While I had a hard time comprehending the subjectivity and ever-changing interpretation of WWII last week, I was exposed to a familiar and rather relieving consistency that appears to cross cultures this week. One thing that is seemingly present and constant from the states to the Czech Republic is… (drum roll please) —angsty teenagers.
Yes, they are, in fact, everywhere and fortunately not unique to the states. My program provides a service internship opportunity, and wanting to see another side to the Czech culture, I volunteered to teach English at an elementary school. Wednesday was my first day and I was a little surprised to say the least when I went in expecting a school full of 7-year-olds and rather walked into a school full of raging hormones- aka a junior high school. But I was actually rather pleased. I love second graders and their unquestioning adoration for “big kids” but I prefer junior high kids’ snotty attitudes opposed to a 7-year-old’s actual running and snotty nose. You get me?
I love their sassiness. I love their attitudes. But most of all I love their awkwardness.
It was amazing to see the similarities between a junior high school in the states and this one in Prague. Despite being in the city center of Prague, mere blocks away from Charles Bridge, I could have been in a junior high school in any one of the states. As I was sitting and waiting near the teachers’ lounge for the English teacher to come and escort me to the classroom, I was lucky enough to be there during passing time and had a parade of youths ranging from pre- to post- pubescence past me. A lanky girl reaching the six-foot mark passed me while not far behind a pack of boys looking like they still ran away from cooties on the playground scurried by, followed by a three-some of “mean” girls dressed in club-wear meant for 20-somethings. The range in stages of adolescence seems to be something that transcends cultural and geographical boundaries.
Even the school itself – the sights, the sounds, and the smells (which is really quite questionable in a junior high school) seemed familiar. The walls were plastered with educational posters while last weeks art projects dangled from the ceiling panels. Incessant chatter filled the hallways (granted it was entirely in Czech, but let’s be honest, chatter sounds like chatter, whether in English, Czech, or squirrel) and as kids ran to their classrooms after the sounding of the warning bell, a teacher scolded in Czech down the hallway that I would guess translated to the universal chide of ”Walk, please!” The aroma of the lunch preparations in the school cafeteria wafted through the five-story school, intermingling with the not-exactly-unpleasant-but-not-quite-good-smelling stench of teenagers who happen to have basketball practice in the mornings (whyyyy?). Other than not understanding a word that was being said around me, I could have been in Grantsburg, WI.
On my first day the English teacher brought me into the classroom and introduced me as the students’ new English teacher. I panicked a little bit at this point. I had thought I would simply be a “helper” or “teacher’s assistant” to the actual, educated and qualified teacher. Nope. Apparently not. I’m their teacher on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Eeeek. Good thing I love a good challenge.
And also, good thing I’m a good actress. I was entirely aware that a group of 15-year-olds were eyeing up this “Američanka” so I did my best to hide my terror. They were sniffing for my fear like pit bulls, but I smiled like a crazy and babbled about my American life. Did they understand anything of it? Not quite sure
But wait Maarja, you might be thinking, you don’t speak Czech. This is true. You would think this would make it difficult to teach English. Thankfully, they have basic conversational English down despite only studying English for two years. But I’m almost positive I’m not going to enjoy when my students have side conversations in Czech. How am I supposed to know if they are actually talking about something relevant to the lesson or discussing anything and everything they probably shouldn’t be talking about in school/making fun of me? I have made a note to learn all Czech swear and slang words. Ah ha, angsty teens, you won’t fool this Američanka!
On Wednesdays we will be reading the book “Matilda” aloud which I’m quite excited for while on Thursdays we will have discussions about specific topics. For instance, last Thursday we discussed health, the human body, illnesses, and health care systems. Try teaching the words gynecologist and psychiatrist to non-native English speakers- it’s not easy. And I don’t think I need to mention the chuckles I heard from the boys when explaining the word “diarrhea.”
Hopefully with the embarrassment of explaining bowel movements behind me, I’m looking forward to my first teaching adventure. Although I have done some classroom work and instruction before as a camp counselor and teaching assistant, teaching English is a whole other endeavor I have yet to experience. I’m sure I’ll eventually get used to the blank stares that I get when I speak too quickly, or use a word they haven’t learned, but I never imagined how hard it would be to teach and explain something that is so natural to me.
But not only am I excited to take on the challenge of teaching English, I’m also looking forward to seeing another side of Czech culture- their education system. And more importantly, I’m excited to talk with my Czech students and learn about Prague from a different angle. Even though getting them to talk my first week was like pulling teeth, I’m determined to break through their hard exteriors and get them to like this Američanka.
Who knows what I’ll learn from this experience, if I’m lucky, I’ll pick up some more Czech while I teach them English. My own English may even improve. But if anything, I know my father will be happy if I learn to speak slower…
I’m slowly but surely gaining my bearings in Prague, culturally and directionally. This week I added my first junior high school experience in the Czech Republic to my reporitore, and after this past weekend, I can also add my first live music experience.
For my Punk and Dissent class, we went to the concert of the Plastic People of the Universe that was commemorating the birthday of the late lead vocalist. It was amazing. Amazing. PPU was the leading force of the Czech underground during the communist regime and although they are now in their upper 60s and 70s they still know how to “rock.” It was pretty surreal when my professor kept on pointing out famous signatories of the human rights initiative Charter 77 that were milling around the crowd.
Taking advantage of the beautiful weather this weekend, I also worked on improving my directional bearings, wandering around neighborhoods without a map until I stumbled upon something of interest. I found two beautiful parks in my neighborhood, one with a beer garden ranked best in the city and the other with a vineyard and wine tasting- I can’t wait for Spring! Unfortunately, I felt a little out of place. Without the “it” accessories of a dog or a baby in a stroller, I stood out like a sore thumb. No worries mother, I don’t plan on acquiring either of these things before I return home….
It’s been a great week experiencing different sides of Prague and with 50s weather in the forecast, I can’t help but hope that Spring comes earlier in Central Europe than in Wisconsin- crossing my fingers! Midterms begin next week so it’s time to hit the books…