Allison Kota - 2015 Program Participant

Collage of photos from Amsterdam, Athens, Santorini, Salzburg, and Budapest

Travel time - Amsterdam, Athens, Santorini, Salzburg, Budapest!

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I decided at a young age that I wanted live abroad to better my understanding of others, learn to appreciate what I have, and uncover what I really want out of life. I believe that travel is what, in the end, can really change the hate the world is constantly showered with.

Hate is built on close mindedness and ignorance, both of which can be solved through experiencing other cultures firsthand, bridging language gaps, and breaking down stereotypes. There are generally two paths to take when coming across someone who seems different; the first being to pass generalizations and stereotypes onto them based solely on their outward appearance, and the second being to look to them with genuine curiosity and interest, wondering where they’re from, what language they speak, what holidays they celebrate, and most importantly, what knowledge they can share with the world.

A lot of careers are known for doing good for the general public, and the world. While I’m too squeamish to become a doctor or nurse, I believe I can help in another way, and that is through connecting people and bridging cultural gaps that seem to be constantly widening instead of shrinking.

There are many reasons why I travel, but the main reason is to be as informed as possible, so I can turn around and educate others, hopefully leading to at least one more person who will now view the world differently.

Why did you choose TEFL Worldwide Prague? 

As I searched for how, where, when, and what I could do overseas (who and why already spoken for), I researched for over a year to find what I thought would be the most realistic and beneficial. In the end, after going through countless websites and telling my mom every other day about my newest idea (everything from straight backpacking and au pairing to joining the Peace Corps), I found my best fit to be teaching English!

My choices of where to go for the TEFL class at that point were Spain, Italy, or the Czech Republic. Many people (even Czechs) would constantly ask me what made me choose Prague and the Czech Republic, and to this day I can't justify or give a satisfying answer; something just pulled me there, and I'm thankful everyday that I followed that gut instinct.

The next choice for me was choosing a program in Prague. Upon emailing TEFL Worldwide Prague with various questions concerning the program, I received instant and incredibly detailed answers in return, making me feel welcome and informed already, which continued throughout my entire time there. Another large part for me were the reviews of the course, as there are quite a few choices of where to receive your TEFL, but thankfully past students helped make this decision a no-brainer.
View of Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic

One of my favorite spots in Prague

What was your favorite part about Prague?

When I received my acceptance into TEFL Worldwide Prague and finally began to tell my loved ones what I would be doing, and more importantly where I was moving, the most common reactions I heard were “be careful!” or “is that in Russia?'” I am happy to say that my favorite part of my experience through the TEFL program was by far the location. Prague, and all of the Czech Republic, has so much to offer in terms of history, beauty, architecture, culture, cuisine (both Czech and foreign alike), castles, country-side, city life, and even a central location in Europe, making travel to other countries seemingly easy.

There was never a minute in which I felt unsafe during my stay in the Czech Republic, no matter the area or hour of the day. More times than not, I would purposely get lost in the city for the simple reason that I knew I would come across something amazing that I didn’t know about before, and that’s how I found most of my favorite spots in Prague. One can’t help but feel as though they’ve woken up in a fairytale when arriving to the city of 1000 spires; it’s impossible to be bored or uninspired while there, and most every building and piece of architecture has a story behind it, just ask.

What made your TEFL courses unique?

The instructors and immediate start to teaching are what stick out to me the most with this program. I had never taught before, and without going through this intensive program, I wouldn’t have known how to be an effective teacher. We were thrown into teaching on the second day (when I thought I would very quickly lose my cookies!), and I believe that is the main reason I was successful in the program and as a teacher afterwards. If it gave me the chance to slowly dip my toes into the teaching waters, I gladly would have, but the only way to do something like this is to jump right in!
I was very nervous to speak in front of others coming into this program, and by the end of this one month long program, I felt that I had learned more relevant life lessons than in my entire schooling.
The closeness of our class was also a huge part for me. I (like many others) arrived in Prague alone, and having the chance to interact with and befriend so many like-minded people made the whole “moving to another country” thing a lot easier.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The staff at TEFL Worldwide Prague was amazing and supportive from the initial application in the beginning up until now, over year since completing the program. It all started months before I would be going, when all of my (and my Mother’s) worried questions were being answered effortlessly (which is very important when considering what a large and intimidating decision this is to make). I immediately felt at ease following my ten plus hour trip, when I was greeted by a cab driver and taken to my accommodations to meet my fabulous flatmates!

During the course, the instructors were always at school early and willing to stay late to answers questions or help lesson plan, and all had valuable experience to share between their years of teaching and living in Prague. They have since built relationships with many companies and schools in which they gave us the connection to near the end, along with someone to assist us with the visa process. I’m still in communication with the instructors now for advice and references.

Scenes in Prague, Czech Republic

Prague at it's best: Christmas & hockey

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently? 

When it comes down to it, everything that I did while overseas was how it was meant to be. If there was one thing I could do differently however, it would be taking learning the language more seriously. During the course we had a total of three lessons in Czech; these were meant to not only introduce us to the language, but additionally to better understand what learning a language felt like and what methods could be used when the students speak little (or none, in our case) of the language. During my time in the course and in Prague, there were many opportunities and resources I could have used to learn more of the language. It wasn’t until the final months when I made more Czech friends and truly saw myself building a life there, that I felt I really could have learned more had I only tried harder.

Describe a day in your life in Prague. 

After being split into teaching groups, every other day would be considered a “teaching day.” On these teaching days, each member of your group would teach the same students at the assigned level (this ranged between elementary, intermediate, and advanced). Each lesson was 50 minutes long and all lessons were taught from the same unit in the book, so it was helpful to collaborate with your group even though everything is taught and graded individually. The significance of teaching at various levels is to appreciate the importance of knowing how to change one’s teacher voice, activities, speed, and lessons based on your student’s skills and age.

For each group there was an instructor serving as an observer, whom, following each session, provided constructive feedback and a grade for each lesson. On the off days, there was adequate time to talk with the instructors and lesson plan for the next day.

What did you enjoy doing on your free time?

This isn’t going to be a traditional answer, as I can’t choose one specific activity above others. Instead, I would say having the chance to explore Prague and spend time with the friends I had made, no matter what we did or where we went, was my favorite part outside of the program. I made life-long friends through the program, and Prague has so much to offer, that it was impossible to not have a great time. Walking around, one will come across the largest castle in the world, secret gardens, beautiful views, historical buildings unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, a variety of food, tourists and expats from all around the world, and always something to do, even if that includes just walking down to the castle at night to stare at in in awe (which I did almost every night).

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

The villa was located on top of a ginormous hill in Prague 9, so that largely dictated how many times I would leave that day, and also become a personal contest to see how many times a day I could walk up it. I shared a room with the greatest flatmate ever (to save money), and we shared a large kitchen and separate toilet and shower rooms along with three other flatmates. The closest metro was Vysoĉanská on the B yellow line, and the school was very close. The school isn’t in a touristy area of Prague, but it was very easy to get to the city center (and of course then there’s Cortez restaurant and its basil pesto penne situated right next to the school that became a staple, at least for our class).

What I enjoyed the most about the villa was the simplicity and authenticity of the location. Most expats choose to live in Prague 1 to 3, or 5 (myself living in Prague 3 after the program), so it was nice to experience a different area of the city, and Prague 9 will always hold a special place in my heart.

How was earning your TEFL certification in Prague impacted your life?

It has been hard for me to explain my experience in Prague to those that haven’t experienced it themselves, so while I hope I’ve encouraged at least one other person to travel, this has also allowed me to feel heard and understood, and hopefully helped my own friends and family understand the transformation I underwent in Prague and why returning for long-term is so important to me.

Collage of study abroad photos from the Czech Republic

Enjoying Praha with my classmates, friends, and Dominik Hašek

I moved to Prague by myself with a one way ticket, not knowing what would happen, how long I would stay, if I would like or even pass the course, if I would be able to find a flat, flatmate, work, or survive in a country so unlike my own. After doing this, I now know I can do anything I put my mind to. I have so much to thank TEFL Worldwide for, most of it being on a personal level. When I first arrived in Prague, I was timid to ask for what I wanted, to send a dish back at a restaurant, to speak up in class out of fear of being wrong or sounding unintelligent; I was still not very confident to speak in front of others and was very impatient in many aspects of my life. I didn’t truly understand what went into teaching or learning English, or what life outside of the U.S. was like.

Placing myself in this situation, where every single wall of comfort was completely shattered, my choices were: to allow those walls to fall and build new ones reflecting my change, to build up those same walls and not take full advantage of the opportunity in front of me, or to return home, unchanged and cynical. I chose to adapt. I chose to be understanding when things went wrong because it was my fault I didn’t speak the language, to laugh off my own mistakes and not sweat the little things, to take in the beauty of the city every day even if I was in a rush (although I tried to not be in such a hurry all the time).

It wasn’t about making the most money or being better than the next, but just about enjoying what I did and taking time to enjoy life and those I chose to share it with. I made the conscious decision to fully immerse myself into the culture, which meant celebrating Czech holidays, using British terms, and even drinking publicly. I chose to make the most of every situation, including using conversation lessons with my students to find out more about Czech Republic and its history (which is incredible).

Everyone is presented with the same choices when they travel, and it’s up to each person what they make of their time abroad. The world is full of such a diverse and amazing array of humans, cultures, languages, and pure beauty to be discovered, and with 7.13 billion people using over 7,000 known languages to communicate, it's silly to think there is nothing out there left to learn. To give room to allow the ideas, traditions, languages, and history of another culture alongside what already occupies that space is scary and may even seem threatening to some, but it’s also empowering and exciting at the same time. Travel is unique in that it's the only thing you can control what you get out of your investment.

So go somewhere. Step out of your comfort zone, look like a fool, make mistakes and learn from them, take in every moment big or small (especially the small ones), take too many pictures, talk to locals, and look to someone different from yourself with curiosity. Appreciate where you are for everything that it has to offer and, most importantly, always keep a student mentality and invest in yourself.

Na Zdraví to the next adventure!