6 Ways I Prepared to Move Overseas

It’s almost been 8 years since I left the United States for the first time when I moved to Russia volunteering as an English teacher for 6 months. It seemed only fitting that my flight to South Korea where I will teach (and get paid) has a layover in Moscow, the first foreign city I fell in love with.

I spent the flight behind a young family with a screaming baby and an energetic child who found reclining seats to be the greatest invention since stickers. Needless to say I will have a headache, bruised knees and smell like the tomato juice I spilled on myself when she decided to randomly check if the seat recliner was still working. Eye rolls and venting aside it’s a small price to pay for a child’s wondrous experience traveling the world and I would gladly endure a short flight for them again.

Back to Moscow.

I was excited to have a solid 5 hours here even if it is just in the airport. I love that I can (somewhat) communicate in the first foreign language I learned pretended to learn even after so much time has passed. So what am I doing with my precious 5 hours? I am sitting in an “Irish Pub” drinking Russian beer (for the first time ever since I didn’t drink a lick of booze when I was here at the ripe age of 18) after waking up this morning in Germany, boarding a plane for Beijing with a final destination of South Korea… how’s that for a multicultural travel day!?

29 hours of traveling leaves a girl with a lot of time to think and reflect on life and I’ve just got to say that I CAN NOT for the life of me sort out how I feel! One minute I could scream from excitement about living the life I’ve been dreaming about for years and the next I am drowning in curiosity about what life in Korea will be like, flip a coin and I am near in tears missing my family and wishing I could be on a flight home to spend just a day with them but before you can blink I am chuckling at how giddy I am to be exactly where I am. Bipolar disorder anyone?

6 Ways I Prepared to Move Overseas

The sooner you can accept the reality that you can never really be prepared the better off you’ll be.

The rest of my tips are really just what (I think) I’ve stacked in my favor this time versus my first wide-eyed naïve move abroad.

1)      I stopped buying things I knew wouldn’t be coming with me as soon as I knew I wanted to leave

2)      I moved from my comfy 2 bedroom condo into a bedroom at my friend’s house the weekend my place sold taking away the familiarity that I once thought was so important.

3)      I spent three months backpacking through Europe moving from city to city every few days. Nothing will make you crave any form of stability after you’ve been traveling solo for that long whether it’s in a country you can speak the language or not. I can hardly wait to have a place of my own somewhere I can stay for longer than a week.

4)      I have now traveled to 21 countries, quite a long way from the 1 (United States) I’d been to the first time. I have a better understanding of the world, myself and what to expect than I did before. BUT don’t make the mistake of thinking that will decrease the chaos and sheer hilarity at all since I have never been to an Asian country before, oh honey do I have a lot to learn!

5)      Traveling isn’t enough though, I have a very limited experience of living abroad all of which will help me adjust to living abroad again but this time I will be living alone which I intend to use to my advantage.

6)      I was worried to live alone where loneliness and depression are sure to find me but I’ve already looked up language classes in my city, made friends with nearby expats and if all else fails I will be living by the ocean which is sure to boost my spirits!

Russian Collage

Snapshot Saturday: From Russia with Love

As my plans for teaching English in South Korea are becoming more and more official I can’t help but think back on my time in Voronezh, Russia where I volunteer taught for 6 months to kindergarten age kids. Oh man that was a crazy time in my life!

The first time I’d traveled abroad, I’d just turned 18 and had no idea what I was doing. It wasn’t until I came home that I knew I would never be the same person.

I look forward to the challenges that are waiting for be in South Korea, some of them the same and some of the difficulties will be different but I am not the same naive 18 year old. We’ll see how I measure up this time around.

One thing is for sure, I’m ready and willing for the challenge, I am all in and will give my students everything I’ve got!

Over the next week I will be sharing more personal posts and the details of what it’s like to leave your home of 20+ years to travel the world without a plan or knowing when I will be returning. It’s been freaking me out and I think these final days might prove interesting to my readers.

Please comment with questions, concerns, and frankly anything you want to share and I will address each and every one of them during this next weeks posts! Thank you for stopping by!

Reading up on my new home as much as I can!

It’s official! I am moving to…

My life has been one big event over the past few months while I’ve been full force ahead to the future and now I’m so excited to share some really exciting news for the upcoming future!

I’ve hoping and planning to teach in South Korea for about 9 months now and BOY has it been such a complex and at times a frustrating process however I can finally say that I am officially moving to South Korea in October after spending 3 months traveling in Europe!

I have accepted a position in the Jeollanam Province, I don’t know the specific location yet, that will be decided further into the hiring process.

There is still A LOT of paperwork, forms and documents needed to make this approved and official by the U.S. and Korean government and I am reading up on what adventures and customs are waiting for me during my year in Korea.

Reading up on my new home as much as I can!

I have received a lot of e-mails, messages and comments asking me about teaching English abroad, the requirements, benefits and general how to’s on the process. I have started to reply but feel it would benefit more of my readers if I write a post about it.

So please leave any questions you have, for me personally, general info or something more specific and I will do my best to address them in the coming post!

Teaching ESL in Prague

How does your Day Compare to a Foreign English Teachers?

Editors Note: The following is a guest post by John Guzdek. For more information about writing a guest post for Heathers Harmony Download Writing a Guest Post.

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A ‘TYPICALISH’ ENGLISH TEACHER IN PRAGUE

To begin with, there is actually no such thing as a typical English teacher in Prague as it really depends on a number of factors. Where you teach, for which company you teach, how many hours you are willing to teach for and what kind of people you teach (adults, high school children, tiny children etc) are all important in determining what your day will be like. For example, Kindergarten teachers usually work nine-to-five whereas English teachers for adult learners work all sorts of strange hours.

Firstly, I’ll explain what kind of English teacher I am.

I work for a school that primarily sends me all over Prague and the known universe to teach businessmen at their offices during the day and then I teach courses made up of the good citizens of Prague in the evenings. I’ve chosen to teach adults due to a deep-rooted fear of kids and a feeling that my TEFL qualification is being tested a little more with people that can say more than ten words in their own language and spend most of their time not needing to pee or sleep. I teach about twenty-five hours a week – the bare-minimum that it takes to cover a fairly lavish lifestyle in Prague and leave time for other commitments (a massive amount of English Teachers are also Tour Guides, photographers or ‘writers’).

So, here’s a typical working day for me.

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Once Upon a Time in the Morning

After forty-five minutes of snoozing I leave myself nine minutes to get showered and changed and set off on my way to my first lesson forty minutes away in Roztyly – an area consisting of a massive office building and absolutely nothing else. In this way it resembles many of the shiny Capitalist fortresses that have popped up throughout the fringes of the city since the 1989 Velvet Revolution.

Most companies pay for employees to have English lessons and then insist that they take them before they start work and for many this means 7.30am. You don’t want to be there, the students don’t want to be there and you both know the other party doesn’t want to be there, so this can make for a pretty strained atmosphere and one not ideal for teaching or learning. For me, this class is like going to the dentists twice a week – they regularly turn up twenty minutes late, barely talk and sigh and shrug through the mandatory business textbook lessons. The quality of lessons really doesn’t just depend on the teacher but the materials and students as well.

But that’s the low point of the day over and now I have an hour to get across Prague to my next lesson. It’s literally twenty Metro stops between the two points so I can speed through War and Peace with time to spare and accidentally ignore the standing ninety-five year old woman teetering in front of my seat.

I get to my next lesson in Stodulky (see Roztyly above for description) just in time. This student is a lovely, talkative 30-year-old woman who just wants a conversation lesson each week to practice the English that she practically perfected as an au pair in the UK. We have a good rapport so we have a sarcastic and black-humoured, flowing conversation. This is the kind of lesson that you can’t believe you’re being paid to do as all that’s really needed is to correct her very occasional mistakes. These lessons aren’t as easy as they seem though (especially if you have poor chat like myself) because you can’t just go in unprepared for general chit-chat for sixty minutes; you have to have some topic in place, keep it varied and hope that your student hasn’t just broken up with their boyfriend/had their cat die on them/been given their notice and is in a talkative mood.

My final lesson of the morning is in Budejovicka (see Roztyly and Stodulky above for description), another fair trek away. This time I immerse myself in the Old Testament whilst performing a balancing act in a crowded midday Metro with my face in somebody’s armpit and my rucksack crushing an unfortunate child against the doors.

Again, this is an easy-going, talkative class who are pretty advanced and just need practice. It’s four guys that I’ve been teaching for nearly a year now so we all know what to expect and there’s no pressure. We have a bit of manly banter and I try and provide them with interesting topics to build up their vocabulary and allow them to talk. After we’ve finished I speed home for a late lunch.

The Afternoon Twilight Zone

Usually, I have a whole afternoon to while away before an evening lesson at six in the evening. I plan lessons for later in the week, which basically revolves around photocopying textbooks and filling in the answers so I don’t get caught out by any over-eager smartarses, and for some lucky classes I put in the hard yards and make them a customized lesson. I also catch up on any freelance copywriting work I have.

The vacuum in middle of the day can be a blessing or a kind of purgatory. In summer, I can soak up the sun in parks and squares and go for satisfying mid-afternoon runs around the beautiful downtown Prague but in winter this downtime is more likely to consist of a nap, a Sopranos marathon and far too long on the time-consuming black hole of Facebook.

The Home Stretch

My evening class is a public course that consists of a group of about twelve Upper-Intermediate students who’ve enrolled through my school’s website and meet in a classroom in Andel (don’t see Roztyly, Stodulky and Budejovicka above for description as this is actually a ‘real’ area of Prague).

I’m generally a very shy guy who doesn’t do very well in social situations but teaching these kinds of classes has helped me find a bit of confidence. With every new group I still feel the massive dread of trepidation before the first few lessons but the longer I am with a group the more comfortable I become.

This group requires more actual teaching than the other lessons as we do a mix of grammar, conversation, vocabulary and games. There’s lots of pair work too which basically involves them chatting together on a given topic for ten minutes whilst I listen out for errors and think about what I’m having for dinner. When these lessons go well, they are the ones that most make me feel like I’m doing something for the students and not giving them an native-speaking buddy to talk to.

The day has ended – four lessons, seven coffees, three dirty slices of pizza and twelve hours from start to finish. It’s been a long day but not a particularly exhausting one and overall I can say that there are harder jobs out there.

About John:

I’m originally from the bland metropolis of Leeds in the UK but I upped sticks and moved to Prague in March 2011. To get by and save money for travelling, I teach English, do freelance writing and I’ve also started a fledgling blog at www.johnguzdek.com. I’ve not settled down too much as I still keep up the travelling as Prague is a great base to explore Central and Eastern Europe. I’ve been lucky to have travelled a fair bit and my past destinations include East Africa, Australia and much of Europe. You can follow me on Twitter @johnguzdek.

#1 Culture Shock: Freezing my Ovaries

Moving to Russia was the first time I’d ever left America at the naive age of 18 (barely). I had traveled a bit in the US but I really had no idea what to expect in the former Soviet Union, I was ready for an adventure and oh boy were their adventures waiting for me!

There are dozens of unique Russian customs, some examples are:

Not crossing our legs on the buses to avoid dripping melted snow on someone else, even in the summer its become the norm and now its just not done.

We used to practice our ‘Russian faces’, it seems to me an American thing to smile at everyone as you walk down the street but in Russia its just not done. 

Russians only give flowers in odd numbers, I’d heard of the rule of odds in art composition but never as a cultural acceptance. I arrived home with 4 tulips when I was informed that it was bad luck, if I recall it had something to do with inviting death in? Alas do not fear, my clever babushka (bab-oo-sh-ka- grandmother, old woman) just took one flower and the other 3 were given to the family.Problem solved! 

By far the most unusual belief we discovered was that of freezing your ovaries. Yep, ovaries freeze if you sit on a hard or cold surface without any kind of barrier. On one of the first days of sunshine a fellow teacher and I immediately ran outside to soak in the sun we’d been missing so badly when all of a sudden one of the school cooks came out yelling that we were going to freeze our ovaries and be infertile. We were confused at first since we did not have a hold on the Russian language, especially when its being yelled but we soon understood when she came back with a rug and a cushion for us to use.

What is an unusual custom or belief that you’ve encountered?