A Visit From Some Very Special People & Our Trip to Salzburg

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“I have next week off because my mom and aunt are coming to visit me.” Jana gave me a look of happy surprise.  I was trying to focus during my Friday morning session, just hours before my family members were set to arrive, but it was hard.  Luckily, Jana just wanted to talk.  Our hour together ticked by slowly and I finally cut us off at 8:56.  “Well, that’s all for today!” I said, maybe too excitedly.  “Okay, well enjoy your week off and your time with your mother and aunt,” Jana said.  And I knew I would.

Jordan and I went to the airport around 11 to pick up the crew: his mom, my mom, and my aunt.  I was so nervous and excited to see them!  We had a wonderful reunion and then came back to our apartment and got settled.  The travelers weren’t too tired so we decided to walk around Prague a bit to see the Charles Bridge, Old Town, and New Town.  We had dinner at a restaurant at the top of Petrin Hill with an amazing view over the city and great food.

On Saturday, we woke up and went on a Walking Tour around Prague.  Jordan and I had done it before and learned a lot, so we thought it would be a good thing for the visitors to do.  Before the walking tour, we got fruit and chocolate parfaits 🙂

For dinner we went on a Vltava River Cruise… It was so great to see the city from the river.  They had a Czech band and a great variety of different Czech foods.

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Sunday, we went to the Prague Castle.  We spent almost the whole day exploring the ins and outs of the different castle rooms and just enjoying the sights.

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We called it a night early on Sunday, because we had to get up early to go to Salzburg the next morning!  I made some Eggplant parm for everyone and we relaxed playing some cards.

We got to Salzburg on Sunday around 4 in the afternoon.  We were all starving, so we when to our hotel restaurant for dinner.  They had a special “Sound of Music” menu that included a lamb appetizer, pancake noodles in beef broth, pork schnitzel, and apple strudel.  We were all stuffed, but loved experiencing the classic Austrian food.

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After dinner, we walked into Old Town Salzburg and explored a bit.  We loved seeing the active lifestyle of the locals, and walking along the beautiful river.

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The next morning, we were more than amazed at the lovely hotel breakfast that was included in the price of our room.  It was the best continental breakfast any of us had ever seen before.  There was any kind of breakfast food you could imagine! We filled up and got ready for our busy day of tours!

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First was the Sound of Music Tour in which we saw many of the different sights that were used in the filming of the movie.

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This was the back of the Von Trap House where the kids fell in the water when the captain came home.

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This was the path where Maria sang “Confidence.”

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Here is the gazebo from 16 going on 17.

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This is the church where Maria and the captain got married.  They made it look a lot bigger for the movie but we still thought it looked grandiose. Half way through the tour, we got a chance for a coffee break and we had one of my favorite meals of the whole trip.  I had the raspberry torte and it was clear they had taken so much care to make it.  Inside the crust was a layer of chocolate and inside the cream in the middle was even a bit of cake.  WOW!

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Our last stop of the tour was Mirabelle Gardens.

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After the Sound of Music tour, we went on a Salt Mines Tour that brought us to even different parts of the area.  We got to go through a real salt mine where we learned about the way they mine salt, and different facts about the mine.  We got to ride on a train through the mine, as well as slide down an amazingly fun slide!

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Our last day day in Salzburg, we went to the Fortress and then to the Salzburg zoo.

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That night, we went to a restaurant that had a huge outdoor courtyard and I got Krautflekerl: an Austrian dish made of noodles and cabbage (YUM), and we all went a little wild over the desserts getting a waffle and an egg soufflé to share.

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The next day, we had to head back to Prague already.  We got back in the early afternoon and I took my mom and aunt to see the school where I teach at and we took a trip to Tesco, the grocery store near my house. At night we went to a concert in one of the churches near my house.  It was a four part string quartet as well as an organ that played classical music and we all really enjoyed it!

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Friday we went to the Lennon Wall and then to feed some birds at the nearby park.  We even saw Peacocks! Afterwards, we went up in the Petrin Tower and got a great view of the city.  Afterwards, we hung out and got Trdlnik for a snack, and the ladies loved it!  We went to the nearby Restaurant and Design Shop for dinner and it had great food and a wonderful atmosphere. IMG_4250 IMG_4261

Saturday was our last day together.  We went to Vysehrad and enjoyed walking around the parameter of the park and seeing the beautiful views of the city.

IMG_4276 IMG_4287We were all so sad when our time together was up.  It was the most amazing time to see my family and even to get to go on a little trip with them!  I am so lucky to be so loved!

Roma

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To celebrate easter and our extra day off this weekend, Jordan and I went to Rome, Italy.  It being both of our first times in Italy, we were excited to try some pizza and have nice weather.  We soon found that Rome had much more to offer us than we might have thought.

We arrived on Friday and checked into our Air B&B flat.  We met the loving Italian woman who owned the flat as she welcomed us with an Italian Easter cake made of fluffy, flakey cake, lemon cream, and thick vanilla glaze.  She took about a half hour out of her day to get us acclimated with the flat as well as the city, showing us different spots on the map, outlining a walking tour we could take that day while the sun was shining.  Once we had our bearings, we jumped out the door into the daylight to explore.  We walked around and saw many of the major sights around the colosseum and the city center.  That night, we had some delicious pasta and pizza with red wine.  We were just starting to realize what a delight we were really in for.

On Saturday, we woke up and went to the Vatican which required an excrutiating 3 and a half hour wait, but in the end, we saw some amazing things.  The best including inscribed tablets, the Sistine Chapel, and a zoo filled with marble animals.  Jordan commented on how it seemed almost evil how many riches and art the Catholic church owned in the massive palace of the Vatican.IMG_3596IMG_3616IMG_3611

We left the Vatican to go to a 4pm walking tour.  The spitting rain was no deterrent to the hardcore tourists of Rome; our tour group started with 35 people.  We learned some interesting facts about the history of different buildings and statues that we saw throughout the city.  Starving after the tour, we headed to a less touristy part of town and stumbled upon a restaurant that served a buffet free with the purchase of one drink.  The mixed drinks we got were the best I’ve ever tasted, and the buffet was most enjoyable trying different bites of Italian food we never would have gotten to try from an ordinary restaurant.  After dinner, we stopped by a bakery on the same street and chose some random Italian cookies to take home and sample.

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On a rainy and dark Sunday we woke up to a blacked out room, surprised that a morning could be so lightless.  We needed to pursue an indoor endeavor due to the cold, pelting rain so we headed to the Maxxi Contemporary Art Museum.  The gallery had a main exhibit on art in wartime focusing on architecture.  The other areas had many large sculpture pieces.  The rain was dying down slightly as we left, heading for the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.  Regardless of the rain, we had a lot of fun wandering through the ancient ruins in what we decided was the most scenic city park in the world.  We ended the day with homemade gelato.IMG_3643IMG_3657

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Monday we woke up early and went to the Colosseum right when it opened.  We learned a lot about how people enjoyed the Colosseum and the habits of people of the time.  The sun was peaking in through the rugged brick windows and the blue sky shown with fluffy white clouds.  We left the Colosseum and headed for the sea.  I wanted to see the Mediterranean while we were close, and the beach was right near the airport.  We had time to walk around and enjoy the sand between our toes.  The beach was a popular pass time for Italians on Monday due to the holiday, so we felt like locals.  It was beautiful.IMG_3766

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After experiencing Rome, we can’t wait to see more of Italy some day.  We both agreed Italy should be the food capital of the world, as we couldn’t get enough of the amazing foods, desserts, and beverages.  Now that our legs are sore and tired, we are left with some great memories and happy hearts thanks to the Eternal City.            IMG_3778

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!!

My Happiness Theory

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Picture found on IndieGoGo.com

My blog post for this week is a bit different than normal.  I didn’t go on any trips this week, and my teaching schedule is basically the same.  Here I am just happily living life.  That’s why this week’s post is all about happiness!

I came up with my own happiness theory a couple of weeks ago when I found myself thinking back on my past before coming to Prague.  I would think about college.  I would think about studying abroad in New Zealand.  I would think about working at Clear Channel.  I would think about my old apartment in Rochester.  These thoughts of the past became more and more prevalent in my daily life.  If I planned lessons late in the library one night, I would counter by thinking about the “easy” days at Clear Channel when I left at 5:30 and didn’t look back until the next morning.  When plans fell through with roommates or friends, I would think about the great people that I have known and how much fun we’ve had.  When teaching got tough, I longed for the life of a student.  All of my memories seemed so lovely in comparison to the difficult parts of my life here in Prague.

What I didn’t take the time to think about, was that each of these memories also had a difficult side.  There were days in college that were filled with self doubt, boredom, and uninspired work.  There were times in New Zealand where I felt completely alone in the world and so far from home.  There were times at Clear Channel when I pined over ANY job except the one I had.  But, when I look back on these events, my mind chooses to leave out those parts most of the time.

I look back on most of my life and think, “Wow.  I was SO happy then.”  But during my happiness revelation, I had to ask myself: was it real, pure, so-much-greater-than-now happiness?  Or is that just the way my mind is choosing to remember things?

Of course I have been happy in the past, and of course I have had difficult times in the past.  But the heart of my theory lies in the fact that the past is just that.  Our memories are only distant pictures with fuzzy, warm glows.  Memories are wonderful – the past happened, and you lived to tell the tale.  But they aren’t reality.

Do not be deterred from happiness in the present by an unrealistic picture of happiness in the past.  We do not have that picture now, and possibly never did.  All we really have is each individual present moment striking like ticks on a clock.  Those clock ticks are what we have to make happiness out of, and nothing else.

I recently shared these ideas with one of my roommates and another friend.  Both seemed excited by the prospect that happiness only matters when you have it right now.  Where and when do you think happiness is accessible?  Share in the comments!

Plzeň, Czech Republic

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This weekend was spent in Plzeň enjoying brewery tours, beer, and the festival celebrating Plzeň recently being named the European Capital of Culture for 2015.

On Saturday morning we left early on a train and got to the city around 11:30.  It takes about an hour an a half to get there from Prague.  When we arrived, we realized that a lot of celebrations were going on due to the new cultural title.  Everyone in our travel group was so excited to see what this city of culture had to offer us!

Upon our arrival, we went and found a cheap hostel/hotel that had a nice room for the four of us that would be staying overnight.  It was a really well equipped hotel room with nice beds and a bathroom of our own and it was very reasonably priced.  We checked in and then headed to see what was going on in the nearby city center.

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We started off the day at the brewery.  When we arrived, we saw the famous arches above and walked through them into the area devoted to the brewery.  Special tents were set up due to the celebrations, so after buying our tour tickets, we went inside the huge green tent with giant Pilsner Urquell logos that was set up there.

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Inside there was traditional Czech dancing and music that was a lot of fun to watch.  It seemed like all of the performers were really enjoying themselves, and their enthusiasm was catching.

IMG_2800We all grabbed a beer from the taps they had set up in the tent and then made our way over to the food area.  There they had a catering style lineup of dishes where you could ask for what you want and they would dish it up for you.  I got a meal that would soon be remembered as one of my favorites that I have eaten here in the Czech Republic thus far.

IMG_2795It was pork with pickled cabbage and potato dumplings with caramelized onions.  All of the flavors blending together were amazing, and the dumplings were some of the best that I’ve had here.

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There were various bands playing traditional music.  This one was particularly good; I stood up near the front to get a good view and enjoy the music.

Soon, it was time for our brewery tour to start.  We left the tent and headed next door to the brewery where we began our tour.  The guide brought us through rooms displaying artifacts of history of the brewery, as well as rooms that held the vats and other machinery things needed to brew beer.  We watched a couple of different videos on the brewing process as well.

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This was the actual tank room where the beer is heated.  It was pretty warm in here because the process was happening as we were taking our tour.

IMG_2821The next and more interesting part of the tour was walking through the damp and chilly beer cellars where we could see beer fermenting in tanks, and some huge wooden kegs that were ready to be tapped.

IMG_2834In the final leg of our tour, we got to taste some unfiltered beer right out of the keg in the basement.  It was so fresh and delicious — I don’t know if I will ever have another beer like it again.

When we stepped outside after our tour, there was a large crowd congregating outside the brewery.  There were men on stilts standing in the crowd as well as a giant Angel statue manned by a few people.  One leg of the parade was starting right in front of our eyes.  We decided to join up and walk with the parade through the city and into the city center.

IMG_2846There were four different parade routes that met up in the middle of the city.  We walked with a giant mass of people through streets that were shut down and blocked off to traffic.  People looked down from their windows and watched from bridges.  The parade consisted of a giant mass of people, various bands (one man walked with his band playing an upright bass violin), flame throwers, and people on stilts.  At one point, we walked right next to some huge Clydesdale horses towing a few fake kegs on a flat bed.

IMG_2850We made it to the city center with our parade group and waited for about an hour in the cold for the festivities to start.  In the mean time, there was music playing over speakers and an interesting light show playing on the buildings in the square.

IMG_2853The show finally started.  It included a giant metal puppet partaking in some theatrics I can only describe as “art,”  as well as a man walking across a tightrope to the top of the cathedral.  He was walking that route in order to signify the returning of the bells to the bell tower that were stolen in World War II.  He made it across the tiny wire that hung directly above our heads and by the time he finally made it, we were all freezing.  So we went to a nearby restaurant and had some dinner.  I had chicken stuffed with blue cheese, spicy peppers, and bacon.

After that, our some of our friends had to leave to catch their train back home, while others headed back to the hostel.  Jordan and I decided to check out the night life around Plzeň which we had heard many good things about.

We started at the Funky Money which was a cocktail bar where we ordered some interesting drinks.  Then we went to a music bar where they were playing a lot of American dance music.  We ended our night at Music Bar Andel, an alternative music bar where a DJ was spinning vinyl record of 90s music (both American and European).  We really enjoyed dancing the night away with tons of locals in this unique atmosphere.  Oh, and, they had Discovery Channel playing on the screen behind the stage… 😉

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After our long night out, we went to get Kebabs on the way back to the hotel.  They were huge!  We headed back and hit the hay in our comfortable hotel bed.

The next morning, our compadres left early, as Jordan and I got some extra sleep after our late night.  We woke up and got ready for another day of exploring the city.

IMG_2863Today we enjoyed a relaxed day of sight seeing throughout the city and visiting all the sights that we hadn’t yet seen.  We discovered a nice small park with ice statues.  I had never seen an ice statue like this up close, and it was an awesome discovery.  There were actually 4 separate statues with one really big one (shown below).

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They were starting to melt a little, but, still very cool.  We also checked out the Jewish Synagog which is the third largest in the world.  This month, it is closed for tours, but we got to see the outside and later viewed a picture of the inside, so we thought it was close enough!

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IMG_2875The picture above is the Town Hall.  The outside of the building has amazing carving drawings in it.

IMG_2895Our wanderings led us to stumble upon some other really interesting things like the hand made boat art projects shown above, as well as a photo exhibit of the city’s culture.

Finally, we had lunch at the Beer Museum and decided it was time to hit the road back home: hopped on a train and back we went to the city of stories – Prague.

I’m (officially) A Teacher!

Well, I can officially say that I am an English Teacher in Prague.  I finished my first full week of teaching and I’m gearing up for my next week.  I will not lie to you, readers.  My first week of teaching was SO HARD!!  I can’t remember the last time I was so busy, tired, or stressed out.  But when a class goes well, it is so rewarding.  When you can tell that your students got something out of your lesson, it is all worth it.

This is my teaching schedule so far:

Monday – 10:15-1pm Intensive Course with Russian Teenage Girls
3-4pm GE Aviation Class with Petr, an engineering maintenance manager

Tuesday – 8-9am Porsche Dealership class with IT specialist and IT manager
10:15-1pm Intensive Course with Russian Teenage Girls
2-5pm Class with Video Game Designers (2 different leveled classes)

Wednesday – 7:30-8:30 Partia Finance class with Jan, Economist
10:15-1pm Intensive Course with Russian Teenage Girls
3-4pm GE Aviation Class

Thursday – 8-9am Porsche Dealership Class
10:15-1pm Intensive Course with Russian Teenage Girls
3-4 WAG Payment class with Lukas

Friday – 10:15-1pm Intensive Course with Russian Teenage Girls

I have enjoyed meeting all of my students and finding all of their different offices across Prague.  The most challenging/exciting class is with my 9 Russian Teenagers.  We meet every day for 2 weeks.  The class challenges me because I clearly need to keep it interesting and exciting, or else my students will be on their phones all class!

So far, each class takes me about 30 minutes to plan for.  I’m hoping this time frame will go down as I get more experience planning lessons.  Until then, I am trying to smartly manage my time and make the lessons enjoyable.  I try to have one fun activity in each lesson to keep my students interested and having fun.

I’m learning a ton about teaching each day.  I wonder what I will learn this week! 🙂