Czech Republic Fulbright Finalist

Hi, everyone!

I have some exciting news to share with you all! I have been awarded a one-year Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) grant to the Czech Republic! I have accepted the grant and will be living in the Czech Republic as an English teacher between August 24th, 2019 and June 30th, 2020. Applying for a Fulbright grant is nearly a year-long process that taught me a lot about myself, my future goals and aspirations, and what I want in a future job. I am so thankful to my family, my Fulbright mentors at Elon, and the numerous professors and staff who have encouraged me and coached me throughout this process.

Today, after lots of waiting, I finally found out the name of my school and the town where I will be living in the Czech Republic. Therefore, I thought this would be a great day for my first blog post. In this post, I plan to answer some common questions that I have received about the Fulbright program and my placement. I plan to continue posting on this blog as I prepare for Fulbright and of course, during my grant year.

If you have any questions or ideas for posts, please let me know!

What is Fulbright?

The Fulbright Program began in 1946 under President Harry S. Truman with the goal of fostering relationships between citizens and governments of other countries. Today, there are Fulbright programs in over 140 countries that offer research, study, and teaching opportunities to recent graduates and graduate students. Applying to Fulbright is a long process! I spent two months researching countries and deciding best fit, several months writing my essays and working with professors and staff on Elon’s campus to complete my application, and then many months waiting for the results. The Fulbright grant covers my travel costs to and from the Czech Republic and provides me with a stipend for living costs.

How/Why did you pick the Czech Republic?

When applying for a Fulbright, you can only choose one country to apply for. The process is highly competitive and you will be living there for a full year, so it is extremely important to pick a country that suits you well. Here are some factors that I considered:

  • For many countries, you must be fluent in the language, so I knew those were automatically off the table.
  • Some countries place ETAs at universities or elementary schools, and I knew I wanted to teach at a high school.
  • I was not very interested in western Europe since I have already traveled there.
  • I have Czech and Polish heritage.

The Czech Republic appealed to me for many reasons. I traveled to Prague and Kutná Hora when I studied abroad and loved learning about the history of the country. The country is very centrally located in Europe with access to many great places. Towns are full of cultural events like music, plays, performances, and great beer and food are abundant. I enjoy learning about the country’s past as Hitler’s base during WWII and as part of the Soviet Regime. All of the placements in the country are at secondary schools and the school system is an incredibly interesting vocational-based system. Thus, I decided to apply!

Here’s a photo of me in Prague when I studied abroad in the Spring of 2017.

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What will you teach?

I will teach English! My school is a vocational school in the Moravian-Silesian region of the Czech Republic. Schools must apply and may wait several years to have a Fulbright grantee placed with them. My school has 750 students (65% female). Since it is a vocational school, students have “specializations” including hospitality, polygraphy, agriculture, business, accounting, baristas, and sommeliers. I have also been told that the school competes nation-wide in cooking competitions and projects and that they hope that I will be involved in these extracurricular activities.

Fulbright grantees teach about 20 hours a week. In my spare time, I will complete a supplementary research project and will participate in the extracurricular activities at my school. I also hope to find a language exchange partner to practice Czech with!

How long is the program?

The program is 10 months (August 24th 2019 -June 30th 2020).

Where will you live?

The town where I am placed seems like my perfect fit. It is small/medium sized, seems like it has plenty of cute cafes, and is sort of in two countries?! It is called Česky Těšín and is located on the far east side of the country bordering Poland.

Below, the region outlined in red is Česky Těšín. Poland is located to the right and Slovakia borders the country on the south side.

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In the photo above, you can see that the town is split by a river called the Olza. The town itself is actually in two countries. Part of the town (the Česky Těšín side) is located in the Czech Republic, while the other side (Cieszyn) is located in Poland. Altogether, the population is around 60,000 people.

 

How in the world did this happen?! You may be wondering, as I did just a few hours ago. This town has existed in some form since the 7th century and was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and remained together until it was divided in 1920, splitting it into Poland on one side and Czechoslovakia on the other. Then, during the war, the region was annexed and almost the entire Jewish community was killed. After WWII, the original city borders were restored and now, you can cross between both parts of the city freely over a bridge.

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In terms of housing, I’m not sure yet where I will live! I have been given a mentor at my school who will help me find an apartment to rent.

What language do they speak?

In the Czech Republic, they speak Czech. Czech is a Slavic language that is similar to Slovak, Polish, and Russian. Since I am on a border town, I am expecting a regional dialect that mixes Czech and Polish.

How will you prepare?

This summer, I will be working part-time as a TA with Duke’s Summer Academy. In my free time, I plan to study Czech and read up on some Czech history and literature. Our Fulbright country director also puts us in touch with past grantees who have lived in our area.

I will have about 3 weeks at home at the end of the summer to pack and shop! Our handbook advises us to pack clothes that will suit us between 0-90 degrees Fahrenheit – yikes!

Thank you so much for reading and for your support. I hope that you will follow along as I embark on this journey. Na zdravi! Cheers!

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.

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Czech Republic Fulbright

Prague

After much deliberation, I have to say that Prague is probably my favorite city that I’ve seen in Europe so far. I’m not quite sure what it is about the Czech Republic but we were all completely enamored. After hearing good reviews from our friends, we decided to book an Airbnb for 4 nights and I’m so glad we did!

Our Airbnb was a quick tram ride down the river from Prague’s Old Town. The public transportation in the area is absolutely stellar and SO cheap. I’m not sure if we have just adjusted to Oxford prices or if everything really is that cheap, but either way, we were happy gals. The 72 hour tram pass will only cost you about 11 USD and a normal lunch runs from 4-7 USD. Beer is cheaper than water in this town!

Day 1

On Day 1, we decided to orient ourselves in our favorite manner – a Free Walking Tour! As I’ve said before, this is one of the best (and cheapest!) ways to get familiar with a city while getting some of the history in. I think that one of the reasons I love Prague so much is because of my Eastern European ancestry. Visiting has made me all the more curious to learn about my family’s past! Our tour explored Old Town, New Town, and the Jewish Quarter. The tour guide did a wonderful job of switching the mood from light, to funny, to serious. She told stories about the horrors of the Jewish Quarter – where Jews were forced to live in the low, flooded, slums. Disease ran rampant and few jobs were available to them. The Nazi’s sent cars of Jews from here away to Poland where they were murdered and many children were left without parents. Now, you can tour a museum full of these children’s’ drawings expressing their emotions during these times.

Before the war started, Czechoslovakia was betrayed by their allies and handed over to Hitler who did not just take back German lands, as he had promised, but took over the whole country and set up a base in Prague. As a result, the city was completely untouched during the war and therefore, a large portion is original. This is completely different from many other European cities that I have visited and the contrast is stark. Prague is stunning – a mix of 11 types of architecture built along the river. When you walk around, you must look up and simply admire everything.

Now, the Jewish Quarter has been raised above river-level and is beautiful. Today, it houses many of the city’s rich inhabitants. The history in the Czech Republic is very fresh. After the war, they turned towards communism in attempt to rebuild. Our tour guide’s parents were actually deeply affected by communism. Her grandparents refused to “vote” for the communist President (which was mandated by law) and as a result, lost their jobs and their daughter’s place at her university. Despite these barriers, the grandparents stayed strong in their beliefs and continued to stand up against communism with many other Czech people. The Czech’s escape from communism is referred to as the “Velvet Revolution” and their split from the Slovaks as the “Velvet Divorce”. These splits hold a lesson for all of us – peace is possible.

After our long morning tour, we crossed the absolutely beautiful Charles Bridge to the John Lennon wall which, to be honest, was a bit disappointing! It is much smaller than we expected! However, it is still a must-see spot for first time tourists and a great photo opportunity. Truly, the best part of Prague is just walking around and soaking up some sun.

Next came nap time and after that, a traditional Czech meal. The only way to really describe Czech food is delicious, savory, and heavy. Think meats and bread dumplings drowned in gravy and delicious sauce. Duck and schnitzel are of course, also popular items. This is definitely the type of food that stays in your stomach all day! We tried to taste some Czech cuisine throughout the trip but alternate with some lighter meals.

In the evening, we Czech-ed (haha) out some of Prague’s nightlife which of course included some delicious local beers.

Day 2

For our second day of the trip, we signed up for a group day trip to the nearby town of Kutna Hora! For only about 20 dollars a person, we got a nearly all day tour that lasted from 12-6! This was a great way to do something unique and experience a smaller Czech town. After about an hour train ride, we arrived in the town of Kutna Hora. Our first stop was a tour of the Church of Bones, also known as the Sedlec Ossuary. I don’t even know how exactly to explain what this is other than to show photos. The chandelier has every bone in the human body.

The Church of Bones was decorated with, yes, real human bones of about 40,000 people after the town’s graveyard got too large, largely because of the Plague. First, they dug up the bones and placed them underneath the church, but someone eventually decided that they should be cleaned and used as decoration.

Walking through was more eerie and creepy than we expected. Nothing is really blocked off either – you are standing face to face with dozens of human skulls.

In addition to touring the Bone Church, we also got to see the beautiful St. Barbara’s Cathedral and some of the town!

Day 3

Easter Sunday! When we woke up, we were confused to find that no one really seemed to be celebrating Easter. We brushed it off, knowing that the Czech Republic is the most atheist country in the world, and decided to head to a Catholic Mass anyway. The church was absolutely stunning (as most European churches are). While I missed being home with family, celebrating with my friends was so much fun!

Later in the day, we actually realized that the Czech Republic celebrates their Easter on Monday! Their traditions are quite interesting. Men walk around with braided sticks which they use to bop women. Then, the women must thank them and give them shots of alcohol and food. Supposedly, this prevents the women from growing old. When we were headed out on Monday, we did see quite a few men wandering around with these braided sticks!

Day 4

On our final morning in Prague, we decided to book a Castle Tour! The weather was absolutely atrocious but we toughed it out in the freezing rain! The Prague Castle is the largest in the world and it does not disappoint! Really, it is more of a collection of large palaces and a couple churches. St. Vitus’s Cathedral is particularly gorgeous (and was a safe haven from the rain). While we didn’t get to go in a ton of buildings, the tour did a good job of explaining what you needed to know. You could definitely spend a whole day – or more – here going inside museums and other buildings.

After the tour, we enjoyed a great overhead view of the city and a last delicious Czech meal before heading to our next stop, Berlin! By the way, the Czech language is SO difficult. The only words we learned are hello (ahoy!) and cheers (na zdravi!).

Thanks for the memories, Prague!

Czech Republic Uncategorized