Everyone is a Minimalist!

One thing I’ve really been looking forward to is paring down everything I own and value into one large suitcase and a small carry-on. I love the idea of trimming out all of the clutter in my life and really starting out fresh, with just the essential reminders of where I came from to keep me grounded. And checking luggage is a hassle and the less I have to deal with, the better! Not to mention I may end up having to haul all my stuff to new apartment – I mean, flat (still not used to that!) – on the tram, like one of my handy Czexpats told me she ended up doing. Just the thought of having to lug all my belongings partway across a foreign city on public transport is making me think twice about taking even a small carry on with me, and considering a backpack instead.

Luckily, it seems packing light is the way to go. Everyone I spoke to about what to bring (and not to bring) recommended bringing minimal stuff, as most everything you’ll need for day to day life can be bought relatively inexpensively there in Prague. The ever-helpful writer of A Canadian In Prague even shared an article with me that I found rather sensible. It basically encouraged people to let go of all the items they keep or carry around “just in case”. They argue that such things are an unnecessary burden, and that anything that can be found for less than $20 and is less than 20 minutes away isn’t worth hanging onto in the off chance you might need it. You can find the article here if you’re interested, “In Case“, I thought it made a great read.

All that said, don’t shove that big suitcase back under the bed quite yet, there are still some items that you may want to bring.

CLOTHING 

One thing that is not cheaper in Prague is new clothes (At least, compared to North America). Most English teachers don’t earn enough to regularly go on a shopping spree, and I was told over and over that if I need new clothes for my move I should buy them here if possible. As an English teacher, I was wondering how I ought to dress, and the general consensus was that casual was acceptable. Still, I’d like to have one or two dressier outfits just in case of who-knows-what – and nice clothes cost more than $20, so I’m not breaking the advice I just praised above! (I don’t think). But I am going to hold off on buying a big winter coat, as I live in Texas and the selection here (that I can afford, at least) is a bit thin. Fortunately, I was also told by several people the second-hand shop scene in Prague is decent and there are lots of options for cheap used clothes.

The brutal winter winter I'm used to here in Austin (this photo was taken in February).
The brutal winter weather I’m used to here in Austin (this photo was taken in February).

The most often recommended item to me was good quality shoes and socks – the cobblestones can be quite brutal, apparently. Not only that, but I’ll be without a car and walking everywhere, so good sneakers and boots are a must. I was told to expect to wear through socks quickly, and the warmer the better for the chilly winter months. Boots should be waterproof if possible to keep all toes nice and cozy as they stomp through city. Ladies, wear heels at your own risk – apparently you have to be something of an expert to handle heels on cobblestones! Flats come highly recommended for dressier occasions.

A few other clothing related tips I received this past week:

  • You can buy scarves everywhere, if you’re a fan of scarves (which I am!) try not to bring too many as you’ll soon have more. This will be a challenge, as I was seriously considering bringing nothing but books, coffee, and scarves with me. What else could I need?
  • Fashion in Prague is anything goes! I asked a few people on what the styles in Prague were like and came away with the impression that the Czech people are quite laid back and practical about fashion, and whatever you feel comfortable in won’t garner too much attention. This is why I thought I could get away with wearing nothing but scarves. (Side note: Apparently 90s fashion is rather popular, for whatever reason. Just a heads up, so you don’t forget your scrunchie collection you thought you’d never use again!)
  • Bring athletic clothes – the Czech people are very active, and more than likely you’ll end up doing more hiking, running, or cycling than you might expect! So if you have any good workout gear, best bring it with you.
  • Adaptability is the key to comfort! On any given day, you might encounter a wide range of temperatures. A chilly day in winter can turn suddenly warm when the sun peeks out from behind those clouds, and a warm spring day might turn bitter if you stand in the shade too long. Get ready to live in layers, and have some handy to peel off and slip into at a moment’s notice.

ELECTRONICS 

The voltage in Czech Republic is considerably higher than it is in North America, so I’ve been warned not to bring anything electric I don’t mind frying – unless I can confirm it can handle 220v. Sadly, there goes my plan to bring my fancy electric tea kettle (what? don’t judge, I love that thing! It’s awesome). Most phones and laptops can handle the voltage fortunately, but best be careful and check all your items just in case. At least one person I spoke to had their phone absolutely fried. Everyday appliances such as hair dryers or straighteners can be bought cheaply once there, so don’t bother bringing those as they’ll just get ruined anyhow.

Also, a universal adapter is a good idea, since the outlets will be differently shaped and if you do any traveling around Europe, who knows what you might find.

Another quick note about electronics – high end items like laptops and tablets are more expensive in Czech Republic, and you’re better off buying before leaving your home country if you can.

TEACHING TOOLS

Seems teaching is trade of minimal tools, most of which can be obtained on the internet. That said, you may want to pack a few light magazines or simple books to supplement your lessons.

But a really great tip I got was to bring English-language board or card games, travel-sized if space in your luggage is an issue. English-language Scrabble is particularly expensive and rare, but another good one to bring (also considerably smaller and, in my opinion, more fun) is Apples to Apples. I was particularly happy to hear that, considering that same game has been gathering dust in my old bedroom at my parents house, and it’ll be great to get some use out of it again.

MISCELLANY

Most of the things I mentioned above were mentioned to me by several people, but there were some random items a few people brought up that you may or may not want to stow away with you.

  • Sheets – good quality linens are really expensive, if you’ve got nice sheets and have leftover space in the suitcase, might as well!
  • Measuring cups and spoons – difficult to find, especially if you’re easily baffled by the metric system
  • Hobby Items – One person mentioned wishing they’d brought more of their books, another was happy she’d brought her sketchbook and pencils. This got me thinking, just because I’m moving doesn’t mean I’ll abandon my hobbies, and bringing at least a few things to enjoy in my free time is well worth it.
  • Regional snacks: Peanut butter was often cited as most missed (or, at least, all peanut butter related candies!) and it’s worth considering throwing one or two of your favorite snacks in your bag for a homesick day. Toothpaste was also mentioned by one person as being strange tasting in Czech Republic, so maybe toss an extra tube of that in the bag as well.

And lastly, there is one thing I thought of that no one mentioned to me at all. I’ve lived abroad before, though being an exchange student to Brasil (through Rotary International) was surely a very different type of travel than this experience will be. That said, I still have a tip that I can’t see going wrong: bring gifts. You never know who you’re going to meet, and as a foreigner you are, in many ways, a representative of your own culture. It may sound like the Rotarians brainwashed me, but it really made it easier to connect with people when I felt at a loss. The best gifts were small and inexpensive, but something unavailable in your new country. Souvenir items (like pins, pens, ribbons) bought in bulk can be really cheap (especially if you make them yourself) and go a long way, and will give the Czech people you meet something to remember you with and help you forge new friendships.

…Well, it worked in Brasil at least, and I reckon it’s worth a shot!

I bought this lil armadillo fellow to give as a gift.... but then I named him. So I'm re-assigning him to be a Teaching Tool, because Reginald is too cute to give away :)
I bought this lil armadillo fellow to give as a gift…. but then I named him. So I’m re-assigning him to be a Teaching Tool, because Reginald is too cute to give away 🙂

I think gift giving, especially when it’s not expected, is extremely fun and satisfying for both giver and receiver.  Although I did see in a YouTube video about Czech culture (here) that if you offer a gift to a Czech person, they will feel obligated to say no at least several times (or more), so be prepared to insist!

This was a pretty fun and easy topic to write on, only wish I’d gotten it finished sooner – oh well, better late than never!

Special thanks again to all those who tolerated me badgering them yet again with questions! Y’all are the best!

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The Prices of Prague

Last week I cast out a half dozen lines into the sea of expats I’ve met online recently, and reeled in some very interesting – and valuable – information concerning the cost of everyday life in Prague.

For those of you who haven’t read my last posts, my current goal is to come up with a budget to live on for at least two months in Prague (and maybe three) with no income. I will need the funds while I find a job, arrange my visa, and find an apartment – I mean, a flat! I will have to say goodbye little compartment “apartments”, and hello to wide, open “flats” instead – the word makes them sound larger in my imagination. (Though I’m sure I’ll probably end up in a place just as small as my current compartment!)

Anyhow, within a day or two of sending out messages, I got back a lot of information – and I mean a lot! Seriously, I have got so much information now, I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. But, for now I’m just going to focus on one topic at a time. Which is monthly expenses. It took me quite a bit longer than expected to sort through everything into an organized and easily digestible format, but here it is at last!


GROCERIES:

I talked to a variety of people, some who live with a partner, some who live alone, some vegetarians and some not, men and women of varying ages. Though seemed everyone agreed they live rather cheaply as English teachers.  (Notably, the one non-teacher I spoke with spent a bit more than the rest).

Real quick I’d like to point out that all of my sources thus far are all expats living in Prague, and as I myself will be an expat in Prague, this will do for now. But I’d be curious to see if the responses might have been different if I’d been quizzing Czech people or even residents in other cities.

A (very) quick overview of what the Czechpats (see what I did there?!) had to say…

“4,000kc a month between the two of us” 
“550-750 czk” (per week)
“400-500 kc each week, around 1,000kc probably once a month.” 
“at most 10-15 bucks for 2-3 days”
“2,900 on groceries” (per month)
“1,000 Kc for groceries every week” 

With a bit of converting, averaging, and adding up to a per person per month amount, my sample survey comes up with an overall guesstimate for a monthly grocery bill of 2775kc per month for one person.  For my own budget planning purposes, that’s $110/mo and easily saved for in advance. Whew!

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I don’t know if my fridge in Prague will possibly be able to compete with the bountiful delicacies I currently live on.

THE GOOD LIFE:

A.k.a. the price of dining out, entertainment, a gym membership, going out for drinks – y’know, fun stuff! (or, a.k.a. the hypothetical sacrificial lamb if my budget looks to be too tight.) That in mind, I’d still like a small amount of reckless revelry if I can fit it into my finely crafted budget. …and that last sentence is how you know I’ve spent the last 52 consecutive Saturday nights at home staring at a computer screen.

I didn’t get as much feedback on this one – to be fair, I didn’t really specify, but it seems people spend an average of 300-800kc a month on eating out or going out for drinks, depending on their habits. A movie ticket is about 160kc, a cheap meal out is about 115kc, a mid-range meal around 300kc, and a cappuccino is 40kc.

Gym membership is something I’m only considering idly, as I use the free gym at my apartments here in Texas. But if all the heavy food I keep hearing about starts to weigh me down *ahem* – it’s good to know that gyms cost around 800kc a month for membership.

So, hypothetically for my budget plan, I would like to have a nice wiggly $150 zone for 2 months light dining out and gym membership. Not my first priority, but of course, I do want to have at least a little fun – so I’m going to plan on saving at least $75. I reckon I can manage that! And anything extra will be a nice bonus.

One other thing I’m going to throw into this category – clothes shopping. I am probably going to need to do some shopping, either before I leave or after I arrive, because I don’t own hardly anything appropriate for cold weather, or looking nice as a teacher. (Current job I wear scrubs, so I never really have to get dressed up for work). From the folks I spoke to, new clothes are about the same price as they are here – though with lower wages, that will mean they are rather expensive.

Luckily, I am told Prague has a decent selection of secondhand shops that I fully intend to take advantage of. Considering that I’m moving with just one suitcase, and that the available Texas gear might not suit my new environment anyhow, it makes more sense to buy better winter clothes after arriving. I am actually quite looking forward to it! After scanning the “Buy/Sell/Trade Prague” Facebook group, I think putting aside 2000kc for some new clothes (well, used, but new to me) – a warm coat, a couple nice outfits for work, and maybe a few other miscellany – is a good idea. So, into the budget goes another $80. (By the way, anyone in Prague who thinks this estimate is way off, let me know – I didn’t do as much research on this particular subtopic).


TRANSPORTATION:

This one was easy! Everyone told me the same figure – 550kc a month for the Opencard, with a 250kc one time fee, plus 100kc for a passport photo.

For my hypothetical budget, this means 1450kc for two months, or about $60 (or $80 if I want to plan for three months). I can handle that.

Of course, this isn’t taking into account any trips I take outside of the city, but I’m going to save that topic for another post… a blog post with trips to a Czech embassy and an abundance of a particularly heinous four-letter word (hint: rhymes with ‘lisa’). Perhaps several four-letter words if it’s as complicated as everyone is promising me.


RENT AND UTILITIES:

So after reading a lot of articles as well as seeing a lot of numbers thrown around by other English teachers in Prague, I think my original budget of 10000kc was more than I will probably be spending. My goal is to find an affordable studio flat, in the city center would be nice I think – but to be honest, Prague looks very small compared to what I’m used to in Texas, and I don’t think a short commute (anything less than 30 minutes is short to me!) would bother me much. Also, I still have a very vague idea of what exactly the “city center” is, and if I even need to be there? I’ve just never lived in the “center” of anywhere, and like the idea. But I’m flexible.

Regardless, based on the estimates I’ve seen of average rents and what others are paying, I’m going to plan to a rent of 7500kc, or $300. This will give me some room for negotiation later on, and if I end up spending less that will be excellent. It will at least give me some options. Worst case scenario I’ll give up the daydream of living alone, and look into flatsharing. As worst cases go, I’d say I’m doing alright.

After a little investigating, I’ve learned that the standard deposit is one month’s rent ahead of time, and on top of that, if you use an agent to find your place they usually charge the equivalent to one month’s rent as well. Needless to say, I think I have the research skills to find my own place! I’m already plotting, anyhow. So I’m not going to plan on using an agent, but I will plan for the deposit.

For utilities, I found some averages available online (for Prague): 3250-3850kc a month for basic utilities, 400kc/mo for internet, and another 400kc a month for mobile phone, for about 4450kc (let’s call it $175). I didn’t dig any deeper on these statistics, so if they look fishy to anyone, let me know and I’ll investigate further. It does seem a bit high when compared with my other estimates. I intend to anyways, but I wanted to get this blog post up and out so these numbers will do for now.


Cost of Living for first month (including startup fees/deposits):

Groceries: 2775kc ($110)

Eating Out/Gym: 1000-3200kc ($40-$125)

New Clothes: 2000kc ($80)

Transportation: 950kc ($40)

Rent + Deposit: 15000kc ($600)

Basic Utilities + Internet + Phone:  4450kc ($175)

Total: 26,175 kc ($1045-$1130)***

Cost of Living For Subsequent Months (no deposits/startup fees): 16,325 kc ($650)

Total to save for 2 months in USD before leaving:  $1690-$1855

Total to save for 3 months in USD before leaving:  $2275-$2365

***Important Notice*** Not including any fees associated with the visa/business license, or trips to the Czech embassy for fun and bureaucracy. (Also not including my student loan, or the tuition for The Language House. More things to chew on.)


Super Special Thank You to all the lovely Czexpatriates (too much?) in Prague for helping me out so much, y’all are awesome!

Additional sources:

NUMBEO Cost of Living in Prague

Expats.cz Cost of Living Report 2015

NUMBEO Cost of Living Personal Estimator – This tool was really neat (my monthly expense estimate was 18k crowns a month), but pay attention to the amount of food it presumes one person eats in a month – mine came out to 7000kc! Not because of buying extravagant food, but because of the sheer quantity of food they allocated to one individual. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure if I could eat 8 dozen eggs, 7 kg of chicken, 8kg of potatoes, 10kg of apples, 3kg of cheese (hmm maybe if I tried really hard), 7L of milk, and more (it keeps going!), all in one month. I think they might have mistaken the people in Prague for circus elephants. Either that, or I really have a lot to learn about Czech culture! (Notice how if I use the grocery bill estimate I calculated myself, my new monthly estimate becomes 13500kc, aka the average English teachers salary. I won’t lie, I’m pretty pleased!)

First Foray into Czexas

Today I met up with a lovely new friend, Katie – a Language House grad and former Prague resident, and current Czech Republic specialist for a study abroad company here in Austin, ISA. We met at the farmer’s market downtown, planning to meet at the “Texas Czech Brunch Truck” that is there every Saturday.  Or, it was supposed to be. Because today it was not there! I was really bummed I didn’t get to try out their “Czech Benedict” – perhaps another time. But I didn’t let the lack of kolaches stop me from quizzing Katie nonstop with questions about The Language House, life in Prague, and working as an English teacher. She was great with helpful advice and interesting anecdotes, and we quickly decided not to let the missing brunch truck ruin our adventure for the day.

Our mission: to see if we could shake some Czech culture out of Austin.

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Little Alenka and a friend

You can see some photos of the first part of our adventure here if you’re interested – we visited the fantastic Alice in Wonderland exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center. This was one of my favorites as a child, so it was great to see all the different renditions of it, as well as original drawings by Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Dodgson). But best of all, we found a Czech Alice! I mean, Alenka. WP_20150411_006

And I learned the word ‘prosim‘ (means please – useful!) , bringing my Czech vocabulary to a jaw-dropping three words. (Don’t worry y’all, I have no intention of letting it remain that way!)

But other than little Alenka, we didn’t really come across any Czechabilia until we stumbled into a liberal arts conference room…

UT-Czech-Centennial1

Of course, when I say “stumbled” I mean I discovered it a few days before on the internet, and thought it would be fun to czech it out!

We found the correct building and conference room, and walked in during DSC00631the tail end of the symposium’s lunch break. We found a table of photographs and other memorabilia of the Czech language program at UT over the last century. Within a moment an amiable woman named Ginny came over and began talking to us. She showed us her father’s Czech primer from the 1930’s (bottom right of the photo) and pointed him out in these Czech Club photos. A brief aside – Can I just take a moment to say how much I love the hair styles of the women in these photos? Not really on topic, I know, but the ladies of the ’20s and ’30s had a really gorgeous look going for them, and I can’t help but want to admire it out loud. Beautiful.

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Photographs provided for the centennial by Ginny Prasatik

An amiable lady named Diane who worked with the Czech Education Foundation of Texas was happy to talk to us, told us about CEFT’s mission to promoting Czech culture and language in Texas through higher education. She warmly enthused upon learning I was heading to the Czech Republic myself, and gave me the name of her Czech niece Eva, an English teacher in Olomouc at Palacký Univesity. This prompted a comment from Katie about the ubiquity of the name Eva, and I learned another nugget of Czech culture – apparently, there is distinct lack of diversity in first names amongst the Czech people.

I’ll let Wikipedia (Czech names article) explain, as they are likely to be far more accurate than my paraphrasing ever could be.

“During the Communist era, parents needed a special permission form to give a child a name that did not have a name day on the Czech calendar. Since the Velvet revolution in 1989, parents have had the right to give their child any name they wish, provided it is used somewhere in the world and is not insulting or demeaning. However, the common practice of last years is that most birth-record offices look for the name in the book “Jak se bude vaše dítě jmenovat?” (What is your child going to be called?),[1] which is a semi-official list of “allowed” names. If the name is not found there, authorities are extremely unwilling to register the child’s name.[2]

Just another reminder of how much history and culture there is for me to learn!

The symposium was in full attendance – lots of supporters of Czech language at UT! – and the conference room was standing room only. Katie and I lingered in the hallway outside, listening to the tail of the lecture by Brian Vanicek, the Honorary Consul for the Consulate of the Czech Republic. Sadly we missed most of his talk, but some seats were freed up and we were ushered inside for the next speaker, Retta Chandler from the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center – another new place for me to explore in the future!

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The title slide from Retta Chandler’s presentation

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During her talk, I learned the first Czech language club,  began at University of Texas in 1909, by small group of Czech-Texans who wished to preserve their heritage. By 1915 their small group had grown and with the help of language professor Dr. Eduard Micek (the man standing in the photo to the left), they established the Czech Language Department that persists at the University to this day.

She played a short video about the history of the Czech people in Texas – they came over from Bohemia and Moravia in the mid-nineteenth century and established communities of farmers in rural central Texas, united by common culture, language, and faith that has been passed down to current generations of Texans of Czech descent.

It was really lovely to hear how long the department has been running at the school, to learn some of the history of Czech people here in my own country, as well as discovering a whole community of people passionate about their culture and heritage. I wish we could’ve stayed longer and talked to more people, but we had to get going.

Today was only the beginning of my adventures here in Texas before I head out to Prague. I managed to grab a flyer while I was there for another Czech event in Texas, that I am pretty excited about attending. It’s a film screening of three Czech language films (with English subtitles), through festival called Czech That Film. They’ll be playing in May in Houston and Dallas, and I think this will be an excellent excuse for a visit to my family living in those respective cities, and with a stop in a Czech bakery along the way for good measure! I have a lot to look forward to!

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Special thank you to Katie! And thank you to everyone at the Centennial who welcomed us so warmly and shared with us their passion for Czexas!

Just a lil late night sass

Disclaimer: Copious amounts of caffeine may have been ingested far too late at night before this post was written. You’ve been warned.

So after my preliminary investigation into my seemingly simple question “how much $$ to bring to get settled in Prague after my TEFL course” my conclusion is – bring as much money as possible. That’s the one thing everyone seems to agree on – more money is better. (I never would’ve guessed!) Right now it looks like I’ll have about 3 grand to spare, and that’s if my saving goes well the next six months. Some say this is a workable amount to get started, though things will be tight. Others expressed doubt over anyone starting out with less than 5 grand.

Regardless, I have a plane ticket in November and I’ll be damned if I miss that 17 hours in a comfy economy class seat over something as mundane and tedious as finances, when I know I can be resourceful and crafty, and make do with less than others require. All due respect to everyone, but yall don’t know me! (Ho boy, and the late night sass has arrived!)  If I manage to save more than 3k (and I have a few foggy ideas of how to do so),  great! But I’m not headed over there for a vacation, and a little hard work don’t scare me (though perhaps the current state of my grammar should). Sass aside, I do think it’s wise to plan for the worst, hope for the best, and also draft a conservative yet flexible budget for myself to stick to. Luckily, I’m already pretty good at budgeting. I live on human kibble and reward myself with mini-marshmallows when I’m hankering for a treat.

This is my life.
This is my life.

I’ve spoken with a number of people in Prague lately, as well as some former expats, and I’m feeling really good about my prospects. So many people have reached out to me – or warmly welcomed my reaching out to them – and been free with the advice and helpful hints. And no one sugarcoats the experience as perfect, but even with warnings aplenty about tight budgets and a visa process that is a tidal wave of bureaucratic red tape – I’m still left feeling more excited than ever! In some odd way, all the challenges are only making this move even more appealing to me. Overcoming obstacles only seems like another part of the adventure! And I’m happier than ever that I decided to start this blog, it has already helped me immensely in terms of preparation, and I’m still months away yet.

Another note – although Prague looms large in my mind, the past couple days I have been quite distracted doing research on a distant relative – Czech-Texas. I’ve known for some time that Central Texas (I live in Austin, for those of you who don’t know) is home to a great deal of Czech heritage. The popularity of Czech bakeries that are scattered across the countryside is only one testament to their legacy here.  I have some more research (translate: kolache tasting) to do on the topic of Czexans, but I predict a few blog posts on the topic!