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 arrival

10 leden (jan)
With the start
of a new year, I left home again to live in a new country. I had enrolled in a month-long TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) intensive certification program in Prague, in the Czech Republic. After I complete the course, I hope to work at the school for a year or more.

Each passenger from my flight pulled their luggage from the carousel in a flurry of flying bags and scurried out the door through customs. Suddenly I realized I was the only one standing there, next to the empty carousel spinning round and round. I hopefully watched for a late arrival to tumble down the chute, but there were none. Finally I walked up to the lost baggage window.

This was my first opportunity to try out my Czech. “Mluvite Anglicky?” (Do you speak English?) I stuttered. I filled out the form, described my three bags, one of which I paid extra to bring, being limited to only 50 lb. per bag these days. I just shrugged as I passed through the customs security check, the guard amiably waved me through. Kristof was still waiting for me outside when I emerged. A pleasant looking, easy going young man with curly blond hair, a direct gaze and an ironic smile, his English was excellent though still studying. He was a student and part time employee at the language school. He was a wealth of information as we chattered on the way to my new flat. We drove, in drizzling rain, out beyond where the stately buildings of older architecture ended. The landscape opened up into a sea of gentle hills dotted with boxy communist era block-style buildings sprayed with graffiti. The stark flat was on the tenth floor with an open view of this residential neighborhood.

My two roommates are men, both older students, as am I. I later observed that they put the oldies together, whereupon the younger student tactfully remarked that we were grouped by experience. They are both from the states originally but both have taught in schools in other countries. One roommate was already in the flat when I arrived, having landed early that morning. We spent two days walking around the city, sightseeing together.

A quick stop at the school and introductions with Kristof – an American in her 4th year at the school, was our contact abroad and made us feel welcome. A polite, gentle Czech woman, helped me sort out the status of my missing luggage through phone calls to Swiss Air.

“They aren’t in Zurich. They may be in bomb storage in the states,” I was told.

I made some frantic calls on my own to United and then to Swiss Air’s baggage depot in Chicago. When they appeared two days later, I bought big chocolate bars for the three staff people who helped me as a thank you. Big grins and hugs all around. A little chocolate goes a long way.

The entrance to the main campus of the school, marked with a royal blue sign visible on the street, is hidden in a small courtyard. A tall, narrow yellow building with gray shutters, it looked enchanting. The Andel neighborhood is an inviting place to poke around – with lots of little restaurants and shops, the tram and metro running through it, tall pastel buildings curving around the tram stop. On first visit I strolled down to the other end of the short street to find myself miraculously standing on the banks of the Vltava River, a green parkway running along the shoreline as far as I could see in either direction, swans bobbing on the calm waves. A dark castle loomed on a high hill to the south on the other side of the river. Kristof later pointed it out as a “local” castle, I’ve already forgotten the name.

I spent the first few days wandering this beautiful city. After a brief orientation session on Friday, I already have lots of homework and school began Monday. I’ll post more about my travels exploring the tourist sights of Prague soon, but until then.

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