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!)

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!

WP_20150318_017
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!

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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!

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!

Little Czech List – Prague TEFL by Language & Training s.r.o.

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Czechlister’s Overall Impression: “Amusing, but $1600 is a hefty punchline”

Course Dates:

November 16 – December 11 2015

Prices:

1150 Euros

Accommodation Prices:

Apartments:

Shared appartment 330 EUR per person, per room
Shared appartment 460 EUR per couple in shared room

Price For Me:

$1636USD

Accommodation Details:

“2 single rooms in a 3 + 1 flat, with a fully equipped kitchen, shower and separate toilet. There is a living room connected to the kitchen, and 2 separate rooms. There is no TV and no washing machine. There are public laundromats in Prague. There is no internet, but there is wi-fi and computers at the school which opens at 8.00 a.m. with the courses start at 10 am. …The journey from the accommodation to the school takes about 30 minutes by public transport.”

Accreditation:

Front page says: “the TEFL/TESOL Certificate course is fully accredited by the Czech Ministry of Education and is externally moderated by one of the most prestigious TEFL certification bodies in the world.”

…the link leads to their Course Validation page, which then says nothing at all about the Czech Ministry of Education, and only says provides the following certification:

TEFL International Certification

Accredited by: “TEFL  International is one of the world’s largest and most prestigious certificate providers with training centres in over 20 countries around the world. Each course is externally moderated by TEFL International head office to ensure the required standards are met.”

No links provided for reference or verification…

BUT then I found the “About TEFL International” page and the plot thickens! I found a nice description but not a single outside link. I get the weird feeling ‘TEFL International’ actually owns ‘TEFL Prague Language & Training’ and simply accredits itself from the “external” source of  Brian the moderator.

After all, it’s like they said themselves on their own Validation page, “there is no enforced  standard for TEFL certification; anyone can open a school and print out a certificate for a fee.”

Well put! Exactly why potential students should be careful and thorough when choosing a certification course.

Job Assistance:

“We have an extensive network of language school contacts in Prague, throughout Central & Eastern Europe, and our TEFL International network spans the globe. We can easily put you in touch with our sister schools in the 20 countries where TEFL International has a presence. During the course you will obtain:

  • Access to country-specific information on teaching conditions, living standards and key contacts
  • First-hand experience from your trainers about teaching in the Czech Republic, Italy, USA, UK, Spain, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.
  • An extensive list of language schools for the location of your choice worldwide
  • Information on re-locating overseas, e.g. what you need to know about visa and immigration affairs, setting up a business, working freelance, basic facts about taxation and health insurance
  • Contacts to real estate agents and affordable housing providers (for those staying in the Czech Republic and Central & Eastern Europe)
  • Access to teacher networking groups to foster your professional development in teaching”

There is also a “Job Guarantee” page that is completely blank. Perhaps a tongue in cheek metaphor about the insubstantial nature of such guarantees? Touché, TEFL Prague, touché.

Visa Support:

…the page is also completely blank. Metaphor is not quite as amusing as the last.

Course Hours/Details:

4 week course

  • Course Price page says: 120 hours, 12+ hours teaching practice
  • Course Overview page says: 130 hours, 6 hours teaching practice minimum

“Course Components:

  • Teaching Practice
  • Language Teaching Methodology
  • Language Awareness
  • Materials Assignment
  • Foreign Language Practice
  • Lessons Observations
  • Teaching Practice with Children”

Graduate Resources:

A page of video testimonials, no contact information provided anywhere.

Little things:

  • Free tea and coffee( !! ALRIGHT now we’re talking! …they didn’t specify any limits. How much free coffee are we talking? This could be the one y’all. This could be the one.)
  • Free breakfast during first day
  • Quick trip to Prague city center & dinner at the school on first day
  • General “Living in Prague” advice session
  • Plan of public transit in Prague

CZECHLISTED!

Well, lots of problems with this one, unfortunately. I could really use free coffee for a month! But the lack of external links, no graduate contact info, the odd feeling that they are certifying themselves, the 30 minute commute from the apartments to the school, the vague promise of job guidance foiled against the somewhat sinister blank Job Guarantee and Visa Support pages… no, no, no thank you.

Little Czech List – TEFL in Prague by EDUA

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Czechlister’s Overall Impression: “Not convinced!”

Course Dates:

November 23 2015 – December 18 2015

Prices:

1150 Euros ($1285USD)

400 Euro deposit ($445USD – part of overall price to be paid after application’s acceptance)

“Early bird offer: pay full course fee (900 EUR + accommodation) ($1005USD) now and enjoy huge savings. Offer is valid on all courses starting from July 2015. Valid only till 12/31/2015.”

Accommodation Prices:

350 Euros ($390USD)

Price For Me:

$1675USD or $1395USD with the ‘early bird offer’

Accommodation Details:

“Each TEFL trainee has his/her own bedroom (with provided bedding); only the kitchen and bathroom are shared.” 30 nights + 9 free extra, either before or after the course

Accreditation:

IATQuO (International Accreditation of TESOL Qualifying Organisations)

Job Assistance:

Job Guarantee –

“The job guarantee is based on the grade system for the TEFL course. TEFL in Prague by Edua Languages awards the following passing grades: PASS 1 (excellent pass), PASS 2 (good pass), and PASS 3 (basic pass), with PASS 3 being the lowest passing grade.

  • Those who receive a PASS 1 and are legally employable in the Czech Republics (are EU citizens or have obtained the work visa) will receive a full-time job guarantee with EDUA Group.
  • Those who receive a PASS 2 will be considered for a full-time position following the course, depending on current hiring needs, and will be offered employment upon a successful interview with the academic staff.
  • Those who receive a PASS 3 and those who do not pass the course have no job guarantee. However, we will give you at least a few tips what to do and how to kick off your teaching career in the Czech Republic.
  • Apply for one of the upcoming TEFL courses and you can secure a job as an English teacher already today!”

A little about the EDUA group:
“…the biggest private group providing complete education that aims to offer every customer the widest possible range of top quality education to meet their needs and wishes. ”

I wanted to know more, but the link to the EDUA group references appears to be broken.

Visa Support:

“We are here to help you with all the requirements so that you are eligible for a long-term visa on the basis of a trade certificate and can stay in the Czech Republic for as long as you wish. Assistance with visas is provided by our visa team directly and you can turn to us for help at any time or pay us a call directly in the building. No external agency, as our team is always at your direct disposal.”

Course Hours/Details:

4 weeks, 7-8 hours observed teaching practice

Course Syllabus

Graduate Resources:

Some brief testimonials with no contact information

Little things:

  • “Free Czech lessons
  • Map of Prague
  • Prague public transport card
  • Czech-yourself program
  • Extra 9 Nights Accommodations”

CZECHLISTED!

The price is reasonable – really reasonable with the ‘early bird’ offer – but I’d really rather not be limited to working for one particular school (the mysterious EDUA Group) that I know nothing about – and couldn’t even find more than a sentence or two about. Although one IATQuO accredited TEFL certificate may be as good as the next one, this school will not be offering the job assistance and networking with potential employers that I really want.

If they really want to sell me their course, they’d have to convince me I’d like working for them as a teacher as well as being their student. I’m not convinced!

Little Czech List – Hello Academies/Smaller Earth

        

Czechlister’s Overall Impression: “Temptingly Affordable…but not enough!” 

Course Dates:

November 16th 2015

Price:

$1600 (includes accommodation)

…Unless you look at their page on Smaller Earth (parent company located in the UK), in which case it’s £939 ($1445USD). Not sure how to take advantage of the lower price, but interesting…

Price For Me:

$1600USD

(Unless I pay in British pounds?)

Accommodation Details:

At a place called Student Republic

“The Metro and Tram stops to downtown are conveniently located right outside your door. You will be living in Prague 6 right next to the metro Dejvicka and our housing is only 5 minutes from downtown. Housing also includes all utilities and internet. Amenities include 24/7 on-site security, restaurant, cafeteria, two pubs, and fitness center”

Accreditation:

IATQuO (International Accreditation of TESOL Qualifying Organisations)

Job Assistance:

“During the course you will attend interview workshops, meet with employers of top language schools located in Prague, and see sample TEFL resumes to get you prepared for the job application process.

Throughout the course current job postings will be uploaded to the TEFL Facebook group on a daily basis to give you first-hand access to what is available.

The Hello Academy in Prague is unique in that it has several partnerships throughout Prague and the surrounding cities with local businesses, high schools, preschools, and private schools.”

Visa Support:

“Hello Academies partners with Ripofim Law Agency. They have English speaking employees, an excellent track record of obtaining visas, and great customer service.

During the first week of the course a representative from Ripofim will come to your class and explain to you all of your different options for legally living and working in the Czech Republic.”

Course Hours/Details:

4 weeks, 110 hour course, 10 hours teaching practice

“Throughout the course there are several different assignments. You must complete the pre-departure grammar packet, a grammar quiz, an individual learner profile, a materials assignment, and the final grammar test. The TEFL course works on a pass/fail system.”

Graduate Resources:

Provided a link to TEFL Course reviews on GoOverseas.com, a lot of reviews but I didn’t see any means of contact at a glance. Could warrant further investigation?

Little things:

  • One month metro pass
  • 24/7 on-site assistance
  • Survival Czech lessons
  • Welcome dinner and graduation celebration
  • Local cultural excursions to a sporting event and castle

CZECHLISTED!

A bit confusing to research this one, as there were two sites to look over – a US version called ‘Hello Academies‘ and a UK one called ‘Smaller Earth‘. After some exploration, they seem to be the same except for the price (see above), and that Hello Academies is simply a smaller branch specific to TEFL in Prague, owned by Smaller Earth, which has many different tourist/work/live abroad programs.

Everything seemed decent and in order, the price is great, but the lack of contact information for graduates as well as the brevity of information about course content, job assistance, and visa support gives me pause. Everything looks very polished and bit too “tourist”y for my taste, as I’m not looking for a vacation – they aren’t calling it a vacation of course, but they did a good job making it look like one! Regardless of the price, I’d rather go with a course that is a little more thorough and clear on what kind of job support they provide, and what is in the course, rather than just a really clean looking website with photos of very happy people.

Overall, the price is great, but I think I’d rather pay a little more to feel absolutely sure I’m not getting into a course where I’ll be left on my own to sink or swim afterwards. Assurance of post-course assistance trumps saving a hundred bucks!