We probably don’t look up as much as we should, especially if you live in the city your attention is very much focused on the ground, the sidewalk, traffic and other people – a constant obstacle course to get from one place to another.
Take a moment and look up. If you are lucky enough to be in a park or out of town you will see the sky. But even in the city, especially a city like Prague, look up at the buildings more. There is so much to see above street level. I live in Holešovice and in my little residential area there are architectural touches to appreciate:
The ladies on Městský Okruh Plynární add a splash of color to look at while waiting at Ortenovo náměsti tram stop.
Though slightly faded you will find this couple on U Uranie, look way up!
Right across the street at V háji and U Uranie there is a story to be told.
Even the unassuming buildings on U pruhonu have some people watching over you.
Next time you go for a walk, take a moment to stop and expand your horizons.
It’s been almost two months since I started teaching in Prague. A bumpy ride with a lot of ups and downs. There are a few things I wish I had known coming into this either for good or for bad.
What do my days look like?
Long and broken. I could easily fill my mornings many times over, everyone wants morning classes and if they can’t get them they settle for evening classes. Many of my days start at 0730 and end at 1900 with large time gaps in the middle. I spend nearly as much time commuting as I do teaching, you learn quickly to choose your courses wisely and not to let schools push you into taking a class that doubles your commute time. I know every shortcut in every metro I use and I know which end of the train to get on so that I am in front of the rush getting off at my stop.
How much do I teach?
Summer months are a little quiet which is a good thing for a new teacher. I am teaching about nineteen blocks per week (forty-five minutes is a block but my lessons are usually either one hour or ninety minutes). Most of my classes are individuals with some small groups here and there. My focus is business so mostly I am at companies throughout Prague but I do have private students as well and they focus on conversation and error correction.
What are the lows?
Native English speakers are desired as teachers, but we are disposable. There is a constant supply of new teachers arriving and constant stream of people leaving. Some of my students have had multiple teachers in a year. Often the students can’t tell me the names of previous teachers.
Teaching in businesses you learn that there are always other priorities. A great group lesson plan for your class of five is not so exciting when only one student comes that day. Cell phones ring during every class or people pause to check email. People are late, you learn to start the clock when the lesson starts and wait for people to arrive, constantly adjusting how you will pull off the lesson with less time than you anticipated.
Communication breakdown. Schools will text you last minute to cancel, or often not at all and you sit waiting for a student that will never arrive. Classes are added last minute on Friday at 1600 but cancelled Monday at 1000 because someone forgot someone was on vacation for the week.
It is a solitary job, most of my day is spent alone commuting or waiting. Yes you teach people but it is not the same as having a co-worker to talk to or go for a break or a nice lunch with.
What are the highs?
Many of my students are fantastic people with interesting stories and thoughts, people I would never meet under normal circumstances and who certainly would never share their lives with me like they do. You get to hear about someones passion for a hobby, how much they loved the last trip they took and what a day at work is like for them.
Successes are common, it is extremely gratifying to see the lights come on when someone understands something.
You are free to come and go, accept classes or not and ultimately no one expects forever from you. I often see people in offices, sitting in cubicles and dressed for work and stressed out and think how much more peaceful my day is!
People Want To Learn. Without fail all of my students are interested in what I have to say, they want to be corrected and want to improve. I might be a disposable but I have the choice to try to be good at what I do and make sure they remember my name when I go.
You’ll need a bank account. If you are an ESL teacher this won’t be because you have soooooo much money and nowhere to put it, but your employer(s) will want to be able to direct deposit and paying rent, social security tax, internet etc will be much easier with a bank account.
There are a lot of options. Take a look at the discussion section on Expats.cz and you will find lots of opinions. I’m only offering you one based on my real experience so far.
Here is what I needed to have:
- no fees for normal transactions and a reasonable number of free withdrawals per month (yes I am spoiled by my Canadian bank account but I refuse to pay a monthly fee and a fee for depositing money)
- an access card / debit card (again, fee free point of sale payments were essential for me)
- English service (it will be a long time before I can feel comfortable banking in Czech)
- English internet banking
- A reasonable supply of bank machines and branches
After many hours of research I came to one conclusion: Fio Banka. Click on English and read all the details.
They met all my requirements, I went to the branch at V Celnici 1028/10 and they were extremely friendly and helpful. I had my new account within minutes and my access card by mail in a week. You will need your passport and your zivnostensky list (or whatever it is that allows you to be legal here). Note that the internet banking is not in English by default but they will show you how to access it and once you login the first time it will always be in English for you.
(again, this is my opinion and experience, your results or requirements my vary, past performance is not indicative of future returns etc etc)
Here you are with a nice new visa in your passport and an approved zivno. There are only a few things left to do:
Register with the foreign police. This has to happen within three business days of you entering the country with your new visa (even though if you are coming from within Schengen no one can tell when you entered). Go to the foreign police office, take a number and wait. **Note that there is a lot of different information on the internet about where to go but this office registered me, you can also find listings for other offices here. This can be done alone but if you have a Czech friend now is a perfect time to ask them to come with you. The foreign police spend all day registering people from outside of the Czech Republic but don’t speak anything but Czech.
Take your passport, your proof of medical insurance and a copy of your lease or housing document. They will write your address in your passport and stamp it. You are officially in!
**Another note: The foreign police were not happy that I did not have my passport stamped when I originally entered the Czech Republic as a tourist even though this is the first time I have ever heard this and don’t think it applies to Canadians. I did not argue, just apologized and he let it pass.
Now take your stamped passport back the folks at the zivno office and they will photocopy it and tell you to come back in a week for your final real zivno! Even without this paper in hand you are legal and ready to look for work.
Only two more things to do: taxes and social payment registration.
On April 22, 2013 I applied for my visa and on May 22 I had the all important email telling me I had been approved and my visa was ready for pickup in Vienna! Not bad timing! This also meant that regardless of when I actually picked up the visa my clock had now started and I had a visa until November 21, 2013.
The final piece of this puzzle is health insurance, you will need to take proof of insurance with you when you pick up your visa. Requirements can be found here. Keep in mind that if the insurance was not issued in the Czech Republic you will need to have the policy documents translated and this could be costly and time consuming.
I researched my options and decided to use Slavia. They have a policy designed for foreigners and it perfectly meets the requirements for the visa. There are some odd things in the requirements including things like coverage even if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs when you are injured – not a common thing to find in health coverage.
EDIT: When returning in 2015 I found the health insurance situation had changed, I ended up using Czechinsure.com, and spoke with Simon Morton. The process was easier, was in English, and was only 7,500kc for 12 months through a better company than Slavia.
Your insurance must cover the entire term of your visa so I purchased six months at a cost of 4,380Kc. Buying it online saved me 20% but you can also get 10% off if you go ask in person. IMPORTANT: You will need the original documents as well as proof of payment – in my case as soon as I completed the online purchase I had a friend call and arrange for me to pick up my documents.
You won’t need an appointment to pick up your visa but it will have to be during opening hours which means being in Vienna early in the day – I took the Student Agency night bus down and came back the same day. Ten minutes at the Embassy and I had a nice shiny new visa in my passport!
Of course this is not over yet, next up registering with the Foreign Police and finalizing your zivno…
After a good nights rest at my hostel in Vienna and a hearty breakfast of bread, cheese and hot chocolate I was off to visit the Czech Embassy. Despite searching online I had no idea what to expect and was quite nervous – these people have the power to kill my plans entirely!
It was a pleasant surprise.
I arrived with a pile of paper neatly organized and with copies of everything in case they asked for it, just to review:
- Application form – completed as much as I could and ready to ask for any clarification (for example the form asks for the dates of all previous stays in the Schengen Zone but in the end they did not need this information from me).
- Original criminal record check.
- Two passport photos.
- Bank balance statement letter with certified translation.
- Photocopies of the front and back of the bank access card.
- Zivno approval letter.
- Copy off my passport photo page.
- 97 euros in cash. EDIT: 91 euros in April, 2015.
- And of course my passport.
The staff were very friendly and promptly took all my information, helped me finish the forms and asked me to take a seat. About 20 minutes later I was invited in for the interview.
During the interview Ladek, the embassy employee, asked me various questions including:
- My education history and what I studied including dates.
- My housing arrangements in Prague.
- What type of business I intended to conduct once I had my visa.
- What special training I had to be able to conduct business.
- How long I intended to stay in the Czech Republic.
- What I intended to do while waiting for my visa to be approved.
I answered all questions honestly and openly but was cautious about stating I would travel outside the Schengen Zone if necessary while waiting for my approval and that I would not exceed my 90 day limit. Ladek was very friendly and we spoke for almost two hours on various topics unrelated to my application, he even gave me suggestions about what Czech musicians and writers to explore.
Ladek was clear that he did not make the visa decision and that it could take up to 90 days for them to issue an approval however he felt I would have an answer within six weeks.
I left the embassy after the interview and enjoyed the rest of the day in Vienna before catching the bus back to Prague.
Next step: waiting.