Sunday, September 30, 2007

One last post for September

Well, I've been here just over a month now. Oh infamous time that can seem so short and so fast all at the same time. Honestly, it seems like years are piling up a lot faster on me lately than they ever used to. What's up with that? It seems in some ways as though I've already been here long enough to feel home like, and yet it's also a bit strange to realize how quickly the months are going to slip out form underneath me.
This weekend my friend Crystal came to hang out, seeing as how my other two teammates went out of town, and we had a great time just wandering around town in the rain and then sitting back in my flat talking and watching TV. She made a comment that will undoubtedly seem strange to those who have lived overseas, but should ring true for those who have. Her comment was this, "isn't it hard to remember sometimes that we're living in Europe?" Even as we walk around amidst ancient buildings that predate American history, I couldn't help but nod in agreement. It's amazing how quickly the tourist views that captivate on first arrival become the familiar surroundings of home, now taken for granted.
One of my goals for this year is to live life intentionally. It's a common goal for me, and one I have to remind myself of often. I think I was about 15 when I visited my friend Mindy from summer camp, and noticed how she would write little notes on her calendar every day. At that moment I was struck by a thought that sort of shook me. While it is easy to concentrate on enjoying moments like holidays or birthdays or big events, it is difficult to keep in mind that each and every day happens only once. Whether good, or bad, that day will never be repeated. Every September 30th is unique.
When I got home from visiting my friend I began keeping track of my days. It started with Calendar squares, quickly filled to the bursting point with such scrawled and tiny script that no one would ever dare attempt to read it, then evolved into my daily journaling routine on June 14, 1996 when I headed off for my summer with Teen Missions in Italy. Since that date, I have made special note of every single day that has transpired. I have tried to keep in mind that each day is a gift in it's own way. Even the days I would rather forget entirely have played a part in the making of me.
So many times I find myself forgetting that the things God has allowed me to do, really are unique. About two months ago I missed my ten year high school reunion. (I was at training and couldn't go.) I'd been thinking of this reunion for a couple of years before it took place. I wondered where all those people I hadn't thought of in ages might have ended up. I was curious to see what they had done with their lives. At the same time, I felt as though I'd done so little in comparison to my expectations of them. I was sure I would discover that most were married with families, careers, houses, and pets. 5 years ago, when I received the letter I'd written to myself as a senior in high school, I experienced a lot of anger and regret. I had done so few of the things my 18 year old self had charged me with. I was still single, drifting, unpublished...the list goes on. And now, 5 years later, none of those things have changed. 10 years have somehow slipped away with little to show for it in the typical way. My earthly possessions are, indeed, few. My bank account leaves much to be desired. I feared that if I went to that reunion I would be faced by my lack of accomplishments, my failure to become the people others, and I myself, had expected me to be.
Then a little light goes on in my head. Why should I have to compare myself to what other people have done? Have I not traveled all over the world? Have I not spent more than two and a half years living overseas? Not to mention braving a year in Alaska? I may not have a lot of obvious proof of achievement, but my time has not been wasted. And while my life just seems normal to me, when I really think about it, I know that few people my age have had the chance to do the things that I have done. True, there are people who have done more, but there is value in being who I am.
So here I sit, comfortably settled in Cheb, Czech Republic. I can buy train tickets on my own, and travel to castles whilst being lulled by the passing scenery and the music that flows from my i-pod. I truly have been blessed. There is no denying it.
I still have no idea what the future holds. Each step is a vast mystery, a journey into the unknown. All I know is that I want to live each day. Not just exist, but really LIVE.
The sun is shining this evening, glinting off the leaves that are beginning to subside from green to yellow, some bursting to red. It is my prayer that I will not grow stagnant in autumn, but learn how to burn more brightly. Each day is a gift.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A photo selection for you:)

At long last I'm getting around to putting up some photos from my trip to Prague. As the weather would always seem to have it, there were buckets of rain coming down today, but I still persevered and drug my computer to school hidden in a plastic bag so it wouldn't get wet. I had it in it's case as well, but it just didn't seem quite secure enough for me. Well, without further ado, let me get along to the photos:

These first few photos are all pictures around Old town in Prague. The first is of a church or something, in one of the squares, the next one is of Wenceslas Square. I thought that one was really cool. There were a bunch of emo kids sitting around the base of the statue of Wenceslas. They're taking over the world...Then there are couple with the Charles Bridge.
And here are some pictures of my main distractions for the Prague Reality Czech weekend! How cute are they!

As you can see, Jack and I were pals!

It was sad to have to leave everyone, but it was really nice to hang out. Here are Joseph, Crystal and I enjoying a ride on public transport in Prague:

Life does continue to go on in our nice sleepy little town of Cheb. Last weekend our friends Che and Crystal came over for the afternoon and we went hiking on Zelena Hora (Green Hill). There is a watchtower on top of the hill that gives a view of Cheb and the surrounding areas. From one side you can look over into Germany as well. It was pretty cool to hang out up there.

When we were hiking up to the tower I also found an old German Cemetery. I always enjoy checking out cemeteries and this one was very nice and simple:

And now I'll leave you with one last photo that I found to be particularly profound...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Another week down

This was a LONG week. I think partly I was a little down after the excitement of going to the city. It is hard to readjust to the simple country life. I also had to be observed by our head English teacher. I really wasn't all that concerned about it, but then it just so happened to be my most boring lesson EVER! I mean, we're talking so slow and agonizing. Can I just say the Phrasal Verbs are about the most confusing concept to teach? And the problem is that so many of them are just so arbitrary. The people literally have to memorize them. So the activities I had brought in were WAY to difficult, and they spent the whole time just scratching their heads in total confusion.
Naturally my review was less than stellar. She told me they all said they liked me, and that usually my lessons are quite good, but it was such a poor example of how I teach that she couldn't really say anything to me about it. I was pretty much horrified, but we had a second meeting in which she gave some helpful ideas on how to present them that should hopefully help out in the future.
But seriously, how do you explain to someone that "let down" means disappointed? Or that "fed up" means irritated? There are sooooo many of these little idiomatic phrasal verbs in our daily speech that we don't even realize we are using them at all. So while they're VERY practical, it's nearly impossible to show students a way to figure them out without rote memorization.
So, it was a bit of a rough week. That's how it goes sometimes I suppose. Now I'm just relieved that the weekend is upon me, and hopefully I can enjoy the sunshine that has returned, if only for a moment :)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Life After Prague...

Well, it was wonderful to get away for the weekend and be in a big city again. There is something about being in an international city that just makes me feel so much more alive. I love it. I don't know how to explain the rush that goes through me when I find myself in the mix of life that is only found in such places. And in the midst of all that living breathing mass of humanity rise epic works of another era. The Charles Bridge, bedecked in ancient statues, spans the lazy river and provides a breathtaking view of the castle. It was rather rapturous to be there, even though I was excessively preoccupied.
The primary reason for my preoccupation: Andrew and Jack. No, not potential future interests, but the young sons of teachers in Ostrava, CZ. At 5 and 3 (or 65 as Jack claimed to be when I asked him) they totally captured my attention immediately. Even before I was aware that they were part of our group, I saw Jack and was overwhelmed by the feeling that he must speak English, and that it would be positively delightful to make his acquaintance. I was ever so right! After moving into the building where we would spend a number of hours in a meeting, I began the process of making new small friends. There is just something about being around children that breathes new life into me. While there were others on the team more verbal in their attempts to woo the young lads, it didn't take long before I had managed to get into the mix. I was amazed to realize that these people that I've been getting to know for the past couple of months had never even seen me with small children except briefly with little Issac during practicum. So strange to imagine that part of myself being so hidden.
All this to say, I had a positively splendid time running around with the kids. Consequently, I didn't take a whole lot of photos, but enough that I'll be sure to post them in a few days when I manage to bring my computer in to work.
The weather was very kind to us, and the sun worked wonders on my temperament as always. There's just something about blue skies and warm breezes...During my classes on Friday morning one of my students tried to convince me that fall weather with its lower temperatures and dark misty days was preferable to the heavenly sun, but I would hear nothing of it! (I actually told him to "Get OUT of my class!")
Now I'm back in the cozy confines of Cheb. I made it through all four lessons today (that comes out to 8 teaching hours) and I'm now ready to head home and enjoy knowing that I only have one class tomorrow and it is already planned. (sigh)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Heading to Prague

Well, I have survived another week. The really cool part is that it is starting to feel like not just surviving. Of all the amazing things, I'm actually enjoying my job! I have to say it's been a LONG time since I've really felt this way about a job. It is both interesting and challenging. I still wouldn't say that I LOVE lesson planning, but my students are a lot of fun. I'm even beginning to make better sense of grammar rules. The main thing I remember about my grammar class in college (besides the fact that it was ridiculously early in the morning) was that the book said there are few rules that are really rules in the English language. It's so true. Especially when you are writing. So much depends on what you are trying to say, and how you want to express yourself. There are definitely things that just sound horribly wrong, but a lot of things are so changeable that it's hard to call them actual rules. It's all rather tricky.
At the same time, in schools here they mostly learn languages based on grammar. For them it is very important to know why we say things the way we do. So it is my job to both explain those rules that do exist, and make sense of all the many times we say and write things in completely different ways. Maybe one of these days it'll make more sense, but for now I'm just trying to keep things very simple.
Well, I about an hour and a half I'll be getting on a train to Prague. I'm really excited about that, even though I think we'll be spending the majority of Saturday in a meeting. Not my favorite sort of activity, but such is life. It will be so nice to meet up with the other members of the Czech team. There are 17 of us here in all, and there are several that I have yet to meet.
Well, my stomach is reminding me that I was up earlier today than normal since I had to teach this morning so I'd best be off to have some lunch. It's pretty handy having our school right over a grocery store. We pretty much live here!

Friday, September 7, 2007

End of the Week

So, one week down! Woohoo! I have survived a week of teaching English, and I'm still breathing. What a relief! Really, it wasn't so bad. The worst bit has been coming up with lesson plans. Yesterday I started working at about 10AM and didn't finish until 8PM when my second class of the evening was over. So draining.
So there are no exciting new pictures for the week because everything was just work, work, WORK. It's good, but it's nice to be at the weekend and be able to play for a day or two. Of course Sunday I will be planning 4 classes for Monday. It'll be draining but eventually I'm sure I'll get used to it. The schedule reminds me a lot of when I had to work Both Shift at Mother's Choice. It is easy to spend the whole day just being at work. Especially because right downstairs is hypernova, a very exciting grocery store. So basically I just call them upstairs and downstairs and pretend that this is where I live because I pretty much do. Now there is a sentence I would NOT be using with my English classes! Already I'm forgetting how to speak.
Okay, it's Friday so for now, I am DONE!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

One day down...

Well, I made it through the first day as a teacher here at Winfield College. Things actually went pretty well. It was a VERY long day, but by the end of it I felt as though I might actually be able to do this teaching stuff! We started in the morning doing testing for the daily students. These students will be here every morning for 3 hours. I am only working with them on Monday and Friday, but on on those days I will have them for two sessions which is really quite a lot. The 90 minute class schedules really bring me right back to high school for sure!
After the testing we had some time to get to know our head English teacher. We went out to lunch with her and her little 5 month old daughter Emily. What a cutie! We had a nice meal of pizza (I've been to this restaurant 4 times already!) and then we came back to make sure our lesson plans for the evening were okay. Kate had really good advice for how to make sure the students were really learning something even as we were just making introductions and reviewing things from last year.
By the time we were done with her, we only had about an hour to finalize our lesson plans and be ready to teach at 5. I was going a little crazy inside about the time pressure, but in the end, everything went quite smoothly. I had way more things planned than what I actually needed, which is by far the best problem to have, and both my classes seemed to enjoy themselves. There was plenty of laughter at least! When the classes were over it was such a relief to sit down and know that I had made it. I think the hard thing is to remember that I really do know what I'm talking about. The main problem is knowing how to explain what they need to learn. Once I can really figure that out I think my mind will be more at ease.
For the next week or so, we'll mostly be doing review in the classes. After that we have books to follow, and I think that will make things a lot less stressful. Right now, trying to come up with the lesson plans feels a little bit like practicum at training.
For now, at least, I can see that there is some hope of me becoming a decent teacher here in Cheb.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

End of the holiday

Tomorrow begins the new school year. Hard to know how I feel about that just yet. I'm excited, but also rather nervous. It will be a very new thing for me. I've got my schedule now, which is rather exciting. Here goes:
Monday: 9:00 - 10:30 L2 (these are daily students and will all be new)
10:45- 12:15 L2 (yes, I have them for two sessions in a row!)
5:00 - 6:30 Women (they're upper intermediate and apparently like to talk)
6:30 - 8:00 Int 3 (also a fairly advanced group)

Tuesday:5:00 - 6:30 Int 2 (slightly lower than Int3)

Wednesday: 5:00 - 6:30 Women
6:30 - 8:00 Int 3

Thursday: 5:00 - 6:30 Int 2
6:30 - 8:00 FCE-CO (this is a conversation class getting them ready to take a large exam.

Friday: 9:00 - 10:30 L2
10:45 - 12:15 L2

Overall, I'd call this a pretty Sarah friendly schedule. I'll still be able to sleep in most days! I've been told that the upper level classes are quite demanding, so I'm praying that I'll really be on top of things. It's so easy to get nervous, and try to explain things by saying, "that's just the way it is." So it looks like I'll be doing a little grammar study.
In other news, we spent most of our free time this week traveling around West Bohemia. There are a number of spa towns around. I think I might have put in a photo of one of these last time. This week we went to Karlovy Vary, which is a very famous spa town. It is even featured in the movie The Last Holiday. After spending the day there we went home and watched the movie and were amused to see all the places we had just been. Tammy said that part of Casino Royale (the newest Bond movie) was also filmed here.

We even managed to find a Mc Donalds there!

It was a really beautiful town. We had a lot of fun just wandering around the streets.
Yesterday Tammy and I went on another adventure to the small town of Loket. The name Loket means elbow in Czech. It is believed that the town was named for the way the river flows around the little city. It literally loops all the way around it. They have a pretty incredible castle there, and we had a great time checking it out.

We wandered all around the town and found some other areas of interest as well.

This is the black tower. We climbed up it and paid a little woman who spoke no English so we could look at the little gallery at the top.

Here I am with Goethe. The English Major in me just HAD to take this photo!

Tammy was pretty freaked out to go across this bridge. It was a suspension bridge, and a wee bit wobbly, but I assured her that we were nowhere near the 900KG it said it could carry! What an adventure.
Besides running about to check out these areas of interest before the school year starts, we've been eating more beautiful food, and figuring out life here in Cheb.
Here is my flat in Skalka:

And for the food lovers one last image:

That's going to have to do it for now. Hope you all enjoy! And PLEASE keep me in your prayers as classes do begin tomorrow!