Thursday, July 1, 2010

One Year Down

So I made it!! It’s been a full year since I packed my bags and moved to the Czech Republic. Sometimes it feels like I just got off the airplane and sometimes it feels like I’ve been here for years. I remember my first few days and not knowing if I had made one huge mistake by coming here. I didn't know a soul, could not speak the language, didn't know where anything was, had no mobile or Internet access, felt isolated in the temporary flat I was renting, and wasn't due to start work for a few days. But I did survive.

Thank the Lord for the Internet! There is absolutely no way I could have done this whole expat thing without the Google. Having the Internet, e-mail, my blog, Skype and Facebook has helped fight the homesickness. In fact, I’m in contact with some folks more now than I was when I was still in Atlanta.

Czechs can take bureaucracy to a whole new level. I think it’s a holdover from communism when everyone had to have a job. Now it means you have to jump through all kinds of hoops in order to get things done. I am glad that I moved here but there are days when I just wonder “WTF!?!?!”. Especially with that logic that only makes sense to Czechs. I call it “loczech”, but more on that later.

After a few months over here I met a couple of Americans in “Bratsville”. That’s what I call Bratislava. And it’s funny because I’ve even got Slovaks calling it that now. Anyway, it was great knowing that Janelle and Marcus were only 1.5 hours away and we were able to get together for some wonderful adventures, including Thanksgiving. We were like a support group as we tried to fit in over here. But life goes on and they have both gone back to the U.S. Dang them! Marcus is back in Atlanta and doing well. Janelle got married in Dominica and is back in New York. I still can’t believe that she’s a married woman now. She sent me some wedding photos on Facebook and she looked so beautiful.

The care packages help a lot. Hint! Hint! Especially the ones which Steven & Michael have personally delivered to me. Twice. Thanks boys!

I still miss good restaurant service and being able to just turn on the TV and understand what’s going on. I’m getting better with the metric system but it still isn’t second nature yet. I love the emphasis here on quality of life and I rather enjoy all of the vacation time I now receive. I’ll probably end up visiting 12 different countries this year.

I miss having an actual out, gay community like you find in any major metropolitan area back in the U.S. The majority of people I’ve met who are actually out tend to be in their early to mid-twenties. I find it sad that the gay people here, around my age, are actually married and in the closet because they didn’t have the option to come out twenty years ago. But it’s not like I’m living in Tehran where gays are executed so I’ll just count my blessings.

I understand that Czech is the official language here and I always try Czech first. As an American, I’m used to hearing English spoken with all kinds of accents and can pretty much understand anyone. Czechs are not used to hearing foreigners speak their language. So if you slightly mispronounce something then they can’t (or won’t) do the mental gymnastics to figure it out or meet you half way.

My Czech language classes have gone a long way towards feeling more at home here. I’m making my way through the grammar and I find myself relying less on subtitles when I watch a Czech movie. But it gets incredibly frustrating at times when I’m speaking and don’t have the vocabulary at the tip of my tongue. But that’s something which just takes time. I’m going to be screwed at the end of September when my Czech tutor, Jitka, moves to Germany. She’s completing her Ph.D. and if off to Bavaria to teach at university. Now the hunt is on to try to find another private teacher. She has set the bar so high that I wonder if I’ll be able to find someone half as good as her.

Obviously I still miss my family, my friends, and my dogs. People here and back there ask me all the time when am I going back to visit. The answer is that I don’t know. During my first six months, it was easy to say that I had just arrived so a trip was out of the question. And this year I’m taking advantage of Brno’s central European location to see as much as I can of Europe. Many Czechs go to Egypt, Tunisia, or Croatia for beach holidays. Egypt and Tunisia are far cheaper because you can stay at all-inclusive resorts. I’m going to Croatia because, again, this year I want to see as much of Europe as I can. So it looks like I may try to visit the U.S. in 2011 or 2012. The problem with going to the U.S. is that it is so far away. In order to make the trip worth it I will need to go for at least 2 – 3 weeks, which will eat up over half of my vacation time. I lived in Atlanta for 13 years so that is (or at least was) home to me. But all of my family is on the West Coast. I can’t go to one coast and not the other without getting in trouble with someone. And it’s a good 5 – 6 hour flight between the two so I can’t just bop between the two. So I guess I’ll have to fly in to Atlanta for a few days, make my way to L.A., and then fly back to Europe out of LAX. I’m going to have to cash in SkyMiles for this whirlwind visit because it will suck having to do it in coach. But it will be good to see everyone again. And it’s much cheaper for me to visit then it is for everyone to come over here.

Well...I guess this is enough babbling for now. The important thing is that I’ve survived my first expat year in the Czech Republic. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me this second year.

3 comments:

  1. Chris, I have so enjoyed your whole first year as you blogged it; you didn't even pat yourself on the back for your blogging consistency. May I? Well done!

    I admire the way you've learned the language and are using your weekends and holidays to see Europe at full tilt. I so wish we could have met while I was there the first time!

    I'm not surprised you're finding so much silence among the gay community. Some European gay people have told me that one's sexuality is no one else's business so there is no reason to "come out" but I still think it must not be as accepted there as in America. Probably because the terrific people who are gay aren't saying so, so the cycle continues.

    Nazdravi! Here's a toast to your second year!

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  2. Thanks Karen. Yeah, I still can't believe that I've been blogging here for a year. And I'm really surprised by the number of hits this thing gets.

    Maybe we'll be able to meet once you make it back to the Czech Republic.

    Best,
    Christopher

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  3. Bureaucracy is everywhere, I lived in Belgium and it was really crazy, when you want fix something you have to speak both French and Dutch. People who speak French don't know Dutch and these who speak Dutch don't speak French but foreigners in their opinion should speak both languages :)

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