Berlin Dreams

IMG_3040Hello readers! Two weekends ago I went to Berlin and since then life has been a whirlwind of adventure and excitement so that I haven’t had time to post about it yet.  But never fear; today’s post will encapsulate all of the zest that was Berlin!

We left for our adventure on Friday morning after my class was over.  We went by train, because we knew it would be faster, but it was really quite expensive, so we vowed to use busses from then on.  The train ride took 4 hours and 45 minutes and made about 7 stops along the way.  We read, slept, and listened to music on the train.  When we finally arrived, we gave our couch surfing host a call and met up with him at a nearby train stop.  He took us to his place and we dropped off our stuff and got organized.  His flat was one of the most nicely decorated flats I’ve ever seen.  It looked like something straight out of an Urban Outfitters catalog, except instead of being decorated with overpriced, poorly made things, it was decorated with real vintage and creatively utilized pieces.

IMG_2978After setting our bags down, we set off to explore the neighborhood.  Our host, Marvin, lived very close to the Spree River so we followed the river bed into the city center.

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We wandered around until dark when we saw the Brandenburg Gate all lit up.

IMG_2977Then we headed back to Marvin’s place and had a delicious vegetarian meal that he had prepared for us.  We got to meet one of his flatmates, Feeli, her boyfriend Tom, and another couch surfer who was also around at that time.  We all enjoyed some wine and conversation and watched a movie together.

The next day, we woke up early and went on a walking tour around Berlin.  We got to see lots of sights – the entire tour took five hours!  Some of my favorites were the world’s largest chocolate shop, Checkpoint Charlie, a piece of the Berlin Wall, and seeing some of the city’s beautiful architecture.

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There are special bricks placed around the city where the Berlin Wall used to be as well as parts of the wall still standing.

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IMG_3017During the tour we got a break for lunch, where we went into a small cafe and had a bite to eat.  It was here that I had the best sandwich known to man kind.  It was simply refered to as a “cheese sandwich,” but to me, it was so much more.

IMG_3008My mouth is watering just looking at the beauty of it!

After the tour was over, we went to see my favorite part of Berlin, the East Side Gallery.  It is a part of the Berlin Wall that has been left up and decorated by various artists.  It was right along the river and was a beautiful remembrance of a darker time in the city’s history.

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On Sunday, we went to the Mauer Park Flea Market.  It was a huge flea market with many interesting vendors.  Even the old “crap” was interesting and beautiful to us.  It was a popular pass time on that Sunday morning.

IMG_3050I really enjoyed Berlin.  The city has a great vibe, that our host told us he recognized too.  “You can be whoever you want to be in Berlin,” he commented.  There was so much green grass and open space, we marveled at it every chance we got!

One of the best parts was the friends that we made.  Feeli, Marvin’s flatmate, and her boyfriend, came to stay with us Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of last week after meeting them in Berlin.  She said they had been wanting to visit Prague, but wouldn’t have been able to with the hostel prices.  It was a divine fate, and the perfect example of the meaning of Couch Surfing.  When they came to Prague, we had a great time cooking for them, grabbing drinks, and even clubbing.  You meet many great people while traveling, and we were lucky for this experience – both in Berlin and hosting back in Prague.

Work or Study Abroad Packing List

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In my last post, I promised to share my packing list for the Czech Republic.  Back when I was planning my trip, I scoured the internet for a packing list to base mine off of, but with little avail, so I decided to make my own.  This packing list would work for any extended stay trip.  I used only one suitcase, under 50 pounds, and one cary-on backpack.  My trip started in the winter so I packed accordingly.

American Forms/Identification
Passport
Another form of ID w/photo
Health insurance card

Work Items
Computer and charger
Travel guidebook
Local currency
Program confirmation paperwork
Plane ticket/itinerary
Teaching materials
Phone and charger
Tablet and charger
On-the-go phone charging pack
Headphones
USB stick
Plug adapters
Book to read
Travel diary
Refillable water bottle

Clothes
6 work/school appropriate outfits
2 pairs of jeans
leggings
Casual short sleeved t-shirt
2 casual long sleeved shirts
Casual sweater
2 scarves
2 workout outfits
Swim suit
2 going out outfits
Cocktail dress for any special occasions
Sports bra
14 pairs underwear
2 bras
5 pair exercise socks
5 pair tall socks
Ski socks (or other thick socks for winter activities)
3 camisoles: black, white, tan
Black flats
Casual winter boots
Flip flops (for hostel showers and warmer weather)
Sneakers
Dressy winter boots
Light Autumn jacket
Heavy winter jacket
Comfortable hoodie
Hat, gloves, warm scarf
Sunglasses
Jewelry
Pajamas
Belt

Personal Items
Prescriptions
Toothbrush and toothpaste (if room)
Face wash
Travel-sized lotion
Travel-sized shampoo and conditioner
Facial wipes (great for freshening up in the airport)
Hairbrush
A few feminine products
Bar of soap (if room)
Deodorant
Advil
Razor (if room)
Contact lenses and solution
Glasses
Nail clippers and tweezers
Makeup
One small towel (if room)

So far, this list of items has been efficient for me.  Once you get to your destination country, you will want to buy some other amenities, but these items help so that you don’t feel stranded when you don’t know if your destination will have the brands or types of things that you like.  Happy travels!

How to Plan Your Trip and Get Started Teaching English Abroad

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Teaching English abroad or overseas is a great way to travel and see the world while still making money, adding to your resume, and getting international work experience!  After researching many different extended-travel opportunities, I settled on teaching English because I found it to be the best option for me.  It gave me a salary needed to sustain myself while overseas, and I was able to work one on one with people and feel like I was making a difference in someone’s life.  These were important aspects of an overseas experience to me, and if you’ve been dreaming about teaching English abroad, or getting your TEFL certification, but don’t know where to begin, this post will help you!

Step One: Pick your program, location, and date.
If you aren’t yet TEFL certified, you have a couple of choices.  You can take the course online or take it in the place where you want to teach.  I took my program through TEFL In Prague, and I highly recommend taking the course in the place where you want to teach, if possible.  You get to meet people that may be living in the city after the course, there may be course housing, visa assistance, and social activities.  If you are strapped for cash, taking the course online and continuing to work in your home country is also a viable option.  But make sure you still have a plan for which country you want to teach in once you pass the course.  Once you know where you are going and when you are leaving, then you can get to planning!

Do some research to find out if the course you’re taking offers housing during the course.  If they don’t you’ll want to look on realtor sites for your destination country to see prices, and maybe send a few emails to set up viewings for your first couple of days you are there.  Plan to stay in a hostel or with couch surfers when you first arrive.

Once you buy your plane ticket, check with your school to see if they offer airport pick up.  If they do, let them know the time you will be arriving.  If they don’t, get the information of a taxi service, or local bus route to your accommodation.

Step Two:  Study the Local Language
Although I didn’t learn much Czech before coming here, what I did learn helped set my mind at ease.  At the very least, it helps to make you feel more prepared before you step out into the great unknown.  The Pimsleur Language tapes were a good introduction to speaking and listening in the language.

Step Three: Get Some Experience Teaching
If you know in advance that you’re going to be going to teach English abroad, get some experience teaching if you haven’t tried it before.  If you’re in college, see if your student center has any tutoring programs, or meet up with students that are struggling in one of your classes to help them.  If you’re out of college, Literacy Volunteers has branches all over the country where they match you with a non-native speaker, or an adult who cannot read and you meet with them a minimum of two hours a week.  Putting yourself in the teachers role can help you feel more comfortable once the rubber hits the road in a foreign country.

Step Four: Tie Up Loose Ends
There’s nothing worse than being in Europe (or Asia, or South America…etc…) and realizing you forgot to cancel your Birch Box Subscription.  (Just an example, I forgot to cancel my Proactiv account until about a week ago.)  There is so much to think of before you leave.  Here are a few big ones.
A) Cancel your phone plan, or at the very least, cancel your data plan.  That way you won’t have to pay for two separate phone lines.
B) Get a large supply of your prescription medications and bring a translated paper copy of your prescriptions with you.  You may need to go through your insurance company.
C) Get local currency at a bank.  Your bank may need to send away for the currency, so do this at least a month in advance.
D) Buy plug converters.  Find out the type of plugs your destination country uses and buy them.  Getting them on Amazon will probably be the cheapest.
E) Cancel any appointments you had coming up after your departure date.  (I.e. doctor, dentist, etc.)
F) Find out if there is a pre-course assignment or any required/suggested reading before the course.  I read English Grammar In Use by Raymond Murphy before leaving, and I was glad I did.  They really expect you to know all the intricacies of the language: all tenses, conditionals, etc.

Step Five: Pack
I brought one suitcase with me to avoid extra fees.  You’ll probably need to go shopping for some small things.  Chances are they will be cheaper in the US than they will anywhere in Europe.  I will write a future post including my packing list.

Step Six: Plan a Going Away Party
You are going to want to see all of your friends and family one last time before you leave.  Plan a going away party with fun travel-related activities.  Make an information board about your destination.  Have a journal that guests can sign and write a little good luck note in.  If possible, serve some local cuisine from your destination country.

Step Seven: You’re Ready To Go!
Enjoy the journey.  Learn a lot.  Travel in your free time.  Don’t be afraid to try out your newly acquired language.  Try all the food.  Make yourself at home in your new country!

Once You Arrive
Once you arrive, you may need to get a local sim card and phone plan, create a bank account, and look into health insurance and social insurance.  Good luck!!

Skiing at Herlikovice

IMG_2931This weekend, we went skiing at Skiareal Herlikovice.  I was so excited to ski in the Czech Republic as skiing has been a hobby of mine for many years; I was ready to see what the CZ had to offer when it came to skiing.

My roommate heard about this mountain from one of her students and she had always wanted to try skiing, so Thursday she asked us if we all wanted to go.  Of course I wanted to go!!  I was so happy to have people to go with!

The ski resort has busses that run from various major areas around the country to the resort daily.  We woke up early to catch the bus that leaves at 6:30 from the farthest metro stop on one line.  It was pitch black and everyone was groggy, but we figured out how to make it to the slopes.  There were about 5 busses that went from where we got on.  The bus cost 740 czk for the trip there and back, and a day long ski pass.

It took us two hours to get there, and when we arrived we set off for our first mission of finding a hotel to stay in for the night.  Our initial plan was shot when we found that one hotel was closed down and the other was full.  We decided just to ski for the day and catch the bus back at 4:30 that night.

Next, we had to figure out rentals.  There was a huge yellow building that had ski and snowboard rentals.  You could rent skis, boots, poles, helmets, and goggles.  I rented a whole ski set for 220 czk.  Luckily, the man in the rental place spoke English, which made it a little easier for us to tell him our shoe size (in European sizes), our weight (in kilograms), and our ability level.

We were also at a loss for what to do with our back packs, which we probably could have left on the bus if we had known, so thankfully, the man at the rental place let us put them in his back room.  It was random, but we were happy to not have to ski with our backpacks on.

Finally, it was time to hit the slopes.  The four of us – two beginners, one intermediate, and me – decided we wanted to start on an easy regular slope.  The Czech symbols for difficulty levels are different than in the US.  They just have colors with no shapes to go along with them, and blue is the easiest, red is more challenging, and black is the hardest.  The mountain we went to had mostly red and blue slopes.  Each slope was named, but they all also had a number to go along with them, which was great for us, who found it a lot easier to say, “let’s go on number 12,” instead of trying to pronounce and forgetting the Czech name.

We started with “Number 10,” a blue slope, and it was a bit too much for our beginner friends’ first time out.  So afterwards, I walked over to the bunny hill with them – a mostly flat area with lots of children and fun wooden cartoon characters on poles stuck into the ground.

The beginners felt much more confident; after a few runs, I was able to go off on my own and get a few runs in.  Most of the slopes run from the middle to the bottom, but there are a couple that run from the top to the bottom, one of them being the only full-length black slope on the mountain.  I checked that one out to see how the blacks compare.  It was no Killington, but maybe it matched up with the difficulty of some black diamonds at Holiday Valley.  There was one other great slope that was the classic long-sweeping blue that ran the outer edge of the mountain.  It was a huge open ski field with bright orange poles stuck into the ground to tell you where to ski.  It was quite a long trail with beautiful scenery.

IMG_2929One thing about the mountain that was difficult for the beginners I was with, was that if you ended up on the left side, you would either have to walk back along the road, or ride the chair lift up and map out a different route to ski down back to the main area.  If I had been by myself, I would have ridden back up to find another way back, but the beginners couldn’t do just any slope, so we walked back.

IMG_2928There was plenty of helping after falls and crashes, but no one was hurt save being a little sore the next day.  It snowed around us all day and the trees were beautifully coated in white so much that you could hardly see the brown of the tree anymore.  Even the walk back to the main area was beautiful.  Huge evergreen trees lined the opposite side of the road, while a trickling stream ran next to us.

By the end of the day, we were all exhausted and ready to head back home.  We got back around 7:30 and had some dinner and relaxed after our day out on the snowy slopes.