Alumni Spotlight: Lara Mae Neumanova

I'm a former graphic designer turned English conversation teacher, living in a village about 40 minutes outside of Prague. I moved to the Czech Republic to get a fresh start and live a better life than what I had been living in America.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose the program because I knew I would be staying in the country for at least a year and would need help with all the paperwork involved in that process. The program had a whole process set up for helping with that and the appeal was far to great to pass by. On top of that it offered a certificate for teaching based on a grammar test no one else had that as far as I could find at the time.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

The only thing I had to really organize on my own was funding. Which was the hardest part, really, I don't know what it is now, but at the time, I needed a minimum of $5000 in my bank so I could get a bank letter for the visa process. After that, I had to get plane tickets and any other travel expenses and then find a place to live after the course was over. Oh, and chip in for the coffee fund during the program. They had a very cute mug you could buy if you wanted.

Otherwise, they did practically everything. They told us what to do and expect for the visa process. We were taught the basic dos and don'ts of the language and culture.

They took us on some really fun tourist adventures around Prague and even had other hiking trips that we could join in on with Alumni of the course. Some of the teachers there are tour guides for the city, and it was very informative as well as fun.

In the Young Learners part of the course that I opted into, we got to see how classes were taught in a school setting as well, and they provided a lot of resources for us to use in our lessons.

They were study groups to work on lesson plans and things that were difficult throughout the course that we could go to for help. But if it was something simple, you were free to ask someone, and they would help if they had time, and if they didn't have it, they would point you to someone who did.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I really wish I had had some preventative medicine for getting sick when I arrived. I had been recovering from a sinus infection when I and I discovered the pains of mixing germs from around the world at about the 3rd week, it wasn't fun. Especially with the grammar test coming. I also discovered that I am basically allergic to the city in the colder months due to everyone mostly using coal for their heating.

Also, beware of wandering around the historical neighborhoods. Some only have one entrance and exit. I got horribly lost. It was like a maze. I ended up getting help from a local who must have seen that I couldn't find my way back out

Don't let any of that be a deterrent, though, I got allergy medicine from a lékárna (pharmacy) and chances are, in Prague, they will speak English too. That's true for most of the tourist areas, really. The Czech people are generally standoffish at first but are really fun when they open up.

Also, download Google Translate and have the Czech language marked available for offline use. It's saved my butt more than once. It's not perfect but it helps. Just keep the sentence simple and it works.

Most importantly, be ready for a massive amount of information to be put in your head in a very short amount of time. It's like a boot camp for teaching English. It's a lot to deal with all at once and when it's over, it's a massive release of stress but it's also a bit sad because it's over, and most of the friends you've made only stay for a year or so.

And on a more fun note, don't forget to enjoy the food; just mind the carbs. Many people overindulge without doing the work needed to not gain a few pounds in the process. I know I did 😅 it takes a bit to get the portions right. But it's all very tasty. 😋

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

It's basically going to school with a strict schedule. If something happens to stop you from getting a lesson in, they will have to make up time for it later.

In the mornings, you learn. If I remember right, it was 2 or 3 lessons on different topics with a possible outing if it was to apply what was learned (in the case of the Czech language we went to a store to find things) or to observe a real lesson being taught. And then, in the evening, you actually teach a 45-minute lesson. Afternoons were spent making a lesson plan and getting help with it if needed.

On the weekend, we had excursions and got to be tourists with our teachers as guides.
At the end of the program was a big party and I advise eating before you go.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear was meeting new people and talking in front of a group. I'm rather shy with a bit of social anxiety, but I hide it well. Which all probably sounds strange given the nature of the program. My mom taught me to "panic later", and I did, but after a while, it became less scary. But if I needed to ask for something in Czech... Well, I'd have rather not. I'm better at communicating now, but at first, it was very scary.

I came into this program knowing that I would likely be staying in Europe. I wanted to restart my life, and this was the best way to do for me.

Write and answer your own question.

Don't be afraid to fail at something, most people are generally nice but some aren't willing to try and communicate with you if you can't speak the language well. The older generation is really chatty too. I still wish I had been able to speak Czech better at the time. I had been on the tram and nice older gentleman sat next to me and tried striking up a conversation. I tried but when I explained that I didn't understand him he was nice about it and soon we parted ways.

I got lucky; I've only had 2 negative experiences due to a language barrier. But everyone else I've met has been amazing.

The key is to try and use Czech and come up with ideas if the person you need to talk to doesn't understand you or doesn't want to look at your translation on your phone.

This is how I got my husband, actually 😂 He barely spoke any English. He had learned in school but never used it outside of games of music. We talked using pictures. I still have our first 3 conversations drawn on a piece of paper with a pencil that I had in my bag. I met him through Facebook, actually. I wanted to meet someone local and make friends. He didn't realize how little Czech I spoke because I was using a translator. He was the best thing that happened to me. He took very good care of me and helped with a lot of things. I'm actually very good friends with his favorite former teacher because I now teach at his old school.

And if you are planning on living outside of Prague, get ready to use the bus. They aren't always on time, so be early, and some locations don't have automatic stops. If you are standing there waiting, you need to wave the bus down or it won't stop if you need to get off the bus, remember to push the button or you will end up walking back to where you wanted to go.

I personally love the Czech Republic. Be ready for some culture shock but keep an open mind. And please be quick when in line to pay for stuff. They generally dislike waiting unless it's unavoidable.