Every month, Fulbridge interviews an ETA from around the world to get a glimpse of what life is like in different placements. This month, Ayat Abourashed, 2016-17 ETA in Indonesia and Fulbridge’s Indonesia Country Representative, talked with Teal Vickrey, current ETA in Czech Republic.
Q: Why did you choose Czech Republic?
A: I chose the Czech Republic because I studied abroad here in the Spring of 2015. When I left for the states, I was determined to return. The Czech ETA program was the perfect way to make that happen! As much as I love Prague, it is a unique part of the Czech culture and very different from the smaller towns and villages. This time around I was very excited to experience a community outside of Prague and to get a firmer grasp of the Czech people and the Czech identity.
Q: Where are you located and what school/university do you teach at?
A: I live in the Šumava mountains, in a small town called Vimperk. I teach at Gymanázium a Strední Odborna Škola ekonomická, which is a two track school with students 11- 19 years of age.
Q: Since every country ETA program has different requirements, what all does your grant entail?
A: As a Czech ETA I must work a maximum of 15-20 hours every week. ETAs are also encouraged, although not required, to run an extracurricular club or become involved with the community in some way.
Q: What does a normal weekday look like for you?
A: I teach 18 courses every week. Throughout the week my classes start at 7:45 or 8:35 and depending on the day, I end right around lunch or at 3pm. Every Monday I meet my friend Iva for Czech lessons. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I teach private English lessons to some of my students and other members of the community. On Wednesdays, I lead a writing club at the local coffee shop, and every two weeks I go to another school to spend some time with primary school students. Typically my weeks are very busy, but when given the chance to rest at home I hang out with my rabbit Dárek whom I got for Christmas.
Q: If you have, how have you gotten more involved with the university outside of the classroom? How have you gotten involved with the community?
A: One way I have been able to become involved with the community is by meeting a group of women every Thursday at the Pizzeria to practice speaking in English. They have become some of my closest friends here, and I often refer to them as my “Czech Moms”. One of them has even become my Czech language teacher. By taking time to learn their language, I have had the opportunity to interact with people in the community that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I also encourage my students to reach out to me outside of the classroom so that we can get to know each other better. I have had some wonderful times at my students’ homes and have loved meeting their families.
Q: What have been some challenges?
A: Learning to navigate cultural differences was quite difficult at first. I challenged myself to appreciate the differences instead of label them as wrong or as right. This open-mindedness has helped me to relate to the locals better and to connect more with the community. It was also rather hard adjusting and finding a social life here. In the beginning I felt very alone and isolated. I had to really take the initiative to develop my social life in Vimperk and to sustain my relationships back home.
Q: What have been some highlights?
A: My students are the absolute best. They are bright, funny, and I look forward to seeing them every day. Also, connecting with some local families and finding some long-term friends has been very special and will be relationships that I can carry with me long after I have left the Czech Republic. Another highlight has been living in the middle of Šumava National Park because I have been able to enjoy beautiful landscapes and nature almost every day.
Q: What was your best lesson plan?
A: The lesson plan I was most proud of was the activity I did for St. Patrick’s Day. I made a questionnaire that my students had to answer during my presentation and then all the information from the questionnaire matched up with a game of Jeopardy that we played afterwards. What I appreciated most about this lesson was that the students did very little sitting and listening and got to engage with the material in a fun and hands-on way. I was able to use this lesson in almost every class and with almost every level, which demonstrated to me that I had found a universal learning mechanism that engaged all of my students. Engaging my students and getting them excited about learning is truly my ultimate goal for this year, so the success of this lesson plan was very exciting!
Q: What will you miss the most?
A: I will miss my students the most. They are all incredible and I see in each of them immeasurable potential that I hope they also recognize in themselves. I am always excited to see them at school and I am eager to see where they end up in the future!
Q: Why should prospective grantees apply to Czech Republic?
A: My experience in the Czech Republic has really given me the opportunity to integrate into another culture. Most Czech ETAs are placed in smaller towns and are usually received with excitement and gratitude from the community. I have gotten the chance to meet and learn about so many new people during my time here and to really develop my cross-cultural communication skills. Something special about the Czech Republic is that it is very small, which means it is very easy to meet up with and share this experience with the other Czech ETAs. We have a very close Fulbright community in the Czech Republic!
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: Another incredible experience this year was the Fulbright Conference in Berlin. Fulbright fellows from all over Europe attended. It was such a valuable experience to be able to collaborate with other people who were having similar experiences to my own and to spend time with intelligent and inspiring scholars. I would highly encourage any future grantees in Europe to attend.