Saturday, August 16, 2003

And that's a wrap!

Hello everyone!

Well, it's all finished...AT LAST! And the good news is: I passed! I know you all probably thought that I was sweating it for nothing, but truly, it was up in the air there at moments. Two people from my class did not pass, the Scottish guy and the Norwegian guy. The Norwegian guy, Erlend, didn't really care. He's a stage director in the theatre, so he was just kind of doing this for fun, but the Scottish guy, Campbell, took it a little hard. But, he's in the middle of getting an MA in Art History back in Glasgow, so he'll be going back to that (and teaching yoga).

So, we've all gone out the past couple of nights, in celebration of finally being done. The Red Onion has probably never seen such business, and of course the waitresses were just as rude as ever. Nice to know some things will probably never change. :-)

It's so sad to think that I'll be leaving here and probably never seeing any of my classmates again. We've all exchanged emails, of course, but you know how that always goes. You want to stay in touch, and inevitably you don't. Kind of like summer camp. But, it's nice to know that I do have a truly international network of friends that I could call upon if I like. In fact, one of my good friends from the course, Dagmar, will be moving to Portland later this year! So, the next time I go to visit Adam, I can see her too! :-)

Anyway, so what's next for me? Well, I'm going to stay with Pernille for a couple weeks, where she will be throwing me a birthday party to mark my 26th year. I'm so excited! And I'm really happy to be able to see her family again, since I had such a great time with them on my last visit. And, of course, I'm also excited to finally see Denmark when it's bright and sunny, and not gray every day. :-)

So, after my birthday, I have to decide what I'm going to do. It's unfortunate, but because of the timing of the CELTA course I did, most major language schools have already completed their hiring for this school year. So, I was considering coming home, subbing in the Des Moines schools, volunteering for one of the organizations around town that give free ESL classes to immigrants, getting my own place, getting experience in order to look for an overseas job later, blah blah blah. But, after a couple days of reflection (and some harassment from my mother), I realized that I was probably only considering that plan because I am very homesick. I'm particularly homesick not just for my friends and family, but also just for the familiarity of Iowa itself, and the rhythm of life there. I keep thinking about what I will miss (the tomatoes, sweet corn, watermelon, barbeques) from this season, and how much I will miss fall (a little nip in the air, pumpkin pies, apple festivals like the one we went to last year, the leaves changing colors). And of course, Thanksgiving, and even Halloween. And of course, I miss my cat terribly-laugh if you will, but it's true. :-(

But, all that aside, if I come home now, I probably will end up kicking myself, and I know that. So, I've taken an important decision. I'm going to Italy. I don't know how long I'll stay there, but I'm going there after I'm done at Pernille's. According to my teachers at CELTA, it's fairly easy to find work on the sly in Italy, due to their charming reluctance to follow silly things like rules and laws. :-) I think I'm going to go to Rome first, where there are likely to be many language schools. My teacher said that in a place like that, you can often just show up and get work. (Plus, it's the best time of year to go: fewer tourists, not so hot, etc...) So, that's what I'm going to do. And if it doesn't work out, then I'll pick a small town on a southern coast somewhere, where it's not touristy and is likely to be cheap, and maybe I'll just be able to afford to live there until Christmas. But, if not, if it all just really sucks and I can't stand it, then I hereby give myself permission to change my ticket and come home in October, and I don't want to hear any shit about it from anybody. After all, things are allowed to not work out the way you thought they would. :-)

So, that's that... I'm feeling really exhausted right now, and I have so much to do before I can leave tomorrow. I'm not looking forward to having to pack everything up tonight, that's for sure! Anyway, I don't have Pernille's phone number and address at hand, but as soon as I do, I'll make sure to email it to you in case you have any fabulous birthday gifts to send me. ;-)

OK, time to get a move on. I hope you're all doing well, and that nobody out there is having a stroke right now, envisioning me working on the sly in some dusty Italian village. Don't worry...I won't settle anywhere that doesn't have at least *one* internet cafe and a pay phone. :-) Take care everyone, and when next I write it'll be from sunny Denmark! Ciao!

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Hello from sunny Prague!

Hello everyone!

I'm sorry that I seem to have disappeared off the face of the earth, but last week was the busiest one I've had since I got don't be too mad at me! Anyway, lots to talk about today, so maybe that will make up for it. :-)

Anyway, I've already written this email once and then had the computer crash right before I sent it, so I don't know if I have the strength to write it all again, but I will try. :-)

OK, school update: I passed my lesson on Wednesday with flying colors. Good thing, too, since we had our final "tutorial" on Thursday where they tell us if they think we'll pass. :-) So, Betty told me on Thursday that her and Shaun think that I'm a "solid pass" for the class, as long as I keep going as I am. And she said that she "had a feeling about me" and that she thinks I'll do well, blah blah blah. It was nice to hear, and so hopefully things will keep on track!! :-)

Anyway, I had a lesson Friday that went well, too. Shaun is observing my group now (they flip-flopped again), and he gave me some great hints for my lesson on Friday, which helped a lot. Anyway, he said that it was a "lovely" lesson, and done very well, that he could see lots of improvement since the last time he assessed me, etc... So, that was great to hear! It was my first 60 minute lesson, so I had been nervous about making it last the whole hour-and indeed I did end up needing to fill the last 5 minutes-so I used a vocab review game, that even used words from the previous teacher's lesson, and Shaun loved that. So, good all around. :-)

On Friday night, my classmates and I were eager to celebrate the fact that we're almost done, so we went out to the Red Onion straight after school. We drank many half-liters of pivo (beer) and even dared to try some of the pub's incredibly sketchy food. I personally tried the onion soup (fairly tasty), potato croquettes (bland but OK) and the Czech equivalent of cheese sticks, which should just be called Cheese slab, since it's just a slab of breaded and fried cheese, served with tartar sauce of all things. (I tried to get some red sauce as a substitute, and ended up with ketchup, but that was still better than tartar sauce!)

Anyway, the great thing about Friday night was that we were a big group (over a dozen) of incredibly diverse, international people, who all get along really well. And, therefore, we have some very interesting and intense conversations. When we first got to the pub, it was just me and my 5 TP people, so we were talking as a big group. Started with European history and politics, segued to religious history, works of literature, American politics as they relate to the rest of the world, etc... as more and more people joined us, the conversation broke up into small groups, so that eventually, if you looked around the table there were 6-7 intense and incredibly varied conversations going on at once. It was so great! This is one of the reasons I came here, so it made me very happy. :-)

That night I made plans to go to see "The Hours" with two of my friends, Markia (from Slovakia), and Mark (from Nottingham in England). We met up on Saturday night and tried to find our way to one of the Palace Cinemas, a huge theater in a posh part of town that was supposed to be just like an American multi-plex. And, indeed, it was. It was ENORMOUS. We were, sadly, too late to have time to buy popcorn, but I'll get some next time. :-) Anyway, our movie was on the 3rd floor, and once we got up there, the usher had to show us to our seats (damned assigned seating!), in the total pitch darkness, and the whole time I'm thinking I'm going to trip and fall down the stadium-seating stairs because I couldn't see anything! And, because of our seating assignment, we had to crawl over the people on the end, causing a big disturbance. Naturally. But, it was worth it because the screen was HUGE. Bigger even than the screen at the River Hills theater. And, I know Dad will love this, almost all the people stayed to watch the credits until the very end! Only a few young people left once the main cast list was done, and everyone else stayed put for the whole thing! Quite unlike America, that's for sure!

Anyway, after the movie, we went in search of dinner. Along the same street as the theater, we found a place called The Cafe Louvre, which is somewhere I've read about and always wanted to go (Kafka used to hang out there!). But, once we got up there, my friends said it was way too hot to stay there and eat dinner. So, another dream down the toilet. :-( But, I'll go there on my own one of these days--I don't give up that easily! Anyway, we ended up walking all the way down to the street and ate in a cafe across from the National Theater and right on the river, called the Kavarna Slavia. I had, for the first time, goulash and dumplings, and it was delicious!

After dinner, we walked along the river for awhile, pausing to take in the stunning view of the castle up on the hill, and also to take in the fact that we're lucky enough to be living here. It was a lovely night, so we spent a long time just hanging over railings and watching boats go by. It was so nice. :-) After that, we wanted to go somewhere for drinks, so we walked in the general direction of a metro stop, and ended up at this Cuban/Irish bar, called O'Che's, and had a few pints. I also had a mixed fruity drink, my first in Prague, and although it was tasty, I probably won't be having any more. It cost 120 Krowns!! This is about $4.50...not too bad in the States, really. But, for purposes of comparison, a *half-liter* of local brew here cost me 22 krowns, about .80 cents, at the Red Onion. So, I think I'll be sticking with pivo, thank you very much.

Anyway, today I've decided that I'm going to do some sight-seeing. There's an English bookstore I want to go to, as well. And an Egyptian restaurant I have my eye on. And then I think I'm going to go see another movie at that same theater--and this time I'm getting popcorn!! :-)

OK, after writing this email TWICE, I'm tired out, and in desperate need of some lunch. So, I shall leave you here. :-) I hope you're all enjoying a lovely summer. Mom, how are those tomatoes coming?? Have you saved any for me?? :-) Anyway, take care everyone and I'll talk to you soon!

Wednesday, August 6, 2003

More good news!

Hello everyone!

Just a quick email to let you know that I had another grammar lesson to teach today, and it went VERY well! Whew! I was really sweating it, let me tell you, but thankfully I pulled it off with aplomb and panache and all that. :-) I think the music really helped.

A bit of explanation.... Our school has an audio system in every classroom (only tapes, no CDs), and our main teacher, Shaun, always puts on a tape with random music while we're working in groups on something, or reading to ourselves as part of the lesson. Basically, whenever he's not in front of the class talking to us or giving directions, he has a tape playing to sort of provide background music. And he has encouraged us all to make a tape of our own to play when we're doing lessons. It truly does make for a better and more relaxed atmosphere in class, so I really wanted to do it. So, I bought a couple tapes at the big supermarket, and had the school librarian make me a copy of one of my CDs. I was able to play it for the first time today, and I made a point of putting in on during the 10 minute break before my lesson (I went last out of 3 today). Playing my own music, something I could sing along to, really helped me relax and get in the right frame of mind for the lesson. Last lesson I did I think I must have passed by the skin of my teeth because I was so nervous and sweating buckets. This time I was calm, cool, and composed, and the lesson went exactly according to my lesson plan, and exactly how I had envisioned it in my mind. Something that's probably a rarity in the real world, but it was nice to have happen today when I needed it most!

So, anyway, I got very positive feedback from Betty today. (no more Betty the Bitch, I guess) And, most importantly, I felt that I really connected with the class, built up some rapport, and that I truly taught them something (how to use "used to", to be specific). All good things. :-) So, now I feel much more positive about things. And, this is great timing because tomorrow is our last tutorial with our teachers so that they can tell us whether or not they think we'll pass the course. Unless I totally screw up on my last couple written assignments, or last two lessons, I think I'll pass. I'll be done by the end of next week, and whether I pass or not, I will be DONE!! That's what's keeping me going right now!

OK, I really need to get going. Homework beckons, as ever. :-) Take care everyone, and I'll talk to you soon!!

Monday, August 4, 2003

I passed!

Hello everyone!

Well, some happy news! I passed my lesson today! Yay! Of course, I thought that it was total shit, but the assessor liked it and I guess that's what counts. :-) The problem stems, of course, from the fact that this was my group's first day with the "low" learners. We started off with the "high" group, so we got kind of don't know how easy it is to take for granted being able to have a real conversation with someone! The learners today were a frustrating group, on several levels, but mostly because we simply weren't used to giving instructions to people who don't really understand what you say half the time. Most of the time, actually. It was very hard.

The guy who went before me, Mark, had an OK start, and kind of got them to work the way he wanted, but not really. So, when I got up there, I wasn't too nervous, but once I opened my mouth and started talking to them, all I got was a sea of blank faces. And I was making a sincere effort to "grade" my language down to their level, but still....blank faces. I was supposed to start off doing a brainstorm of jobs they had while they were in school, but no one could come up with anything. One lady just said that she was a teacher (which is what she's doing now), and when I said, "No, that's what you're doing NOW." She said, "No, NOW I am a student!" It was most frustrating!! And, naturally, it set me off on the wrong foot for the entire lesson. I was sweating buckets, due in part to nerves, and in part to the fact that it's in the 90s here today, high humidity, and zero air conditioning-not even a fan.

So, I went through the lesson, and it managed to last the required 40 minutes (that's always something you have to worry about--will it be too long or too short??). The really shitty part was that, totally by accident, the students came in and managed to sit themselves at the three groups of tables so that there was one table of totally low learners, one of medium level learners, and one of high level learners. It was total shit because one table required A LOT of extra attention and instructions, and one finished everything early and got bored. One of the girls at the high table was a total bitch. She was maybe 20, and when I walked around to listen to what they were doing, I actually heard her say IN ENGLISH, that this class was boring and the subject matter stupid. And, when I went over to her group to give them an extra task because they had finished early, I told them to read through the material again to get a better answer for some of the questions, and she flat out said, "No." I just said, "Um, OK." However, if she were my "real" student, she would have been in major trouble with me today for being so flat out rude. One of my big questions in feeback tonight with the assessor was, "How do you plan a lesson when you have such a huge discrepency in language levels??" Because one group will invariably be bored, while the rest do ok or really struggle. It's going to be so much harder than we thought. *sigh*

Anyway, all I care about at the moment is that I passed my lesson and didn't freak out in the middle of class like the other teacher today, Campbell, did. He actually started laughing several times during his lesson from the sheer absurdity of trying to teach these students. It was a laugh on the verge of insanity. I totally felt for him, because I thought I was going to lose it during my lesson, too. Thankfully, though, I made it through, sweat and all!

Tonight I have to work on my assignment that's due Wednesday. I had no time for it this weekend since I was so preoccupied with planning for today's lesson. So, that sucks, but oh well. I think I'm going to go to the store and get a big thing of ice cream or something as a treat for passing my lesson. :-)

Thanks for all the positive thoughts being thrown my way today--I'm sure they influenced my teacher's decision to pass me! :-) I'll write more tomorrow when I've got free time during the afternoon. Talk to you all later!!

Saturday, August 2, 2003

Yes, I'm still alive!‏

Hello everyone!

Sorry that I've been so busy with school that I haven't had time to email! Uncle Pete took me to task, so now I will try to be more vigilant. :-)

School is going well at times, and bad at others. We just had a switch of which teacher is observing us during our lessons, and the lady that I have now (Betty the Bitch) totally ripped my last lesson to complete shreds. She was actually quite mean about it. To be honest, I was glad that I didn't break down and cry during the feedback session. I did, however, end up crying in the hallway afterwards when some of my friends came out to see if I was OK, so it was only a partial victory. Tearing someone down like that isn't exactly a huge confidence builder. Consequently, I'm really nervous for my next lesson on Monday, so I want to make sure I prepare it backwards and forwards.

As for the rest of school, everything is going really well and I'm getting along great with my classmates. Thankfully, we've all clicked and we find it easy to work with one another. That's a good thing since we're required to work together on several written assignments! The only trouble is that they like to work "down the pub", and I need a little more quiet and little less "pivo" (beer) to get any real work done. Plus, the place we go to, "The Red Onion", has the absolute rudest waitresses I have EVER seen. They hate us foreign bugs taking up space at their tables, so they yell at us every time we go in there. To be frank, I don't know why we keep going back, except that it's just so close to school, and also because their basic half-liter of pivo is about .85 cents. Believe me, this is a major consideration for my school friends, all of whom could drink everyone on this mailing list under the table.

Anyway, I'm just taking a bit of a break right now at the local internet cafe. I'm a regular here now, which is kind of cool. There are two girls who work here, alternately, in the evenings, and they both recognize me (no doubt are calling me "The Crazy American" behind my back), and they know that I always want a "Bon Aqua" Neperliva, and for some reason they both find that amusing. (It's a bottle of water that isn't carbonated.) It's nice to be recognized as a sort-of local. They like to practice their English on me, which I don't mind.

Today I had a huge break-through. I haven't been able to figure out how to work the washing machine. I turn it on, it makes a humming noise, I try to select one of the "programs" on the dial, and then it just does nothing. So, I asked one of my Czech speaking school friends to come over today, and she fixed it in about 30 seconds. What was wrong? Well, the water wasn't turned on! How silly of me not to have assumed that it would be off! Jesus...sometimes things seem so backwards here! You know, I got the funniest email from Grandma. She said, "I just can't feature the windows not having screens. Perish the thought!" LOL It was very amusing. But, I also can't feature why they wouldn't want to have screens. Actually, I know why. They don't use clothes dryers here, so a lot of people have clothes racks that they hang out their window.

Speaking of break-throughs, I have had several minor ones that, under such stressful times, I consider major victories. They all center around the grocery store. :-) I was so happy the other day because I discovered the spices. I had been looking for bottles, when in fact, they all come in little packets. And today I found actual crackers, which aren't available at the usual store I go to. Plus, I've been trying lots of different cheeses since they're all foreign to me. I still haven't found peanut butter, brown sugar, or honey mustard, but I'm assured that the TESCO'S has everything. I've just been too busy to take the 15 minute metro trip to get there. A non-food-related victory is that I finally discovered how to convert a computer keyboard to use English keys, instead of Czech keys at the cafe that I use in the evenings. On most computers, there's a little icon at the bottom of the screen that you click on, but this one is different. But finally I figured out how to do it manually, so that was a major thing since typing with the Czech keys took me forever. (The difference is that the "y" and "z" are reversed for some reason, and all of the punctuation keys are in a completely different order and the number keys are all fucked up too.)

Anyway, it's been really hot here the past few days. Almost as hot as Iowa, honestly. The humidity is sweltering, too. Thank god I remembered to bring my red Spanish fan with me! I can't remember if I mentioned this before, but my fan is the envy of everyone at my school. Last night I got some more compliments on it at the pub. Honestly, if I'd been swishing around Des Moines with that fan, people would have thought I was nuts, but here it makes me look all chic and cool. I like the way these people think. :-)

OK, time for me to sign off. If I haven't written to you personally, please don't hold it against me. I wish I had more time, but I just simply don't. I might be back here tomorrow, so maybe I can get more done then. Anyway, I hope all of you are doing well. :-) I'll talk to you soon!