adjust to my new life here and building regular healthy routines such as cooking, walking/jogging in the local park, journaling, and studying Czech!

Thank you for reading,

Courtney

Czech Republic Fulbright

A Comprehensive Tip List: Applying for a Fulbright ETA

Applying for a Fulbright is a big decision and a long process, but it is well worth it in the end due to the growth you will experience during the application process and for the chance to represent your country and teach abroad.

Since being awarded a Fulbright ETA (English Teaching Award) for the Czech Republic earlier this year, I’ve received a few messages from friends who plan to apply and have questions. Thus, I’ve decided to put together a comprehensive post with my best tips! If you would like more specific advice, I would be happy to answer more questions via email or in the comment section. I would also like to emphasize that by no means am I an expert! I can only share from my personal experience. Please utilize the resources at your university and consult anyone and everyone to give yourself the best shot at an award possible.

An overview: WHAT IS FULBRIGHT?

For those who may be unfamiliar, Fulbright describes itself as follows: 

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program provides grants for individually designed study/research projects or for English Teaching Assistant Programs.  A candidate will submit a Statement of Grant Purpose defining activities to take place during one academic year in a participating country outside the U.S. During their grants, Fulbrighters will meet, work, live with and learn from the people of the host country, sharing daily experiences.  The program facilitates cultural exchange through direct interaction on an individual basis in the classroom, field, home, and in routine tasks, allowing the grantee to gain an appreciation of others’ viewpoints and beliefs, the way they do things, and the way they think. Through engagement in the community, the individual will interact with their hosts on a one-to-one basis in an atmosphere of openness, academic integrity, and intellectual freedom, thereby promoting mutual understanding.

The Fulbright ETA (English Teaching Assistant) program is one of several Fulbright programs. The ETA grant places individuals in countries around the world (typically in smaller towns) to teach English language at the elementary, secondary, and university level. Other programs include opportunities to complete a Masters degree abroad or to conduct research.

Starting Research

Perhaps the most difficult part of starting one’s application is that individuals may only apply to ONE country. For the purpose of this post, I will be focusing on my ETA application. 

Before you choose a country, do research! Asking yourself the hard questions early will ensure that when actually writing your essays, your passion for the country comes through. Although I knew very little about the Czech Republic when I started doing research, I was able to better sell why I was a good fit for the country after keeping up with current news and researching their education system.


A snapshot of my visit to Prague in the spring of 2017

Questions to consider as you research:

  • What are you looking for in your experience? What countries appeal to you and why?
    • Start crossing some countries off the list. I crossed off countries that had a language requirement and that did not have high school placements to begin narrowing it down.
  • Why do you want to go to these countries?
  • What can you offer these countries? 
  • How do your skills and experiences make you a good fit specifically?
  • What is the education system like the country you are considering? 

If you can’t answer all of these questions at first, that’s okay! Continue to do research and find a country that is a great fit for you. 

Once you have an idea of what countries may suit you, use the resources and staff at your university in the scholarships office to narrow it down. 

The essays

  • Start by focusing on paragraphs/elements instead of the essay as a whole
    • At first, the two essays (Statement of Grant Purpose and Personal Statement) seem similar and the 1-page limit is tough! To avoid getting overwhelmed, start by focusing on experiences that will make you shine and piece write paragraphs about each experience. Your university and other advisors can help you pick your best moments later. 
    • Piece writing paragraphs will also help you from overemphasizing on length when you’re starting out. You’ll be able to edit it down on the end
  • Ask for advice from everyone 
    • In the end, you’ll have spent so much time with these essays that you’ll be sick of them. Ask various friends to read for different things. Have a non-education friend look for jargon and have another look for sentence clarity. Set up times each week for feedback so that your application continues to progress even when you want to rip it apart.
    • I also suggest saving each version as you edit so that you can go back and re-insert something if you’ve deleted it
  • Tie your points of emphasis back to the country for which you are applying 
    • For every experience that you write about, find a way to tie it back to your country. Did you help manage a group of volunteers at your university? Did you conduct undergrad research? Do you plan to go to grad school one day? Have you visited the country that you are applying for? Good!! How will this experience inform what you are going to do once you have received the Fulbright award? 
    • Be specific! What specific teaching experiences do you have that you can use when you receive Fulbright?
    • Each sentence in your application should be something that only you could say.

Short answer 

The short answers may have been the most challenging portion of the whole application for me. They are SO short and I couldn’t figure out how to make an entire point that concisely. I would recommend writing your essays first and then identifying gaps or areas that you would like to emphasize in the short answer portion. It’s okay to reiterate points in your essay that you’d like your readers to remember.

Recommenders 

  • Ask them early!
  • Pick recommenders who have seen you operate in a specific setting and then let them know why you are requesting a letter from them. I asked my 3 recommenders to each focus on a different aspect. I asked my research mentor focus on my ability to work independently and complete research, my academic mentor to talk about my cross cultural competence in a teaching setting, and a supervisor from an international job I held to talk about my flexibility and teaching experience in Ecuador.

The Interview 

All Fulbright applications require an interview at your university. The Fulbright Commission requires this because of the large number of Fulbright applications that they receive. Your university will decide whether or not to “recommend” you, and then you will move on to the first stage of the process. Some countries require additional interviews, but the Czech Republic only required an interview with Elon’s faculty and staff. Later, after I had been awarded semi-finalist status, I also completed a 5 question short answer questionnaire that I received via email from the Czech Republic and returned to the country commission. Key takeaway: every country is a bit different so research online to find out your country’s specific process. 

My INTERVIEW tips:

  • Don’t stress too much about the interview. Let your research knowledge and passion for your country shine through. Your university wants to know that you are prepared and will represent your school and your country well as a Fulbrighter.
  • Practice your answers with friends and be prepared for questions based on what you wrote in your essays.
  • If you have a questionnaire or interview with your country, really think about what you want out of the experience. For example, in my questionnaire, I had to specify what type of school placement I wanted and what type of town I wanted to be placed in using my past experiences to emphasize why I thought I would be a good fit for the country. It is important to say what you want in the application and not just focus on what you think the commission wants to hear.
After several months and many hours of work, here’s my tired moment of accomplishment!

Waiting

Second only to choosing a country to apply to, waiting months to hear back from the commission really tested my patience. I kept myself busy by applying to fun summer programs, joining Fulbright chatrooms on Reddit and an app called Slack, and generally reminding myself that I had plenty of other opportunities. While applying for Fulbright is a long process, a lot of good comes from it even if you aren’t accepted. You’ll work with awesome mentors and friends crafting the application, think deeply about your future goals and plans, and create documents that you can borrow from when writing cover letters and other job applications.

If you’ve applied to Fulbright, what other tips and recommendations do you have? Leave your tips or your questions as a comment! To keep up with my Fulbright journey (I leave in just 3 weeks on August 22nd!), follow me at: 

Instagram: Tastetravelteach_
Twitter: Courtintheclass
Facebook: CourtneyTasteTravelTeach

Fulbright

Postgrad Feelings & Fear of the Unknown

In late elementary school, I began one of my favorite summer traditions — attending summer camp at His Hill Ranch Camp in Comfort, Texas.

Years later, I even wrote my college application essays about my camp experiences at His Hill choosing to respond to the prompt, “What is your favorite place in the world and why?”

I loved everything about His Hill. I loved meeting other kids and staying in a cabin, doing outdoor activities like canoeing and zip lining, and having camp counselors who came from places all over the world.

A classic last day of camp activity

At His Hill, participating in activities that scared us emphasized the need to overcome innate fear and have trust in something greater than ourselves. We catapulted through the air on a wooden contraption called the “Screamer,” went mountain biking and cave exploring, and fell backwards off of a trust fall at “Low Elements.” Each summer, I became more comfortable with being uncomfortable and my faith and confidence grew.

Although my understanding of the world has shifted in ways and become more complex, the lessons that I learned at His Hill undoubtedly remain an integral part of my personal beliefs.

In big moments and big decisions, like booking my plane ticket to the Czech Republic or deciding to go to college far away, I choose to lean back on the trust fall once again, knowing I’ll land in the arms of those who love me.

While I’ve learned to use the mix of excitement and nervousness that come with big decisions, it’s the moments that seem small and are in-between that challenge me. A self-professed lover of organization and routine, I strain to envision my day to day life will look like in a new place, and am sometimes frustrated when I realize that I won’t really know until I’m there.

To combat the chaos of life and the unknown, I sometimes spend too much time trying to control the little things. I wonder what the next stage will look like. I worry about losing touch with those close to me or forgetting moments that are important to me. I am scared of life passing me by and wondering why I didn’t take the chance to do something great. Going to the Czech Republic doesn’t scare me in itself, but all of the unknowns do.

For me, moments of bravery are less about big decisions, but are beneath the surface in the little ones. I am brave when I let myself rest. I am brave when I take a step back and focus on the important things and the people that matter the most. (Luckily, they help put things in better perspective for me!).

Graduating brings so many crazy and new and exciting moments. This week, I start my training as a Duke University Summer Academy TA. I will be TA’ing 3 courses – a 3 week business course, a 1 week STEM camp, and a 3 week leadership course. I’m incredibly excited to live in Durham over the summer and take advantage of new places to explore and new people to meet. But, of course, I’ve found myself overthinking about what my time there will look like.

I’m currently reading a non-fiction work by Rebecca Solnit about activism called, “Hope in the Dark,” a gift from one of my favorite Elon professors. As I move to new places and step into the unknown, I’m comforted by Solnit’s words: “To hope is to gamble. It’s to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk.” She reminds us that the future (and the dark) are always unpredictable. Yet, we must go anyway and things will be okay!

To post-grad life and gambling for hope! We got this 🙂

Reflections

Tractors, Mushrooming, & Drag Shows

At 8:30am last Thursday morning, I arrived at a field in nearby Ropice via car with one of Albrechtova’s agricultural teachers and three female students. Outfitted with my borrowed polka-dotted rain boots, I took in the view; after a few days of rain, the sun was glistening on the grass’s morning dew. I greeted two other students who had driven the tractor earlier in the morning to the field.

Translating, a student turned to me – “Our teacher wants to know if you’ve ever driven a tractor before.” 

I shook my head and laughed.

“Do you have a driver’s license?”

I nodded. “Ano” (yes), I answered in Czech.

“Okay,” The student informed me. 

“So first, you will sit in the tractor and watch two students drive. Then, it’s your turn.” While I had known for a few days that a tractor excursion was in my future, I wasn’t sure if I’d actually be allowed to drive it myself. I looked a bit nervously at the few already-plowed perfectly straight lines. Who knew that I’d be learning to drive a big red tractor in a town of 1,500 in the Czech Republic.

I hopped in, ready to listen carefully in an attempt to not destroy their well-plowed work. Once inside, two agricultural students used their new tractor vocabulary to talk me through the steps.

“So, you will put down plow, press clutch and then first……”

“Gear,” Another student filled in for him.

“First gear. Then slowly release clutch and press gas here. Then you can go.”

“You want to keep the tire in the fallow.” The other student added as we bumped our way down the first plowing run. Despite the relatively simple instructions, tractor driving proved to be difficult at times. Driving is bumpy, you have to back up and avoid trees and other objects on the sides of the field, and sod occasionally gets stuck in the plow part of the tractor. Admittedly, I did kill the engine one time, but I was proud as can be when one student asked me, “Are you sure this is your first time driving a tractor?” 

For the rest of the morning, I alternated between riding in the tractor, driving the tractor, and sitting in the field with the students taking breaks. It was my first time interacting with a small group of students, and I value the time that we had to get to know one another. Students in practical fields have certain days “out of school” for practical lessons. Some professions alternate between one week of class and one week of work, while others have off a couple of days every other week during which they have practical experiences.

Visiting an animal exhibition with agriculture students

The students at Albrechtova have a wide range in English level, which is largely dependent on their chosen field of study (some will take advanced final exams called “Maturita” and some will not). And, interestingly, I’ve noticed that many students with advanced English either spend time watching English movies/videos or playing video games and speaking in English over a headset to native-speaking friends. 

A large majority of the students seem interested in getting to know me and take advantage of the chance to practice English no matter their level. It is wonderful to feel so welcomed. As I begin to build relationships in the school, I have been extremely thankful that many students have asked about the after-school clubs that I will soon be starting, have showed in interest in U.S. politics and the differences between our countries, and have invited me to join in on activities that they enjoy.

Just this morning, I said yes to attending a latin dance class taught by a student in about a week and going skiing with a student this winter (a sport I’ve never tried!). This year, I’m aware of the exciting opportunity to be both a teacher and a learner. In the past few weeks, I’ve talked to students about topics varying from American football, the difference in drinking ages and driving licenses, politics, healthcare, and university student loans. They’ve wondered and asked what students in the U.S. learn about the Czech Republic, whether or not I like Czech food and beer, and why I chose to come to their town.

Trying fried cheese & Czech beer – Smažený sýr and České pivo!  

Additionally, I spend time every day learning. My mentor has been kind enough to begin weekly (much needed!) Czech lessons with me, and I’m learning to distinguish the difference between Czech, Polish, and a regional dialect spoken in my area. I’m navigating a new school, different computer keyboard set-ups, and learning the proper greetings for people of various ages. Each week, I’m trying new activities and I’m learning to laugh at myself when I make mistakes. I’m navigating complex topics surrounding the current United States news and political situations. And, I’m learning to ask questions and listen to learn more about the life experiences of my new friends.

When I applied for Fulbright Czech Republic last October, I knew that being flexible and open were vital components for a successful application and a successful lifestyle as a Fulbrighter. Once I arrived here, I was reminded of how valuable these traits are because learning to “adult” for the first time in a foreign place can be challenging. For example, tasks that are mindless and part of one’s daily routine back home like running errands, paying a bill, or ordering at a restaurant become new adventures. I would like to give a major shoutout to the Google Translate app and especially, the photo → translate feature for saving me many times. I’m also lucky that I’m an adventurous eater with 0 food allergies!

One of my favorite things about Czech people is that they like to plan ahead and set times to do activities with one another. Going out to eat with friends is less common here, so many people prefer to go out for coffee or to try an activity. I love quality time and going to new places, and I am extremely grateful to my new colleagues at work for inviting me on many adventures already. 

This past weekend, I was invited to attend a drag show and to go mushrooming. Originally, I don’t know which invitation shocked me more — the fact that a small village restaurant was hosting a drag show event or the news that most Czech people regularly participate in the fall sport/hobby/obsession that is mushrooming. 

Both events were fantastic. At the drag show on Friday, I appreciated the attendees young and old who put their regular lives on pause for a moment to laugh and enjoy. My mentor translated some of the Czech jokes for me and I even was pulled up on “stage” with them to dance for a song.

I took Saturday to recover and to prepare myself for the full Czech “mushrooming” experience. On Sunday morning, I was surprised to see the crowd at the train station. The teachers accompanying me explained that Sunday morning is a popular time for many to head to the mountains for a day of exploration. There were older groups of “pensioners,” groups with mountain bikes, many with hiking gear, families, and others with baskets ready to be filled with mushrooms.

Enjoying the view with colleagues and friends

We rode the train for about 30 minutes south to a town near the Czech/Slovakia/Polish/Czech tri-border and began our walk up the hill. On our hike, we joked and laughed while they taught me about how to tell a good edible mushroom from a bad one. I made up nicknames for the bad ones – jellyfish mushrooms (nearly translucent), alien mushrooms (crazy orange colors), and monster mushrooms (large rotten ones). We spent the entire morning winding through trails, going deeper into the dark parts of the forest, and sharing the excitement when a good mushroom was spotted. There were many opportunities for good photo cameos with the beautiful mushrooms, which were surprisingly hard to find!

After a day of mushrooming, you’ll find Czechs sharing photos of mushrooms and discussing prime mushrooming conditions, but never sharing their prized mushrooming locations in the forest. After enjoying some freshly made cheese from a farm and a coffee at the top of the hill, we made our way back home where my mentor’s husband showed me how to clean and then cook the mushrooms. It was a rewarding feeling to make meals at home with our hand-picked beauties. 

This Friday, I am headed to visit a fellow Fulbrighter in a nearby town called Frenštát and we will then head to Prague together on Sunday for a second Fulbright orientation. When I return, my teaching responsibilities will continue to increase now that my school has a confirmed schedule for the semester. I’m looking forward to getting to know more students in small group settings and to building relationships with those in my community — two things that make life here even more of a home! 

 

 

Czech Republic Fulbright

First week of work & establishing new routines

It takes time for new places to become familiar, to develop new norms and routines after old ones have grown to feel natural. In May, the moment that truly jolted me and forced me to realize that my time at Elon was coming to an end was not my final day of class or even my final day of student teaching. I was shopping at Aldi one Sunday afternoon, picking out my weekly essentials and determining how to best finish the food in my pantry during my final week. As if she knew that it was my last grocery trip, the check-out woman even complimented my strategic placing of items onto the check-out belt (heaviest items towards the front, bananas and delicate items at the back, obviously). 

I took my bags to my car and then pushed my cart back up to the store entrance. At Aldi, you must place a quarter in the cart to detach it from the others. I locked my cart back into the bunch retrieved my quarter and then returned to my car. The loom of graduation hit me suddenly as I set my quarter back down in its home spot in my little Honda Civic where it would typically wait until the next Sunday where I would retrieve it once again for our Aldi trip. But, this time, I realized that there would be no more trips. Instead, I pulled out my wallet and set the quarter into the coin pouch to later be spent and return to its normal life as a quarter moving from wallet to store and back again.

Not unlike that quarter, I’d soon be leaving my home base at Elon where I’d been returning for the past 4 years to join society in new larger ways and to develop a new routine in a new location. Now, in the Czech Republic, my weekly Sunday grocery trips are at a store called Kaufland that is filled with familiar products labeled with different names, items I’ve never seen before, and a challenge that comes every time I check out and have to tell the check-out person, “nemluvim ceske.”

This week, I (mostly) successfully navigated my first week at school. I presented an introduction Powerpoint in 5 different classes at Albrechtova and began building relationships with students. While an introduction Powerpoint may seem like a small feat, finding my way through a new school with very different routines can prove challenging. For example, in the Czech Republic, teachers do not have a permanent classroom, but rotate every class and use an office as their “home base.” Additionally, when the school bell rings (or at my school, a fun song), that means that students must be in their classrooms — not the teacher. The teachers do not make their way to the classroom until the final bell rings, then making their way from their respective offices. At Albrechtova, classes are spread out over 3 floors and in two buildings that are a 7 minute walk away from each other (confusing!). Additionally, students rotate classes on a bi-weekly schedule and have different classes each day.

In front of the main building of Albrechtova

I’d also been warned that students would stand when the teacher entered the room. I’m not quite sure if the looks on their faces when they saw me enter with their regular class teacher was surprise or nervousness (I’m sure it wasn’t too different from the look on my own face), but over the course of the first lesson, we grew more comfortable with one another.

I shared photos with the students of popular Texas cuisine, our average weather forecast in Grapevine, my family and friends, and of course, Elon. In turn, the students then told me about their practical fields of study at Albrechtova (even in English classes they are divided by this field of study), and asked me a variety of questions about Texas, driving licenses, gun laws in America, the border wall, and the American healthcare system. I attempted a few Czech words, made references to High School Musical and the infamous yellow school busses that have been made famous in American shows and movies, and before I knew it, my first week came to a close. Next week will be another week with an adjusted schedule before the school releases the permanent schedule for the semester.

Over the next few weeks, my mentor and I will be setting up some after-school clubs that I’ll be leading. So far, our ideas for clubs include some small group extra English lessons, an American culture club, English teacher lessons, and lessons to the non-English teachers. Many students commute to school via trains and busses, so we will have to see what types of clubs students are interested in. While this may seem like a lot of extra activities, some clubs will be bi-weekly meetings and as Fulbrighters, we do not teach a full course load.

As the weeks go by, I’ll be continuing to both establish my new routines and seek discomfort through saying yes and embracing new opportunities and invites that come my way. And now, a new Czech Kč coin has made its home in a special spot in my wallet, ready to be deployed each Sunday on my weekly trip to the Kaufland grocery store.  

Photos from the week:

Above: Photos taken in Tesin during a tour of town given by a Albrechtova student

Below: Enjoying a local concert & Polish beerfest with my mentor and her family

Celebrating my mentor’s husband’s birthday

Below: Today I am enjoying a local coffeeshop on a rainy Saturday. In my free time I am writing, blogging, and studying Czech!

_______________________________________________________________

This post is not an official Department of State publication. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, the Department of State, the Fulbright Commission, or the host country.

Czech Republic Fulbright

Packing for a year abroad: How I packed for 10 months in the Czech Republic in one suitcase

Hello! Or in Czech, Dobrý den! I am happy to share that I have arrived safely in my new home for the next 10 months, Český Těšín, Czech Republic. I am currently writing at a little table in my apartment overlooking the garden and several colorful houses in the neighborhood after spending the afternoon exploring the Polish side of town.

Since Český Těšín is located quite far from Prague (about a 4 hour train ride), I decided that it would be best to pack in one large suitcase and carry-ons. After learning the hard way at London Heathrow during my semester in England that lugging two big suitcases is exhausting, I knew that it would be better to pack light and buy things in the Czech Republic if needed.

My biggest piece of packing advice is to lay out everything that you want to pack in one central area. I set up a folding table and in the two weeks prior to my departure, I began to lay out items. Using this method helped me both to determine what I still needed to pack or purchase and where I could cut back.

When packing for the trip, I chose to pack lighter in categories of items that I knew would be relatively inexpensive and easy to purchase once I arrived (toiletries, shirts, decor, etc). I was more strategic with things that are either expensive or fit in a specific manner (think jeans, electronics, coats!)

The packing master (my mom!) helping me roll clothes

Luggage

For luggage I brought one large suitcase, which ended up weighing in at 49 pounds, one large backpack to put in the overhead compartment on the flight, and a black tote bag for my personal item that I plan to use as my work bag here in the Czech Republic.

I packed the heaviest items like shoes and sweaters in this backpack so that my suitcase would not go over the weight limit!

Carry-on items

From left to right: Laptop, important documents, small lock, water bottle, camera, portable charger, computer charger, kindle, airpods, regular headphones, snack pouch, various chargers, journal and pens, tic tacs, chapstick, money belt, passport + cover
Small purse and wallet

Tops

4 graphic t-shirts for working out, sleeping, traveling
3 workout shirts – one short sleeve, two tank tops

2 plain short-sleeve tops
Three long-sleeve layering tops (navy, dark green, black)
6 blouses (1 did not make the photo)
2 cardigans
4 dresses that all can be paired with tights in the colder months

Pants and shorts

Black jeans, blue jeans, black work pants, navy work pants
3 pairs of workout leggings
Sweatpants, pajama set, tights, spandex shorts
Two pairs of shorts

Shoes

Flip flops, sandals, black booties, workout shoes, sneakers, work shoes

Winter gear

6 sweaters of various weights
3 scarves

3 pairs of gloves, 1 hat, 1 umbrella

4 jackets: Medium weight coat, rain jacket, winter/cold rain jacket, light jacket

Random

1 swimsuit

Small daypack and travel towel
Pillow case (not the pillow), sleep mask, pillow pet

Mesh laundry bag
Small jewelry pouches with versatile jewelry

Thank you for reading and for supporting my new Fulbright adventure! If you’d like to continue to hear about my Fulbright adventures, please follow me on WordPress or like my Facebook page, @CourtneyTasteTravelTeach where I’ll be posting photos and sharing my blog posts! Soon, I’ll be posting more about my first impressions of my town and about Fulbright training in Brno, Czech Republic.

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This post is not an official Department of State publication. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, the Department of State, the Fulbright Commission, or the host country.

Czech Republic Fulbright

“Will the World Ever Learn?” Elon student commencement address 2019

Back in late February of 2019, I co-hosted Elon’s first Elon English Language Teaching Symposium on campus. At the event, I delivered a short presentation to our 100 attendees and felt nervous beforehand. 100 people is a large crowd! After the Symposium ended, a professor asked if he could nominate me to speak at graduation for the College of Arts and Sciences and School of Education Ceremony. I was shocked, humbled, and honored. I had just spoken to 100 people, and now I’d be preparing for thousands?! I slept on it, and told him “yes!” shortly after. A few weeks later, I received the news that I had been chosen.

I would like to share the text of my speech with all of you. Thank you to Dr. Jeff Carpenter and Dr. Kim Pyne for being my wonderful speech coaches. Thank you to Dean Ann Bullock, the Dean of the School of Education for supporting me throughout this process!

“Will the World Ever Learn?” Elon student commencement address 2019

Hey y’all! Welcome all to graduation and a big welcome to my fellow graduates. Thank you to the families who have traveled from near and far, and to the professors, friends, and supporters who have encouraged us and cheered us on every step of the way. My name is Courtney Kobos and I am a Texas native, an Elon English and education major, and a future teacher. Like many of you, some pinnacle moments of my Elon experience include traveling, researching, and teaching. And as a teacher, and in classic Elon style, I’m going to ask us to reflect together on our Elon experiences one more time.

Last semester, I began an internship teaching 10th graders at a nearby school. As a class, we read texts about injustice from the Holocaust to Sandy Hook. One was Elie Wiesel’s speech to the United Nations commemorating the Holocaust. The speech concludes with the famous lines: “We must be engaged, we must reject indifference as an option. Indifference always helps the aggressor, never his victims. But will the world ever learn?” During the class activity that followed, a student pulled me aside. Pointing at that final line, she looked at me, concern etched across her face, and whispered the same question Wiesel asks us. “Ms. Kobos, do you think the world will ever learn?” As a teacher, I get asked dozens of questions a day and I can’t say that I’m able to remember them all. However, this unexpected heartfelt question and the student’s worried tone continue to echo in my mind.

In pondering this, I was reminded of a memory from the summer before. I have titled this story, “That time I accidentally signed myself up to run an Ecuadorian 5K.” Let me tell you about my host mom, Maria Jose. Maria Jose is a force to be reckoned with. She selflessly gives her time and love to many in her community, including her kids, her school, and the volunteers who work at the summer camp she founded. Maria Jose also bravely battles two types of cancer and trains for races in the midst of chemo. So, when a colleague asked me if I’d like to go cheer her on during an evening 5k, I gladly agreed. I showed up at her door at 8pm dressed in street clothes, ready to be the loudest “gringa” there. She took one look at me and asked, “What are you wearing? Mihija, you can’t run in that. We’re late, so go get changed into your race clothes!” I panicked. I could not say no to Maria Jose, but running is not my thing–just ask my family here in the crowd. But, I had no choice. I had apparently agreed to run in the race, not just be part of the cheering section. 20 minutes later, we arrived at the trail and approached a group of serious runners decked out in running tights and headlamps. And then, there was me: an outsider wearing skinny jeans, using the flashlight on my phone, and dragging myself up that hill wondering how in the world I ended up there, and trying to swallow my pride when I was the last one to make it to the top. In reflecting on moments like this one, that have pushed me outside of my comfort zone and have forced me to learn and grow — I started to formulate an answer to my student’s question. In order to fully support Maria Jose, I had to run the race alongside her. Standing by and cheering from the sidelines was not enough.

When I returned to Elon, I immediately dove in to another one of the most enriching and uncomfortable periods in my undergraduate career — conducting research. I was awarded the Elon Leadership Prize, which funds students trying to tackle large scale national problems in their communities. My project focused on improving the schooling experience locally for English language learners and building capacity in the education system to better support underserved children. Who was I to take on this broad and nearly unsolvable issue? For a while, I had moments daily where I doubted myself and wondered why I was chosen for this award. But, if I could survive that crazy 5K run up the side of an Ecuadorian mountain, maybe I would accomplish this project the same way — by embracing discomfort and placing myself in the action. Through showing up and doing the work alongside many others, I had the opportunity to see the difference between having knowledge for the sake of knowledge and using knowledge collaboratively to influence local change. Oftentimes, we are told that if we just work together we can change the world. But, I believe that in addition to working together, we also must individually commit, take responsibility, and be daring.

I stand here confidently today, looking out at you, my fellow 2019 graduates. We have now completed our time at Elon. We have taken dozens of classes, met students from across the United States and the world, and have gained knowledge about our future careers and about our passions. I realize now, from my experiences teaching, traveling, and researching, that support from the sidelines is not what the world needs. We must be in the thick of the action and outside of our comfort zones. Just like on that dusty trail in Ecuador, we must put ourselves in the race, even if we are the very last ones to make it to the top, and sometimes even if we didn’t intend on signing up for the race to begin with. We must each choose to fight the tendency to stay on the sidelines, because we have the power to reject indifference.

So, class of 2019, I bring my student’s question back to all of us. “Will the world ever learn?” Can we take the knowledge that we have acquired during our time at Elon and use it to get off the sidelines? Can we push against our natural inclination to be indifferent? Can we get to the top of that hill, not alone, but together? Can we? The answers to these questions are ever evolving. With every step and every choice, no matter our majors, our career paths, or our life journeys, we can demonstrate that the world can learn.

Thank you Mom and Dad, family, friends, and Elon for all of your love and support!

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