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.
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
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.