What happened to Czechlister?

So many, many things have happened since I last regularly wrote in this blog. What happened to Czechlister? Well, a lot. In May (2015) I crashed my car, and tearfully accompanied it to the wrecking yard, where I was overcome by a fit of sentimentality and tore the license plate off with my bare hands to keep as a memento. #Poetlife, y’all. It ain’t easy. I borrowed my dad’s truck to get to my research job for a couple weeks, but the demise of Beloved Camry (may she be recycled and live on) accelerated the end of my job there. I was intending to stay on at the lab until it was time to leave for Prague, but I couldn’t keep using my dad’s truck, and it just wasn’t practical to buy a new car 6 months before leaving the country.

Mid-June, I quit my job working with the monkeys earlier than planned – I loved that job, but I was ready for a new adventure. First though, was the interim adventure – moving back in with my parents. I moved all my things and my kitty (I miss you Mishka!) from my tiny Austin apartment, to my parent’s lovely house outside Houston. I spent a month house and dog-sitting for my parents while they were away, which sounds better than the reality, which is I sat around unemployed for a month. I read, I laid in the sun, I swam, and tried to make youtube videos. But, my month in the sun couldn’t last forever, as I needed to be earning money to save for my big move.

I got hired on at a local animal hospital as a veterinary technician in July, and I couldn’t have asked for a better interim job. I love working with animals, and though dogs and cats aren’t as fascinating as monkeys they make up for it with the cuddle-factor. My co-workers and the vets there were all great, and I was lucky enough to make some real friends. And when late September rolled around, everyone was so supportive and encouraging when I announced my impending move overseas.

In November I made the big move, began my TEFL course. Within 30 days I was loose in Prague with a TEFL certificate in one hand and the other freezing ’cause I can never keep track of my gloves. I hibernated through the slow-hiring period during the holidays, and after New Years began job-hunting. February 1st I began working as an English teacher at last, and just two weeks ago I turned over my first bundle of monthly invoices to get that sweet cash to fund my regular shenanigans.

Now it’s March, 2016… It’s been over a year since I started this blog, and nearly five months since I moved to Prague. I think it’s time this blog saw some real progress – which is why I am solemnly super-swearing I am going to update this blog more regularly – and just to show you I really, really mean it this time (really!), I am initiating a Seven Day Czech List Blogging Bonanza! That’s right folks, every single day this week I promise a new post. If I don’t live up to my word… well, I’ll just have to keep trying! Else the word “bonanza” will lose it’s zingy appeal and I’ll start to cringe every time I see it.

I know many (okay, like, two people at most) of you are wondering where I’ve been, how did TEFL go, what’s Prague like, what am I up to, what is life in Prague like? Basically, because I’ve been so bloggingly negligent, I now have no shortage of topics to write about this week. So no excuses.

Also, you may have noticed I’m no longer writing under the moniker “czechlister” and it is now “Elliott Bell” – how very observant of you! Truth is I’m going through an online-identity overhaul, editing and updating all of my blogs and social media accounts, as well as making a new website, as I’ve decided to turn my online identity professional and write freelance in addition to teaching English. If it goes well, I hope to completely phase out of teaching by the end of August. But, that’s a whole ‘nother blog post I think. Coming soon!

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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!

Under Investigation, Part II: Down the Rabbit Hole

First off, there’s a new rule here on The Czech List. This entry was long, and full of lots of super fun and exciting words like “insurance” and “savings” and “licensing.” And of course, it is what it needs to be, but to keep myself from turning into a stodgy bureaucrat myself, I’m instituting a new policy. Pictures! All blog posts must have at least one picture to make me happy. Doesn’t have to relate to anything, just has to be there, look pretty and shine up my blog and keep me sane. So here goes!

My favorite part of Texas and my least favorite part of Austin. The sky! And the traffic.
My favorite part of Texas and my least favorite part of Austin. The sky! And the traffic.

There. Now I’m happy, onto the rest of the post…


I’ve done a lot of messaging and reading in the past day and I don’t want to lose track of what I’ve learned. Though I still don’t have an simple answer to my question, “How much in savings should I bring with me to get settled in Prague?”,  I think that might be due to the nature of the question – some things are hard to pin down to a precise numerical amount, as everyone has slightly different spending habits, circumstances, and expenses.

In fact, it seems for every question I research, three more pop up! It’s really exciting how much is going to be new for me, though I have to say I’m very glad to have started looking into this so far ahead of time. There might be a lot of unknowns ahead of me, but at least I’ll be familiar with some of the options before I get arrive.

I had the opportunity to ask my question to a group of alums from The Language House on Facebook, after I was given temporary access their secret group. I didn’t even know Facebook had such a thing – I feel like a real secret agent now, forging contacts abroad in Europe through a ‘secret’ group. Anyhow, I’d like to share the amounts they said they’d started out with in savings upon completing their course at The Language House:

  • $7000 – “covered the course, housing, travel, visa and foods and partying for the first 5 months…I was hired a week after my course. Started a week after that and didn’t get paid until 5-6 weeks after”
  • $2500 – “took me a month or so to get my first class…(the money) went by really fast with rent and visa stuff”
  • $5000 – “definitely needed it all…I had a job right away and got paid about a month after the course was done but it took me about 3 months before I got a full schedule”
  • “The more the better…My ‘gap’ was around a month… How quickly one finds a job is very closely related to how motivated said person is to finding a job.”
  • $5000 – “If you only come with $3000 extra, I would be sure to make a budget and stick to it as soon as you get a handle on what your weekly expenses will be”

Interestingly, two people also gave a nearly identical piece of extra advice:

  • “When you come here you’ll want to compare USD and CZK which is ok for the first few months, but once those savings run out think in CZK. It makes life a lot easier.”
  • “The best advice I can give is immediately think in crowns when you arrive. You feel really rich when you get here because you’ll translate everything back dollars and it will all seem amazingly cheap, but remember that you’re not going to be earning dollars anymore.”

Lots of food for thought! But let’s continue, and go over the list I made yesterday again, but a little bit more in depth this time:

  • Remainder of my Language House tuition  €1300 – €300 deposit – €100 discount = €900 Euros = $980 USD
  • Accommodation fee during my TEFL course €250 for a shared room in shared apt, €400 for private room in shared apt = $275 or $435 – I’ll probably go ahead and share a room if the budget is as tight as it seems it’s going to be, but I’d like to have my own room, in an ideal world. It might be worth it to me to fork over the extra for it, depends on how saving goes.
  • Deposit for an apartment: Still have yet to find, though I could always calculate a “worst-case” scenario, and expect them to want a single’s month rent down as deposit
  • First month’s rent: From what I’ve read, rent for apartments in Prague seem to range from 4500 CZK to 12000 – I’m more than willing to give up having a fancy apartment in the nicest area, but I don’t want to be in a bad living situation either. I’ve decided to prepare for having a rent of 10000CZK/mo ($400) – leaning towards the upper end of numbers I’ve seen, it’s honestly probably more than I’ll actually pursue if my gauge of the rental market is accurate. But better safe than sorry.
    • So, worst case scenario I’ll need a deposit, and two months rent. Playing it safe with an estimated 10k/mo in Czech crowns, or $400USD, that’s $1200 to bring to ensure housing for at least two months with no income.
  • Beginning the visa process: I’ve read so much on the topic I really need to start making dedicated pages for this already! Needless to say, I’ve discovered some of the things I may need – depending on what route I take to pursue my visa, either through an employer or getting a trade license. These potential expenses include:
    • A year of health insurance (see next bullet) – $350
    • At least one, and possibly two, trips to a Czech Embassy in Vienna, Berlin, or Bratislava – $? (more research needed!)
    • The hiring fee for a visa “guidance counselor” (as I’ve been calling them in my head, though seems people just call them a ‘visa person’ which sounds rather vague to me, it’s a professional who guides expats through the visa/license process and assists with all the paperwork) – this is optional, and it is possible to get everything done without one. Rates seem to be around 5000czk ($200) to arrange a long-term visa, 2500czk ($100) for a trade license. Work licenses are arranged with an employer, I’m not sure what costs are associated with that.
    • An unknown (as of yet) amount in administrative fees for the visa, but the helpful writer of A Canadian in Prague, has told me that getting a trade license is 1000czk (about $40) on top of the visa
    • Note: Several places advise getting a Czech friend to help out, reduce the need for a translator or hiring a visa counselor, and just making the whole trip down the bureaucratic rabbit-hole a bit more bearable
  • Travel/health insurance: So I don’t think anything is required as far as the my tourist visa or course requires (that I’ve seen yet), but if I missed a travel insurance requirement somewhere (I know some TEFL courses require them), I looked into it and one month is about $35, which is negligible in the grand scheme of saving. More of interest to me the requirement of either 6/mo or a year (not sure yet) of health insurance in order to get a trade license (which is one way to obtain a visa). Some health insurance names I found thrown around as offering cheap insurance for just this purpose: VZP Insurance (quoted as 8700czk/year), Slavia (quoted by several different people as 2300/6mo, 3k/6mo, and 6k/1yr), and two others, Maxima and Uniqua, quoted as being ‘inexpensive’
    • All this chatter leads me to choose to calculate in the 8700czk to buy a years worth of health insurance – as I’m trying to plan for worst/most-expensive case scenario here, better to have the money for it than not. So into the budget it goes: 8700czk, or $350 for a year of cheap health insurance.
    • Note: I haven’t actually researched what kind of coverage is offered, but I’m just trying to get the basics of how much money to save covered for now
  • Teaching expenses: ???  Haven’t even touched this topic. I’m getting there, though!

Note: Two TLH alums also mentioned buying furniture as an unexpected expense, which although is definitely something to consider to some extent, I had to have a little chuckle as I’ve been living very nearly furniture-less the past five years. I own a mattress and a desk and a chair, and a wire shelf. Only one of those items I actually purchased, and that was secondhand. I feel very well prepared to live in a barren apartment, as long as I’m in Prague. In fact, Bonus photo!

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It will be so hard to leave behind all this beautiful furniture.

Under Investigation: How much money to get settled in Prague?

How much money will I need to save up before I head out in November? This pressing question is best addressed as early as possible, if I can help it.

First, just to organize my brain a bit, a little list, of what I think I will need my start-up money for.

  • Remainder of my Language House tuition  €1300 – €300 deposit – €100 discount = €900 Euros = $980 USD
  • Accommodation fee during my TEFL course €275 for a shared room in shared apt, €450 for private room in shared apt = $300 or $490
  • Cash for food and transport and miscellany during the course: ???
  • Deposit for an apartment: ???
  • First month’s rent: ???
  • Cash for food and transport and miscellany for at least one month after the course: ???
  • Beginning the visa process: ??? (or should/can I wait until the first paycheck? How vital is getting started immediately?)
  • Travel/health insurance: ??? (another thing I need to look into – what’s necessary, normal, and required)
  • Teaching expenses: ??? (Is this a thing? My mom is teacher here in Texas, and spends money all the time on her class…yet another thing to look into!)

The biggest uncertainty seems to be: when will I first get paid? This depends on a lot of things I can’t possibly know yet. I don’t know if I will find a job that starts as soon as I complete my TEFL course, or if there will be an interim period of anywhere from a few days to a few weeks of job hunting after. And then once I have a job secured, I’ve read that most teaching jobs pay once a month, with no advance. Which means it could be up to a month after beginning work before I start getting paid. Which makes me nervous, and want to have enough on hand to live for two months – just in case it takes a few weeks to find a job, and then I have to wait for the pay period to roll around.

But even without knowing that, I can still at least find some general information on the topics above. Average rents, cost of living, etc. Emori on the phone told me about $3000 (USD)  would be a good amount to live comfortably and get settled, including the remainder of the course fee. However, on his blog, the director of the school Chris listed $3000 as a good amount not including the remainder of the course fee. A slight difference of $1000 is something I need to get to the bottom of, I think.

Looks like I’ve got plenty of research to do this weekend!

Prioritizing never looked so good

Well it’s been nearly two weeks since I bought my plane ticket and I haven’t done a lick of research into my now-official upcoming life-altering move since that day. Mostly because I’ve been surprisingly busy with my current job, and by ‘busy’ I mean completely losing my mind and reaching stress levels never before seen by my typically slow-paced (did I say slow? I meant steady), level-headed self. The hurricane at my job isn’t yet over, but I’m coming to the eye of the storm at least and realizing that whether I’m crazy busy and stressed out at my job right now or not – November approacheth. It’s a looming cloud on the horizon, a giant sun-obscuring thunderhead rumbling with the promise of crackling lightning and echoing booms. Frightening and exhilarating, it’s my favorite weather, and I can’t wait to get there!

So I’ve made a tiny little step to keep myself on track, and checked my savings account. Two weeks later might seem a bit after-the-fact, but better late than never. I was happy to see that both transactions appear to have gone through without a hitch, so at the very least I have paid for something. So, I think a nice, small thing to take care of this week will be confirming with The Language House that they received the money, saved my place in the course, and that I get the 100-Euro discount off my final tuition. Also, I’d like to see if I can’t confirm with the two airliners that I have indeed paid for tickets on the respective flights I purchased, and make sure all that is in order.

So, just to break me back into the swing of things, that makes a nice little list to take care of this week. Two really small little tasks, hopefully that I won’t overlook in the whirlwind of running around that my job has become lately. Or ignore during my daily collapse into a puddle of still randomly firing, frayed nerve endings when I get home.

And after this week, I hope to really dive into The List itself, and start uncovering more details and information that will help me succeed in my endeavor to reach Prague in one piece, and stay there without sinking into abject poverty, and hopefully find myself in a brand new career that I can thrive in.

In order to help myself get into The List next week, I’m going to do a little re-arranging, and re-order the list items by priority. I don’t want to mess with their current order on The List page itself, as I think they’re in a sensible order for others to read, but in this post I’m going to re-arrange it in the order that I think I ought to do my research. Basically, what topics are going to be most vital and helpful in the long run.

Here goes! The List, scrambled into the order in which I think I should complete them. Plus some fun new additions! (…some more fun than others).

  • Airfare
  • Seed Money – how much? And what for?
  • Preparing for the visa process – what to do and when
  • Finding Some Czech-Texans to nag and bother with questions until I leave
  • Standard Teaching Wages around Czech Republic
  • Finding a Job (this topic will probably expand later)
  • What the hell am I going to do about my student debt? *NEW TOPIC!* (And not one I’m particularily looking forward to. May have further spin-off topics, such as “Selling Your Kidney in Czech Republic” or “How to Convince the US Gov’t that they owe you the money”)
  • What to Pack
  • Finding Housing
  • Health and Safety
  • Cost of Living
  • Prepping for a TEFL Course *NEW*
  • Transportation
  • Teaching Topics:
    • Teaching Kids vs Adults
    • Public vs Private Schools
    • Private Tutoring
    • Teaching During Summer
    • Teaching to Czechs
  • Life in Prague
    • Housing & Transportation
    • Cost of Living
  • Czech Language
    • The Basics for Gettin’ By
    • How to Move Beyond the Basics
  • Other Cities
  • Rural Areas
  • Czech Culture
    • Idiosyncrasies
    • Food!
    • Animals! (Pets and Wildlife) *NEW!*
    • Do’s & Don’ts
  • Sight-seeing
  • Travelling Outside of Czech Republic *NEW!*
  • Expat Life

Just my luck!

I’ve spent a lot of time the past few weeks looking at the various flight deals, packages, and sifting through reams of travel advice. Anyone looking for a flight, I found skyscanner.com and momondo.com incredibly handy, and found many more cheap flights through them than the other flight search engines I used.

In the end, I found the ideal flight for me on Orbitz, via skyscanner. Economy class and 16 hours with two layovers (an hour in Chicago and two in Dublin), it’s hardly a luxury flight but it’s far from the worst out there, and has the added bonus of being well under the budget I’d set for myself – which was $1000. A $564 ticket would bring my evening’s total expenses (added to the course deposit I just paid to The Language House) to the approximate equivalent of a cheap used car, $899.

So I went for it!

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A lot of the reviews I read about Orbitz were hit or miss, so hopefully I’ll end up with a hit – I’m counting on the fact that more angry people write internet reviews than happy people, for any company, and Orbitz was hardly alone in having mobs of angry netizens after them. Every airfare aggregate I found had a similar trail of irate indignance smoldering at their backs. But I  looked into buying directly from the airlines, as many “Top 10 Travel Tips”-styled articles advised, and found no direct flights from anywhere in Texas to Prague, or series of connecting flights that I could afford. Everything within my budget was hosted by Orbitz or a similar airline aggregate, like Faregeek, JustFly, or CheapTickets.  None of which have the sparkling clean record I’d prefer, but so be it.

The flight I stumbled upon with Orbitz is multi-airline, and if I’d booked it with both United and Aer Lingus directly it would’ve been over twice as much. And $564 was too sweet a deal to turn down, especially when there were still plenty of positive reviews trickling in as well. Most of the complaints dealt with Orbitz’s substandard (and apparently sometimes hellish) customer service, which will suck if I run into problems – but here’s hoping a certain three-leaf clover can be as lucky as a four leaf one!

aer-lingus-logo

It certainly was lucky for my savings account, as I am now a hefty half-grand ahead of where I thought I’d be, which is a big relief because it was looking like it might be pretty tight for me come TEFL Graduation Day. Now my savings has a little buffer zone and I’m very, very pleased with it.

Though I did notice that my flight leaves on Thursday, November 12th, which means that I will be flying over the Atlantic somewhere when Friday the 13th rolls around… must be why the flight was so cheap – my lucky day!

A quiet evening at home in which I alter my future as I know it

I did it.

I’ve put my money where my mouth is, I’m backing up all the big talk and taking the plunge, etc etc – I spent two-thirds of my savings this evening and I’m floating on a cloud of excitement and holy shit is it terrifying up here, I’m up and down and my heart is in my throat, I love it, can’t get enough, and how am I going to sleep tonight when I have work in the morning? A job where no one even knows what I’m planning (…that’s another kink to work out – later, though).

I received confirmation of my bank account from PayPal earlier than I expected, and as soon I saw it went through, I immediately went to pay my 8200 CZK deposit (300 Euro/$335) to The Language House. All it took was a twitch of my finger – click! – and I felt the endless, flat horizon of my future in Texas siphon away into something else, something a little more uncertain and scary but with more colors and contrast – something a helluva lot more appealing to me.

Riding high on financial commitment (…does that phrase make me a total geek or what?), I decided I’d done enough dithering about, it was time to take care of airfare too.

My Pick of TEFL Training in Prague

Well, I did my homework – or at least, enough that I felt ready to finally set researching aside, and look at the information I’d gathered on the eight courses I’d reviewed. Once I looked at what I’d found as a whole, selecting which course to go with was easy.

I picked The Language House TEFL program, though it was a close one with TEFL Worldwide Prague for a while there. Both offered what I was looking for in regards to job assistance and the support of a community of alumni, but in the end it was The Language House that made an effort not just to contact me, but to answer my questions and make me feel comfortable asking more. If I can sense the feeling of community all the way over here, I have great confidence that this network of people can help me through making this mind-boggling change in my life. And I look forward to helping others as well, once I’m in a position to share what I’ll have learned.

The application process was simple enough, I just filled out a quick form on the website and received an automatic email requesting my CV and instructions on setting up a phone interview. But because I had already spoken with Emori, the director of the program, Chris, let me know that all they would need is my CV. I polished it up and sent it off, and fortunately having a bachelor’s degree is useful at times (whether it’s worth the twenty grand in student debt, I’ve yet to decide) and I was accepted readily.

They sent me a helpful brochure of information on what I need to do before leaving, and how they prepare students for the course beforehand. Additionally, Chris asks all the accepted students to add him on Facebook, and he told me this morning that he’ll be setting up a Facebook group for the November 2015 TEFL students, and I’m really looking forward to getting to know them early on and sharing my plan with them as well.

I’m just days away from paying the 300 Euro deposit with The Language House – the only reason I haven’t paid already is I’m waiting on PayPal to confirm my bank account first. I’m oddly anticipating the moment I finally slide over that chunk of my savings, as if paying the course deposit will make it real. The Plan, the List, all of this has just been talk up until this point. And as terrified as I am, I want to put my money where my mouth is and finally have something to show for all this research. An acceptance letter is good, a secured place in the course is better, and a plane ticket would be best.

…Speaking of airfare, that’s a topic for another post I think!

Let’s Keep This in Czech.

So I just started this blog and I already feel there’s a big problem with it – I’m trying too hard to look professional. This is destined to fail if I keep it up – I’m not professional. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m just trying to sort through the heaps of information out there, sift through the outdated, old stuff and the scams and the sketchy schmo’s trying to sell me “The Best TEFL Prague-am EVER” – I just want to glue together a Plan that will hold up under at least light scrutiny.

I’m going to leave the professionalism to the professionals. One thing I’ve come to realize in my day and a half of internet-scouring is that there are plenty of professionals out there, if that’s what people are looking for.  That doesn’t mean I’m giving up on my blog idea, I just think I’ll go a lot further if I drop the pretense, admit I don’t have a clue what I’m doing, and go from there.

Besides, this way I can use my silly puns with impunity.

(…so unprofessional!)

Czeching in!

I don’t know what to say for a first post, so I’m going to give myself a present to welcome myself to my new blog in the hopes it will make this whole idea less intimidating.

What to give to myself… well, let’s see. I’m a 25 year-old living in Texas, feeling restless in my job as a research assistant, and trying to throw together a plan and enough cash to pick up and move myself to the Czech Republic to teach English by the end of 2015. Perhaps I should give myself a suitcase? Well, maybe…but I could probably just have my mom’s old one. Since I have little to no knowledge of the Czech language and culture, maybe I should give myself a guide book or a book of Czech phrases! But then what would everyone get me for Christmas this year? Not to mention I already have the best guidebook and phrasebook at my fingertips already – thank you, Internet! Considering I have no experience teaching English, I might want to give myself some teaching resources. But I don’t know what those are, yet, so that will have to wait until later. I have a niggling feeling that teaching resources are also found aplenty on the Internet, too.

In the end, I’m giving myself permission to not have a clue what I’m doing and still plan on doing it anyhow. Welcome to my blog, world at large! I’m going to use this space to craft a plan, to fill in the details of what’s needed to make this move, and hope as I stumble around the internet looking for answers, some answers might stumble in here to help me out.

Also, I really, really love puns. If you’ve got a problem with it, feel free to czech out anytime.

And without further ado: The List