Happy Thanksgiving from the Czech Republic!

Tomorrow will be my first ever Thanksgiving that I have not spent with my family. And, I'm not going to lie...I'm really feeling a bit down tonight. Most days I don't really think about the massive 5,000 mile difference that is between me and everything that is familiar, but there are other times (such as tonight) that I seem to physically feel it.

Instead of waking up to the holiday smells and the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, I will be teaching all day. I don't want to come across as being a complainer...it's just something strange to think about. On a related note, if anyone can figure out a way to ship me some of my Granny's dressing and my Grandma's smothered turkey...can you please do so? ;)

Anyway, I just wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving! I have so much to be thankful for this year...my amazing family, my friends (both new and old!), new opportunities, amazing experiences...the list goes on and on. I hope you all have a fantastic day filled with new memories, lots of laughter, and of course, plenty of food.



4 Things I Have Learned in 4 Months of Living Abroad

We are already the majority of the way through November, which means another month spent in Prague is now in the books for me. I have been doing a lot of thinking about what exactly I have learned in 16 weeks of being here. How have my views on things changed? What have I noticed? How is this life different than my life at home in the U.S.? So, I thought I would share some of my thoughts and realizations.

1. People are people.
We live in a very diverse world. That's no secret. We live in different places, we look different physically, we speak different languages, and we believe in different things. However, we are all tied together by the fact that we are living, breathing, feeling human beings. Despite our cultures, we all want to live a life that revolves around happiness and health, and we should all have the right to do that. This is something that I have always believed in, but being in the middle of a different culture has only solidified that belief.

2. Experiences > things.
As I have discussed before, I got rid of the majority of my possessions before I moved. And, I obviously didn't bring an overabundance of stuff with me to Europe. The only stuff that I have bought since being here includes necessities for my flat, and a few pieces of winter clothing, which have been mostly thrifted. (My flatmate Ephram and I are also living proof that you can survive with a SINGLE pan to cook everything in.) In addition to that, my living spaces has also downsized significantly. I went from having my own bedroom and bathroom, to sharing a pretty small space with another person.

Every now and then, I miss some of my material things and my own space. But then I remember...I'm living in the heart of Europe. I would live in a cardboard box in order to continue living and traveling here. "Stuff" is optional...memories like the ones I have been making are unforgettable.

3. Language is important...but it's also not.
Ok, just stick with me while I explain this. First off, I am a language teacher. Teaching English as a FOREIGN language has certainly made me realize the importance that is placed upon communication across cultures. Secondly, I am living in a country where I do not speak the language, and learning it is a very slow process for me because of the levelness of difficulty. Obviously, the easiest way to interact with someone is through a conversation using a mutual language. Therefore, it is important.

However, I have also discovered that body language and facial expressions can just as effectively help to understand people, as well as be understood. If communication through language is a bit rocky, a smile, or a laugh, or "speaking with your hands" can often help solidify what you are trying to say, or what you are attempting to hear. This has been effective with my beginner level students, as well as in everyday conversations with people I don't know.

4. Being afraid of the world is pointless.
When it comes to planet Earth, the media is really good at painting this picture of a world full of all things unknown and frightening. And you know, there ARE things that we should be cautious of. There are situations that we should avoid. But, the bad things are no reason to avoid travel completely. This vast world is here for us to enjoy. Travel is a way for us to grow. If you have the desire to see new places and do new things, do it. Do your research, and be aware of everything you should know, but do it. Potential danger is everywhere, even in your own comfortable town or city. Don't let fear hinder your spirit for travel.

Four months is not a very long period of time, but I can honestly say that I feel like I've learned so much. There is a lot more for me to learn, and I look forward to encountering those new lessons. Do you live abroad? Do you enjoy travel? What lessons have you learned?


A Weekend in Plzen

A couple of weekends ago, the Prague Squad (aka: Jess, Ephram and I) took a trip over to Plzen, Czech Republic for Ephram's birthday weekend. Plzen is only about an hour away from Prague, so it was a very convenient getaway. If you are familiar with Plzen, it's probably because you are have heard of their beer, Pilsner Urquell, which is a very famous Czech beer. People come to this little town from all over the world for a taste of the beer.

The weekend got off to a bit of a rough start, with us going to the wrong bus station. We went to Florenc, the main bus station, more out of habit than anything, because that's where we have always left from for past travels. Imagine our surprise when we were told that our bus was actually leaving from Zlicin, which was about a 40 minute metro ride away. Luckily, we were able to cancel the tickets for the bus we were going to miss, and book tickets for a bus that was leaving a bit later.

Despite the setback, we still made it to Plzen fairly early in the evening. Our accommodation for the weekend was at the Hostel River, which was actually quite cool because the room we ended up in was loft style, with two beds in the main room and the third in a sleeping nook in the loft. Plzen itself is fairly small, and overall reminded me of a miniature Prague. If you are like me, and you enjoy just wandering around and appreciating things and taking pictures, you would love Plzen. There are also several cool little bars and restaurants, so if you like food and drink (which, who doesn't?), you will be a happy person.

My favorite part of exploring was getting to climb to the top of the tower of St. Bartholomew's Cathedral. There were a lot of very steep stairs to climb, but it was worth conquering them to get to the view at the top. You will see in the photos below that there were plenty of red roofs to please the eye. I could have spent a couple of hours up there, just looking out over the city.

The main reason that we went to Plzen though, was to go to the famous beer spa. What is a beer spa, you ask? Well, essentially, it's exactly what it sounds like. You get to soak in a bathtub full of warm beer and exfoliates, and drink as much beer as you possibly can while doing so. If you know me, you know that I'm not really all that crazy about beer (although I have grown more fond of it since I have lived in the Czech Republic), but the experience was still really cool. My skin was insanely soft after leaving, and it was overall very relaxing. Plus, how often do you get to soak in a tub full of beer?

Overall, it was a great weekend adventure. Every time I go somewhere, all I can do is think about where I'm going to go next. Europe has a way of doing that to you. The possibilities are endless.


Recent Reads: Fall 2015

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been taking the time to make more room for my hobbies now that my life in Prague has become a bit more settled. My longest running, and perhaps most loved, hobby...is reading. I have burned through quite a few books in the past couple of weeks so I thought I would take the time to share some thoughts on my recent reads.

Summary from Goodreads:
"Amir is the son of a wealthy Kabul merchant, a member of the ruling caste of Pashtuns. Hassan, his servant and constant companion, is a Hazara, a despised and impoverished caste. Their uncommon bond is torn by Amir's choice to abandon his friend amidst the increasing ethnic, religious, and political tensions of the dying years of the Afghan monarchy, wrenching them far apart. But so strong is the bond between the two boys that Amir journeys back to a distant world, to try to right past wrongs against the only true friend he ever had.

The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons—their love, their sacrifices, their lies.

A sweeping story of family, love, and friendship told against the devastating backdrop of the history of Afghanistan over the last thirty years, The Kite Runner is an unusual and powerful novel that has become a beloved, one-of-a-kind classic."
My thoughts:
This is one of the most difficult books I have ever read...not because of grammar, vocabulary, or writing style, but because of the seriousness of the content. This is not the type of book that you want to read if you are looking for that "warm heart" feeling. 90% of the book is heartbreaking, and I cried at several points. Amir, the main character, is quite unlikeable during the first half of the book, and some of the other background characters are infuriating.
Despite all of the more negative aspects though, this book opened my eyes in a way that they have not been opened in a long time. I read a lot of reviews after finishing the book and there are so many people out there who hate it because of the type of story it tells. Several people said that this is a book that people read when they want to "pretend to be cultured." I think though, that if you read this book and don't feel some type of overwhelming emotion, that you are reading with the wrong mindset. I gave this book 5/5 stars.
Summary from Goodreads:
"One of E. M. Forster's most celebrated novels, A Room With a View is the story of a young English middle-class girl, Lucy Honeychurch. While vacationing in Italy, Lucy meets and is wooed by two gentlemen, George Emerson and Cecil Vyse. After turning down Cecil Vyse's marriage proposals twice Lucy finally accepts. Upon hearing of the engagement George protests and confesses his true love for Lucy. Lucy is torn between the choice of marrying Cecil, who is a more socially acceptable mate, and George who she knows will bring her true happiness. A Room With a View is a tale of classic human struggles such as the choice between social acceptance or true love."
My thoughts:
This book has been sitting on my "to read" list for a while now. I was really excited to start it, but my excitement dwindled after I made it through about 10 pages. To put it in a nutshell...I. Hated. This. Book.
However, since I am the type of person who finishes any book they begin, I pushed through and read it to the end. I waited and waited for a moment where the switch would flip and I would fall in love with it, but it never came. I can probably count on one hand all of the books I have read and hated. I don't like using the word "hate" for books, but sometimes it has to be used. Everything about this books was dull to me. Lucy, the main character, was dull. The story was dull. The outcome was dull. The writing was dull. There was not a single likeable character, and at the end I felt like I had spent my time reading a lot of pointless conversations between privileged, uninteresting people. It was a true struggle to read the entire thing.
I know there are a lot of people out there who love this book, so I may get some negative feedback. I'm sorry though. It just didn't cut it for me. I gave it 2/5 stars.
Summary from Goodreads:
"For eighteen years the Hartes and the Golds have lived next door to each other, sharing everything from Chinese food to chicken pox to carpool duty-- they've grown so close it seems they have always been a part of each other's lives. Parents and children alike have been best friends, so it's no surprise that in high school Chris and Emily's friendship blossoms into something more. They've been soul mates since they were born.

So when midnight calls from the hospital come in, no one is ready for the appalling truth: Emily is dead at seventeen from a gunshot wound to the head. There's a single unspent bullet in the gun that Chris took from his father's cabinet-- a bullet that Chris tells police he intended for himself. But a local detective has doubts about the suicide pact that Chris has described."
My thoughts:
If you have read any of my past book reviews, you know that I love Jodi Picoult and I basically think she can do no wrong. I think I really appreciate the research that she puts into her books, and the ability that she has to write about really difficult situations in an appealing way. She's never afraid to go the extra mile in her writing.
The Pact, though it probably isn't one of my favorites from her, was still a great read. It kept my attention, it made me both happy and sad at different points, and it surprised me. Picoult's books are never quite predictable in the way you think they will be. I also really liked the dynamics of the characters in this book, and the way that it dealt with several different relationships. I gave this book 5/5 stars.
Summary from Goodreads:
"Before. Miles "Pudge" Halter's whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the "Great Perhaps" (François Rabelais, poet) even more. He heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.

After. Nothing is ever the same."
My thoughts:
This has also been on my list of books to read for a while, but after being a bit disappointed with Paper Towns, another work from Green, I put off reading it even longer. I was much more taken with this book though. My absolute favorite thing about John Green, is how he always finds ways to create a story around famous quotes or ideas from other writers and thinkers. He also isn't afraid to create characters who are a bit odd or socially strange, and he always finds a way to write about a serious thing in a way that makes the reader reflect on deeper levels. I gave this book 5/5 stars.
What have you been reading lately? Have you read any of these books? What are your thoughts?


Currently (November)

Reading... The Pact by Jodi Picoult. I have read several Jodi Picoult novels at this point, and they always stab me right in the heart. This one is no different. She really knows how to play with every single one of my emotions.

Playing... the newest Imagine Dragons album, Smoke and Mirrors. I just can't seem to get tired of it. They are going to be in Prague in January, and I really hope I'm able to go!

Watching... the 4th season of Girls and there are only about three episodes left for me to watch. Is it possible to hate and love a show at the same time? The characters are all insanely unlikeable, but also very "real."

Trying... to fit all of my hobbies back into my life. I feel like I'm pretty settled into my life here In Prague and am in a good place as far as lesson planning and teaching. I have been trying to read at least one book a week and have also been writing more frequently.

Cooking... Coffee? I made scrambled eggs for breakfast this morning. Does that count? (I still don't cook very much.)

Eating... kebab. I have been doing really good about eating at home lately, but tonight I broke down and bought a kebab on the way home. I fell in love with them when I moved to Europe.

Drinking... just water, nothing fancy.

Calling... no one. I have been sending Amber obnoxious videos on Snapchat though.

Texting... the Prague Squad, most recently.

Going... to make myself do dishes here shortly. Other than that, I'm staying in until I leave for my 9am class in the morning.

Loving... the fact that I am actually getting to experience cooler weather here in Prague. I still can't believe I am able to comfortably wear sweaters and layers.

Hating... negativity, just in general.

Discovering... so many new things about myself every single day. It's really empowering.

Thinking... that I cannot wait for my mom, Ms. Jeana, and Ashley to be here for their visit on December 26th! I'm so excited!

Feeling... full, from that kebab that I mentioned earlier.

Hoping (for)... continued happiness.

Listening (to)... Saturday Night Live sketches playing in the background. I have been obsessed with watching them on YouTube lately when I need a laugh. Penelope, anyone?

Considering... how to spend my weekend! Tomorrow is Friday, already.

Happy Thursday!


Women "Weep-ons" and Tram 22

The life of an expat is never dull. Each day brings something to laugh at, stress over, or just simply appreciate. Most days bring all three of those things. Let's proceed to a double dose of mini story time.

First, an adventure in teaching English as a second language. My Tuesday began with a 5:30am wakeup call. (Let's be honest though, I hit snooze until about 6:00.) I had a 7:30 class with an intermediate student that I normally teach on Mondays, but was rescheduled to today for this week. Anyway, the lesson I prepared for today was on the topic of women vs. men business owners, and we were discussing adjectives that describe the personalities of each.

Before we went into discussing new vocabulary terms, I asked my student to come up with some ways that he thinks  businessmen may be different than business women in the workplace. He said a couple of things about how men are probably more direct and comfortable when it comes to being in charge of a business. He then continued by saying that women may have an advantage sometimes though, because they have their women "weep-ons."

"Sorry?" I had no idea what he was trying to say.

"They have their women weep-ons."

I still wasn't sure where he was attempting to go.

"You know, their weep-ons. Women they are charming, and they dress nice, and they are nice and friendly. Those are their weep-ons."

It finally hit me.

"Oh, do you mean their weapons?"

"Yes, yes. Women have their weapons."

I had to try really hard not to laugh at this new concept of women weapons. I added it to the list, corrected his pronunciation of weapons, and moved on with the lesson. Sometimes I'm the one who learns something new during my lessons.

For story number two, lets talk public transport. A few weeks ago, I went on a little Instagram rant about how the tram near my flat is under construction and I have been having to take alternative routes to my classes. The way that I have to get to 99% of the places I have to go is by walking to another tram stop to catch the number 22. Because of the popular route that the tram takes, and the other tram currently being under construction, the 22 is always extremely packed.

Now, there are two different states of "packed" when it comes to riding on the 22. There is "Wow, there are a lot of people on here but at least I still have somewhere to hang on and my face isn't stuck in someone's armpit" packed, and then there is "I can't breathe and the body parts of strangers are touching me from every angle and I have to close my eyes and not think about the situation or I'm going to have a panic attack" packed. When I was heading to my 4:30 class this afternoon, the level of crowdedness was in the second category.

Therefore, I witnessed a moment where so many people attempted to pack themselves onto the tram, that the tiniest little old lady I have ever seen was smashed into a corner by a man about 12 times her size. She was asking for help and he wouldn't help her, so then two other people miraculously rescued her from the trap and sat her in a seat that someone gave up. Everything has the potential to be a bit scary sometimes. Even public transport.

Like I said earlier...there is never a dull moment. Now, I'm going to take my women weapons and get some beauty sleep before another day of teaching. I hope you are having a great week so far!


A Weekend in Berlin

If you follow me on Instagram or you are friends with me on Facebook, you know that I took a trip to Berlin last month. I had to go to the Czech Embassy there for my Visa appointment (yes, I had to leave the Czech Republic to apply for a Visa...strange, I know), so I decided to make a weekend of it. I am in Europe, after all. :)

I traveled to Berlin by bus. So far I have used Student Agency for my travel outside of Prague and I haven't had any issues with them. They are extremely affordable. I did choose to stay at a hotel instead of a hostel for this trip. The hotel I stayed at was called Hotel M68. It was in a really great location...right across the road from the beautiful Museum of Communication and within walking distance of all of the major sights. The hotel itself was okay. It felt like a strange combination of a hotel and hostel in one because the bathroom was actually down the hall instead of in the room itself. It personally didn't bother me too much, but people who expect more from accommodation may feel differently. However, the location and price made everything worth it to me.

Through word of mouth and basic research, I had heard that Berlin is one of the most unique European cities. Now, I can testify that "unique" is actually the perfect word to describe it. Upon first glance, it doesn't have the same obvious beauty that Prague and Vienna have, but that doesn't mean it isn't charming. The city is a perfect mixture of history, creativity, and modern function. The architecture is a mixture of new and old, and there is always something new to catch your eye when walking down the street.

The attraction I was most excited to see was the Brandenburg Gate. This structure is described as a "symbol of German unity." The statue at the top of the gate represents the Goddess of Victory, and it is easy to see that it was inspired by Greek architecture. The gate was damaged during World War II, but fortunately not completely destroyed. It really was an awesome thing to see in person. I was surrounded by hundreds of other tourists while viewing it, but it still didn't take away from the experience.

The same day that I saw the Brandenburg Gate, I also paid a visit to Reichstag, which is the German parliament building. The building itself is massive, and has overwhelmingly beautiful architecture. What makes it even cooler though, is the dome like viewing point that is at the top of the building. (Sadly I was not able to fully capture it in any of my photos.) Reservations have to be made a couple of weeks in advance to actually go into the building, so I was not able to do that. Still, viewing it from the outside and walking around the grounds was an experience in itself.

Just a short walk from Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate was the Holocaust Memorial, also known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The monument is visually intriguing, consisting of a vast area covered with rectangular concrete pillars of different heights. It almost feels like a maze, and is there to visually remind people of the lives that were lost during the Holocaust.

Some of the other interesting historical sites I was able to see included:

*Checkpoint Charlie, which is a representation of the famous border crossing between East and West Germany

*The Topography of Terror exhibition which portrays a timeline and historical information of Germany under Nazi rule

*And numerous other sites...some beautiful, some fun, and some thought provoking.

Berlin is a city that I will always be grateful that I was able to visit. Although I am still very new to the experience of traveling Europe, I would say that this city is one that you wouldn't want to overlook. I give it two thumbs up.

Have you been to Berlin? What was your favorite part?

Happy almost Friday! :)


Prague: 3 Months In

As of today, I have officially been living in Prague for 3 months. It has been 90 days since I set flight from America and ended up in the heart of Europe. It's been 90 days of training, teaching, traveling, and adjusting. It has been 90 days of meeting new people and experiencing new languages and customs. It has been 90 days since I have seen my family and friends back in Florida.

Part of me wants to be cliché and talk about how time flies, and the other part of me completely feels like it has been 90 challenging days. Not challenging in a bad way, by any means, but still challenging. I have never had to adjust to so many different things at once. I came here knowing what big adjustments I was going to go through, and I was braced to get through them. However, there are also many small adjustments that sometimes feel as challenging as the large ones.

This post isn't about adjustment though. It has been a couple of months since I have written a general update post, so I thought I would share some new facts and random information about my life here in the Czech Republic.

-Teaching English as a second language has been quite the experience so far. It has been both challenging and enjoyable. I would say that the most time consuming aspect of teaching is the planning. Every class is at a different level, and needs English for a different reason. Some lessons are one-on-one and some have groups of anywhere from 2-10 students. The lessons basically have to be different for each class. However, getting to know my students is one of the more rewarding things to happen in my life so far, so I know I am on the right path at this point in my career.

-I have visited four countries in the past three months. Considering I had never been outside of the U.S before this adventure, I find that pretty exciting. So far I am able to check the UK, the Czech Republic, Austria, and Germany off of my list. And the best part is...I have SO MUCH more to see! I have plans in the works for Slovakia, Spain, Italy, Hungary and Turkey...and those are just the beginning of the list.

-Prague is slowly becoming my home. I find joy in the small victories, like being able to give people correct directions or knowing what tram to take to get me home without using Google maps. I am no longer afraid to go grocery shopping (most of the time) and I still can't get over the fact that I LIVE in such a beautiful, charming place.

-I'm actually getting to a point where I understand the things I am learning in my Czech class. I don't want to sound whiney or anything...but it's such a hard language! D: I still get nervous to use what I learn. I also find that Czechs have a difficult time understanding Czech that has more of an American accent to it...but Czech pronunciation is not an easy thing, my friend. I suppose it's all about baby steps.

-It's already very cold here. The temperatures that I experienced in October were colder than the coldest January day in Florida. It's strange to actually be able to wear things like tights and thick sweaters without having a heat stroke. The cold weather has actually given me a new found love for thrift shopping. I found a brand new winter coat and a few sweaters for a TOTAL of about 140 crowns the other day, which averages to a whopping total of about $6.00. I can completely understand why people become addicted to secondhand stores.

-I can't say exactly how much because I haven't had an opportunity to weigh since being here, but I have actually lost quite a bit of weight. I would estimate 20-30 pounds. I know my clothes have been fitting much differently (I had to buy new jeans) and my friends and family have been commenting on how I look different in my pictures. I haven't really been able to see the difference in pictures myself though until my mom made this comparison photo. The picture on the left is from my first day here in Prague and the picture on the right was taken just a few days ago. Apparently major life changes bring adjustments in all forms.

It's another new month, and I'm anxious to see how November pans out. I'm especially anxious for December because I will finally have people coming to visit me! Here's to the next 90 days in Europe. :)
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