Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The end and yet just the beginning

Hi everyone.

It is now August, which means summer will slowly start coming to an end. For some students the summer already ended and they are back in school. Others are squeezing the last out of the few weeks they have left before classes start again. Even though the summer only lasts three months the memories will last forever. In the same way that is how it is with my experience in Slovakia.

I left for Slovakia in August, 2008 shortly after receiving my Master of Arts in Mission and World Christianity. Many people ask what brought me to Slovakia and the answer is always the same. I was looking for what to do after I finished my degree and found out about the Teach in Slovakia program and thought it would be interesting, a new experience and a place I haven't been. All of those were true and ended up staying true throughout my two years in Slovakia.

I taught in a town that was in a beautiful location, among the High and Low Tatras of the Carpathian Mountains. The people I met in Slovakia are all great people. I made some good friends that I hope to stay in contact with and see if we can visit each other sometime. I learned from my fellow teachers and I learned from the students. I hope to be able to share with others what I learned about the real Slovakia and the people. Slovakia has changed from what people may know of it 15 years ago, it changed in the two years I was there and will continue to change. Change is inevitable and some changes happening now are hopefully for the better.

I went to Slovakia with the idea I would be there for one year and see what happened. I ended up returning for a second year. However, I decided that after the second year it was time to come home. It is not because of not liking where I was or the people, it was simply time for me to move on. I will miss the school, my colleagues and the students; but I will not forget them. My students have great potential and they grew throughout our two years together. I am excited to see where they head in life. One class I worked with both years will graduate this coming school year. I know they were sad to hear I would not be with them through their leaving exam (Maturita), but I will be thinking about them. The other classes I worked with are part way through their high school experience or still at the beginning. I am sorry I cannot be with them at EGJT through the rest of their years there, but I know they will do great and have wonderful resources available to them through the teachers and lecturers around them. If any of my former students read this please feel free to send me questions you have about things or just notes to say how things are. I'll be happy to help you how I can and let you know what I am up to. For anyone who wasn't a student of mine but has questions please feel free to ask. I would be happy to try and answer the questions you have as best I can.

Now comes the big adventure for me of adjusting to being back in the United States, reverse culture shock. I have gone through reverse culture shock before so have an idea of what to expect, but also know it will be different than when I came back from living in Germany four years ago or when I was home last summer. While going through this I will also be doing a job search. I am trying to give myself sometime to adjust while still doing the job search but it can get a little overwhelming. Thoughts or prayers during this time of transition would be appreciated. I hope you have enjoyed my blog over the past two years. If there is interest I could continue writing during my time of transition. If anyone wants to know what it is like to go through reverse culture shock send me a note or leave a comment.

Once again thank you to everyone for the support over the past two years. They were a great experience I am glad I had and so thankful I got to meet the people I did.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Easter and travels

I know that Easter was a month ago, but here is a little recap of the holiday and travels over that time. My parents were able to come for a visit, so they made it in time for both my birthday and Easter. They arrived in Vienna, Austria April 1, picked up a rental car and then drove to my apartment.

They had an adventure right from the start. There was road construction I didn't know about, so the GPS sent them on the southern route instead of the northern route. I don't remember what time they were able to leave the airport, but I do remember we had a late dinner that night, around 9pm.

The next morning we left for our traveling adventure. Our first stop was Krakow, Poland. We chose to take the route that was about 20 minutes longer, but went past the High Tatras. My parents were able to get a really nice view of the mountains and also saw the devastation that is still present from a massive wind storm that happened about 5 years ago. The wind was so strong that it uprooted fully grown trees, most of which have not grown back yet. Here is an idea of what the mountains are like here. If we took a train we would have to transfer trains three times and would get to Krakow in 7 hours, I couldn't find any buses that would go between here and there, but with a car you could get to Krakow in 2 1/2-3 hours depending on if you drove up through the mountains or around the mountains.

We arrived in Krakow in the early evening. We found our hotel and were pleasantly surprised at the excellent location. The hotel was just around the corner from the main old town square, and was right next to some great restaurants. The hotel staff was also wonderful. They were very attentive and happy to help us with addresses and GPS coordinates for the sites we wanted to visit, if any of you plan to visit Krakow I would highly recommend Hotel Jan. We were in Krakow for four days and had a great time. We took a tour of the city in a little golf cart (we saw the old town, Jewish quarter and Schindler's factory), went to the salt mine there and visited Auschwitz. We were in Krakow for Easter Sunday and it was a great day. At breakfast there was fresh homemade potato salad, a tradition, and every church was open in the city. Pictures were not allowed, but we discovered there were over 20 churches in the old town alone! We did not see every church, but the ones we did visit were very impressive.

After Krakow we went to Warsaw. We also stayed here for four nights. Warsaw is a very different city than Krakow. It has the feeling of a large metropolitan area with many new buildings. This is probably partially related to the fact that Warsaw is the modern day capital of the country, but also because the city was basically destroyed by the Nazis during WWII. The old town was rebuilt based off of paintings and pictures. When a person sees the pictures of what the old town was like before the destruction, shortly after and today it is amazing. The reconstruction was done so well that it is now on the UNESCO list of culture and heritage. We took a city tour of Warsaw, went to the Uprising museum, and visited a bazaar. The bazaar was an adventure, finding our way to the parking lot and walking around the bazaar. I found a new spring jacket and shoes, my mom found some lace and my dad got a new tie. Basically everything a person could imagine was in the bazaar.

We then traveled to Berlin. Even though I have been to Germany a few times and even lived there I had not been to Berlin, except for the airport. We spent three days there and had an apartment. The apartment was huge; two bedrooms, a large living room, kitchen area (but nothing to cook with) and one and a half baths. It was a former communist apartment, we were in East Berlin, but it impressed my parents. Our hotel apartment was located one or two blocks from checkpoint Charlie, so we of course went there. We took a hop on hop off tour of the city and that was very helpful. We were able to see the main tourist sites and discovered we were within walking distance from the Brandenburg gate. It was chilly there and one day when we were at the Brandenburg gate stopped at a Dunkin' Donuts for some warm drinks to warm up and a donut. They tasted good and helped us warm up.

It is a long drive from Berlin to Mikulas, so we broke the trip up into two days. We spent an afternoon in Potsdam seeing the city and then went on to Dresden. When I was living in Germany one of the memories I have is listening to the radio and hearing the first church service in the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) after it being rebuilt. The church was not destroyed by bombing during WWII, but collapsed as a result. A fire started inside the church and was so hot that the cathedral collapsed in on itself. A story says that the ruins stayed where they were because it was turned into a memorial with flowers all around the cathedral until it could be rebuilt. The rebuilding process involved some very high tech processes, a computer program was used to figure out where the usable stones were and would be once again and new stones were used for the open spaces. It is amazing what was done with the church.

We ended up getting into Mikulas pretty late and spent the next two days looking around the area here. We saw an old Celtic settlement from a distance, went to a traditional village where people still live. It was interesting to see traditional houses with satellite dishes. We also went to a wooden church that is not far from here. During the counter-reformation Lutheran congregations could only build churches out of the cheapest building material, which was wood, Swedish ship builders even came to help. Even wooden pegs had to be used in place of nails. There are around six of these churches listed on a historical registry, but this church is not one of them. The church we went to was moved because of a dam being built. When the church was brought to the current location and was put back together people could not figure out how to put the church together without using nails. The last place we visited around here was the Cave of Liberty. I forgot to tell my parents we would have to walk part way up a large hill/small mountain to get to the cave, so they were surprised by the path. The cave was very nice. There were a lot of stairs, a little over 900. My dad even saw a bat in the cave, but my mom and I missed it because we were trying to figure out the number of stairs we had climbed.

After our tour around the Liptov region my parents and I headed to Bratislava. We were planning on being there just for the weekend. A nice, low key end to their two and a half weeks in Europe. Well, I ended up being in Bratislava for the weekend, but my parents stayed longer. They were supposed to fly out April 18 out of Vienna, but all the flights were canceled. They ended up staying in Bratislava for a week longer than planned. Thankfully the apartment we had used over the weekend was available for them to use during the week. They made their rescheduled flights and made it home safely and are currently working on figuring out what they missed, catching up on things and getting back on track with their everyday tasks and appointments.

Here is an album with a number of pictures from the trip.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

End of winter adventure

It is now truly spring, the snow has melted away; except on the mountains, and the temperature is above freezing. It is a nice time of year when we get to see everything coming back to life again. At the end of winter/beginning of spring I had a little adventure. As most of you know, this is my second year in Slovakia and I live in a town really close to the High and Low Tatras, they are part of the Carpathian mountain range. Anyways, skiing is very popular in Slovakia especially around here. Schools even take one or more classes of students for a ski week. My school actually has two ski weeks, one week is for the Second year and Sexta students (about 15-16 year olds) and the second week is for the Tercia students (around 11 years old).

The students and most of the gym teachers go and stay at one of the ski resorts from here and ski or snowboard all week. A week or so after both ski weeks (two weekends ago) one of the largest ski resorts had a special, 15 euros for 2 1/2 days of skiing. That is a really good deal since it usually costs around 20 euros for a day. I decided I would go skiing with the group going from school. I had my jacket, hat, gloves, layers, sun glasses and some borrowed snow pants. This was my first time skiing in March and my first time skiing on a mountain. I was excited, but nervous too.

The ski resort was really crowded and when I saw where we had to go just to get to the runs I knew I was in for something very different than I had ever done before. You see, there is a chair lift part way up the mountain to get to the first level of ski hills and then more ski lifts to get to other parts of the mountain. I had skied before, but it had been a while since the last time and so I was nervous. I ended up going with a group of friends who are also teachers and we were having a good time. However, my day of skiing came to an early end. During our second run of the day I was going faster than I wanted and when I tried to slow down I lost control and ended up crashing, but the ground broke my fall nicely. I got pretty banged up but was able to walk away from it, though no one would let me walk on my own. The ski rescue person who came after one of my friends called them was very nice. He didn't speak much English, but he was very helpful. My friends also took good care of me. After I was released from the ski rescue people we returned my skis, boots and poles and they took me for some lunch. Then we went to the hospital for an X-ray just to make sure I was really alright. My face stung a little and I had a slight head ache that would come and go and my left wrist hurt, but the rest of me felt fine.

The X-ray showed that my wrist was not broken so it was sprained. They wrapped me up and told my friend who told me what I should do for it. They took me home and I took it easy for the rest of the day. The next day I was pretty sore, but within two days I felt fine except for my wrist. It is still healing, but I have full motion and can use it some, it hurts from time to time so ice and Ibuprofen help with that. Hopefully whenever I end up skiing on a mountain again I will have get to really enjoy the day and not get injured.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Winter/spring activities

My oh my, it is now March. When I woke up Monday morning it was hard to believe that it was the start of a new month. There have been some fun and interesting things happening here since the last time I wrote.

At the end of January and the beginning of February is ball season here in Slovakia. My school held a ball January 29 that I went to. It was fun to get dressed up and having fun. The school here had two different balls, one was the one I and many teachers and parents and a few students went to. The other ball was a ball for all the students of the various High Schools in Liptovsky Mikulas. That ball was the weekend after the ball I went to.

Around the time of groundhogs day in US there was a Slovak spring tradition happening. I went to run some errands and as I was getting closer to the town square I head a cow bell. I was wondering where the sound was coming from and then I found out. There was a small parade of people dressed in traditional clothes ringing cowbells and singing songs. I met a student on the street and asked her what was going on. The student explained to me that it was a tradition going back a number of years and would usually happen in villages. People would go from house to house asking for bread and sausage as they prepare for the Lenten fast and to celebrate the coming of spring. Unfortunately I did not have a camera with me so I could not take any pictures of this, but here is a site that has examples of traditional costumes from around Slovakia.

Last week was Spring break for Central Slovakia. I know, it seems a little early but Eastern Slovakia had Spring Break the week before my school and Western Slovakia has Spring Break this week. I'm not sure if it is true, but I was told once that Slovakia divides itself into three weeks for break so the ski resorts are not overrun with people; I was also told this is why the breaks happen so early. The weeks rotate throughout the country each year so one area does not always have a really early break.

For my break I went to Konstanz, Germany to visit a friend. It was a great time in a beautiful area. Konstanz is located on the Bodensee (Lake Constance) and on the Germany-Switzerland boarder. The week there with the natural beauty, my friend and the German language and food seemed to go too fast. It was very relaxing and enjoyable and should have helped to rejuvenate me for the remainder of the school year.

Here are some pictures from the ball and my spring break trip.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A recap of the holidays, happy 2010!

Hi everyone. Is it really mid January already?!? My how time can pass quickly. I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year!

I enjoyed my Christmas and New Years a lot. I was fortunate enough to be in Denmark again this year. Christmas break started in Slovakia after school on December 22, so I got to Denmark on December 23; just in time for the festivities to begin. The family I was with was so friendly and wonderful again this year. We enjoyed ourselves a lot.

This year I was able to see some areas of Denmark I didn't see last year. I spent a day in Odensee and went to the Hans Christian Andersen museum. I learned somethings about H.C. Andersen I didn't know. Did you know that he also wrote novels and plays? I did not know that about him. I also got to see
Copenhagen this year, last year all I saw was the train station and airport. It was nice to see the city, even if it was only for a few hours. I was able to meet up with a good friend of mine who is from Denmark, we met while I was in Germany in 2005-2006. It was nice to be able to visit with her some.

New Year's Eve this year was spent in
Aarhus. The fireworks were not as scary this year as they were last year. It didn't seem like there were as many, which might have had something to do with that. Oh, there was snow this year too! I was told that this was the first time in about 10 years that there has been snow for Christmas.

School started again on January 11. It was a time for final projects and tests. The semester officially ends at the end of January and the next semester starts in February, but grades were due the 21st, at least at my school. Some classes might be taking it easy for a class or two while others just keep chugging along.

Oh, I have had the chance to try out the Slovak medical system this year. I had some problems with my right ear from the flight back from Denmark, it would not pop. After close to a week of no luck popping my ear I went to see a doctor and a fellow Slovak teacher came with to translate. The doctor popped my ear and we all thought that was the end of the problem. I was given a prescription for some drops and was told to come back if I still had problems after 4 days. I gave the doctor my insurance card and so all I had to pay was 17 cents for my drops. Well, my ear was still hurting, so I went back to the doctor and found out there was a small problem of inflammation. I was given three prescriptions this time and paid a little under 6 euros for the medicine. I have to say, it was nice not having to fill out any paperwork and only paying a small amount for medicine. Slovakia has a government run/supported system and I would say it worked well for me.

Here are some pictures from my year so far, various trips including Christmas and New Years.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Time flies

It is hard to believe it is already December. I looked and my last post was all the way back in October. Sorry for letting it go so long in between posts. So, what has happened between the last posting and now?

Well, in the last post I told about the snow we had. That snow melted away a week or so after it stopped snowing and we haven't had any more snow since. The mountains do have snow on their peaks, but not enough for the ski season to start just yet. People are starting to think there will not be much snow this winter. I remember some people saying that last year too but we ended up with a pretty decent snowfall, so we will see what happens.

At the end of October every school in Slovakia has a long weekend for Fall Break. It happens to coincide with Halloween, which is kind of nice. Halloween is not celebrated in Slovakia, but they have a tradition for All Saint's Day where people place candles and other decorations on the graves of family members. The cemeteries around Slovakia look very pretty this time of year.

For Fall Break this year myself and four other lectures took a trip to Dublin, Ireland. That was a very nice trip. One thing that was kind of cool was getting to spend Halloween in the birthplace of Halloween. There are many activities for kids and then Halloween night in the Temple Bar area there is basically a huge block party for adults. It was neat to see and experience some of that, but the crowd can be an interesting one. There are people in all sorts of costumes there and street performers as well as kids trick-or-treating for money.

The five of us were all interested in seeing the city and some of the sights around Dublin. We walked a fair amount and took tours of the Guinness Brewery as well as the Jameson Distillery. We also took a bus tour along the Southern Coast which took us to an old mansion which is now full of boutiques. There is a huge garden in the back that we were able to walk through. Even though it was the end of October the grass was still very green and some flowers were still blooming.

Since the Dublin trip things have been pretty normal, but sometimes it seems the weeks go by very quickly. Last week the Primary school I teach at once a week had their English Olympics, it is a scholastic competition with various parts such as reading comprehension, listening, vocabulary, grammar, a role play and a picture story. As the native speaker I read the text aloud for the listening comprehension section and also took part in the role plays. In one scenario I was the parent of the child and they were to convince me they should have a room to themselves even though that wasn't really an option. In the other scenario I was also the parent, but this time the student was to convince me they should get to spend their summer holiday on their uncle's farm instead of on a family trip I found even though they were at their uncle's last summer. This week the High School has its English Olympics. I don't know the role plays yet, but I wonder if I will be a parent again. Maybe it will help prepare me for the future if I have kids.

We also have a kind of open house this week. It is a day for parents (parents of current students can come too) and prospective students to come to the school. I found out on Friday that myself and the other two lecturers here will be interviewed during a session that day. I was given some possible questions, so now just need to figure out what I will say.

This weekend Liptovsky Mikulas had a Christmas market and festival. There were many artisans out selling their work, rides, food, drink and concerts. Since the town is named after St. Nick they have the festival the weekend of St. Nick's Day, December 6. One tradition they have with St. Nick that I was not aware of before is that he goes around with a little devil. The good kids get a present from St. Nick and I think the bad kids are taken away or something like that.

With the start of this week it will be two and a half weeks till Christmas break. Our break start December 23 and classes start again January 11. I think the time leading up to break will go quickly. I am currently thinking of Christmas oriented plans to do with some of my classes. I am looking forward to the Christmas season and break. I will not be traveling home for Christmas, but will be with a very nice family. Last year I was able to spend Christmas in Denmark and will be doing that again. I am looking forward to learning more about the Danish traditions and the new experiences that will come with the trip.

Here are some pictures from my adventures so far this year.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The First Snow

It is October, right? So what is all this white stuff on the ground and falling from the sky?!? Why is the high for the day 2 C? We had what in Slovakia is called an Indian summer, warm summer like temperatures in the fall, for about a week and then the weather changed. For close to a week, maybe a little longer, it has been cloudy and rainy here in Mikulas. Then the temperature dropped and the rain changed to snow right before my eyes. The snow started on Monday and it is still snowing.

Most of the time it is flurries, but there are times when the wind starts blowing and the snow gets really heavy. I can't remember how many people told me today that this has never happened before, snow in early/mid October. The grass is not completely covered yet, but you can definitely see the snow. At some point I want to play Baseball with my first years as a part of our conversation class, but that will have to wait until it is warmer outside. Can you believe I get to teach how to play baseball and American football as part of conversation class? It fits in with US Realia, which is basically a unit to talk about the US and what life is like there. Since sports are presented as a major part of life and society in the US my students get to learn about two of the most popular sports. One student asked me which was more popular, football or baseball. I told the student it would probably depend on who they talk to and where they are in the country. Any other answers I can tell my student?

At the end of the month comes Halloween, as I am sure students in the US are well aware of. I plan on having a Halloween party with both of my first year groups. I think it will be fun to plan. It was a lot of fun last year. I was able to purchase a printer this year with the assistance of my church back home, Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Schaumburg, maybe I can put it to use for the parties for games and the like.

A snowwoman in the field near my school.

One of the damaged trees on the walk to school.

Some of the students are a little shy to speak in class still, but I hope activities like these help make them feel a little more comfortable with their English. I know some of the students are worried about making mistakes, but I told them it is a part of learning. They all have a lot of potential, they just need to use what they have.

My other classes are going well. I taught all my other students last year. It is nice to be with them again. It will be interesting to see changes from what they were like last year and what they will be like this year.

One goal of mine this summer was to learn how to look older than my students. I thought I was doing a decent job so far, until one of the football days. My students kept yelling back and forth in Slovak even though they should have been speaking in English. A student informed me they couldn't tell who was their teacher and who was their classmate because I look so young. She is 16 and her classmates are 14 or 15. I guess there are worse things then looking 10-12 years younger to some people. I got a good laugh out of it anyways.

Well, I guess that's about it for now. If anyone has Halloween party ideas please let me know.