Archive | May, 2011

The Final Countdown

30 May

Yes, just like that Europe song (see below). Which is coincidental because I’m counting down until I leave Europe.

So yes, I am in the homestretch of my year here in Karlovy Vary. Only three weeks left of teaching then I hop on a plane June 21 to head back to the US.

This morning on my third-to-last Monday Kids Club ever (in case you missed it, read about the terrors here, here, and here) I had a very very very pleasant surprise of only having five kids in class. (Normally there are 12.) It was amazing! Nevermind that half of the kids who were absent have tonsillitis (in my defense I always tell them to take the toys out of their mouths so it’s not my fault the germs have spread). Anyways, it was a very pleasant start to the week and I can only hope the next few days are as nice.

And to answer the question about what happens after June 21…

Basically 48 hours after I land at Dulles I’ll be taking a flight to Boston because I’ll be teaching at Cardigan Mountain School’s summer session again this year. That will wrap up in the beginning of August and after spending a month and a half hanging out in VA I’ll heading back to Spain!!!!!!!!!! I’ll be doing the same program I did last year in Huelva, except in a different school in Villarrobledo, a small town in the Castilla-La Mancha region of the country. It will be a totally different experience since I’ll be in a town of 25,000 people and not on the coast, but they are in an area of wine and Manchego cheese production so that’s a nice plus!

And, in a shocking move for myself (or at least for myself of the last two years) I even have a plan for the year after! Earlier this spring I was accepted to graduate school at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. I had already received a placement for Spain so I asked for and was granted a deferral for one year. So in September 2012 I’ll be enrolling in the graduate program of applied linguistics at the Univ. of Edinburgh. Right now I’m sure you’re asking yourself “what the czech does applied linguistics even mean?” In a nutshell it’s the study of language and its functions and usage in everyday life. That includes things like studying how people acquire a second language so that you can be a better language teacher. For a clearer and probably more accurate description, see the program’s website. So what started as an experimental year in a high school in Spain is leading toward a career in the language field; it could be in research or continuing to teach English at various levels including university, I haven’t nailed down which direction I’ll head yet (I already have a plan for the next two years so I can’t get too ahead of myself haha). Either way it’s exciting and I’m looking forward to going back to school.

The main takeaway of this post for you is that now you have another opportunity to visit me in Spain (I’ll be only two hours from Madrid on the train) and then the next year in Edinburgh. Start planning now, visitors always welcomed 🙂

CR vs Spain: Music

27 May

This category is so uneven I’m tempted to spot Czech Republic five points before I begin. They would still end up being crushed…

You may recall in January I touched upon the inequality in fashion between Spain and the Czech Republic. The same can be said about the music. My friend Julie, whom I know from teaching in Spain last year, came to visit earlier this spring. Her take on the situation here in the Czech Republic seemed to sum it all up: “It feels like they are 10 years behind in music and 15 years behind in fashion.” Music from the 90s is super popular here (for example, I’ve heard The Offspring on the radio numerous times). Music from the 70s and 80s is also popular, as in you hear it when you go out to bars popular.

At the two main going out bars (they’re not exactly “discos”/clubs) you will occasionally hear new music like Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Black-Eyed Peas, etc. But as soon as they get going and attract a crowd on the dance floor they immediately put on a random Czech song or “Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing. I think a monkey pushing random buttons on a computer would be a better DJ than the ones they have in KV. Here are some examples of the unawesomeness of every Friday and Saturday night in KV…

Literally every single time we have been out in KV we have heard the Grease megamix. I love Grease as much as anyone, but really every night?!?!?

 

ABBA is also still hugely popular here. This one in particular we hear all the time:

 

Like I said they do sometimes play recent music. One of the more popular new songs from the fall was “Barbara Streisand.” Yes, those are the only two words in the song.

I won’t waste time elaborating on the music scene in Spain. All you have to know is that I never once heard Grease or ABBA out at the bars. Case closed. Spain 1, Czech Rep 0.
Total score: Spain 5, Czech Republic 2.

CR vs Spain: Holidays

10 May

Speaking of Easter and Burning Witches in the Czech Republic, May 1 was also just a holiday: Labor Day (this is celebrated in many countries around the world). But you wouldn’t know it because since it fell on a Sunday no one gets a day off. May 8 was also a holiday, celebrating the liberation of the country by the USSR in 1945. This holiday also fell on a Sunday this year, so again no weekdays were given off to recognize the day. This is typical in the Czech Republic. And when a holiday falls on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, you get only that one day off, no days before or after to make a long weekend.

This is precisely the opposite of how holidays are recognized in Spain. If the holiday falls on the weekend, you are given off either Friday or Monday. And if the holiday falls on Wednesday, you typically have off Monday and Tuesday as well. They call this a “puente,” which means “bridge”. Looking back at my calendar from last year I had no fewer than five puentes throughout the school year. Here in Czech Republic I’ve had two. (In both places I had the almost the same amount of time off around Christmas, except I got a few more days off in January in Spain, and one week of Spring break.)

You could make the argument that Spain is too excessive in its puentes, that occasionally having just one day off in the middle of the week wouldn’t be so bad. But given the choice of living in a country that is liberal with holidays versus a country that is stingy with them, I definitely would chose the former. It gives people more things to look forward to. Students are a little less crazy and in general people are happier (though I suspect that has a lot to do with other factors, not just holidays, though I don’t think more holidays could hurt).

Spain is also awesome because they still recognize tons of Catholic holidays even though the number of practicing Catholics in the country has declined in the days since Franco’s reign ended. Under Communism in the Czech Republic religion was suppressed so much so that now there are really no religious holidays that are celebrated. As I mentioned in my post about Easter, it is not a religious holiday here. It’s only about spring and painting eggs and boys hitting girls with their sticks. Which again is the polar opposite of Spain, who dedicates an entire week to remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Religious beliefs aside, Spain is the clear winner in the holiday category, and I look forward to spending another year there next year (more on that later!). This brings the grand total of CR 2, Spain 4.

Whips and Witches

1 May

Two popular Czech traditions took place in the past week and we were lucky enough to experience them both.

The first was on Easter. Here in the Czech Republic Easter is celebrated on Easter Monday, not on Sunday in like the US. The holiday is not religious here by any means, it’s more about spring time and painting eggs than anything else. See this article for further explanation.

On Easter Monday the boys go out in the morning (sometimes as early as 7 or 8am) equipped with a stick woven from willow branches. They visit the homes of their girl classmates and friends and sing a little Easter rhyme. They then hit the girls on the legs or butt with their Easter stick. In return, the girls give them a painted egg, or if they’re older (in high school) a shot of alcohol. This goes on until noon when the boys go back home drunk and/or with their loot of eggs.

We spent the bulk of Easter Monday on a bus coming home from Budapest, didn’t get in to KV until 8:30, and missed the morning hoorah of the Easter whipping tradition. But our friend Roman didn’t want us to miss it entirely, so he came over the flat after we got home with two Easter sticks that he had made for us. This is what happened:

The next Czech tradition happened yesterday on April 30, the day of Burning Witches. Czech people get together and make a bonfire and burn an effigy of a witch to symbolize winter going away. (I’m not entirely sure how the witches are related to winter, but that’s the tradition.) We went to a party at Renata and Vitek’s house that was actually a water mill party where a ton of their friends come over and bring  a water wheel/mill that the kids made (with their parents’ help). They put all the water mills in the creek and see how they work, etc. That was unrelated to the burning witches, this year it just happened to be held on the same day. In evening time they started the bonfire and then threw the witch in to be burned:

Can’t say I’ve ever celebrated either of these things before or that I ever will again in the future so I’m glad to have experienced them this year. And glad to have Czech nice friends who helped us experience them.