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