This is my third summer living in Prague, and since I’m currently in between jobs, I’ve had lots of opportunities to travel. Originally, I was going to write about my trip to Slovenia which I took with two of my good friends during the first week of July. I also thought about writing about my weekend in Berlin with my parents, or my current stay in England. I love writing about my first impressions of new countries, and I love England. But, surprisingly, the trip that stands out most for me all summer is the week I spent in a small town in east Bohemia called Zamberk.
I hopped on the train to Zamberk the day after coming from Slovenia. I was grumpy, tired, and had no idea what this week would be like. I was going to Zamberk as one of four English teachers in a one-week intensive course for kids and adults. The only useful information I had was from my friend, Adam, who was joining me, who had also done the course last summer. His description seemed almost too good to be true — as a teacher you stay in a family home, all the meals are provided, you teach in the morning and evening and have free time in the afternoon. In Adam’s words, “I’m here again because I wanted to go back to that gorgeous place where everybody makes me food.” It sounded awesome. I was excited, but a little nervous.
We were picked up from the train station by Honda, the husband of the woman who ran the course. He was pleasant, but slightly reserved and spoke very little English. He drove us to the house where we were staying, and instantly I was amazed. It was a large, immaculately kept family house with a beautiful backyard that looked like something out of the book, The Secret Garden. A striking woman in her late forties with short blond hair, long slender legs and blue eyes came out of the house and held out her hand for each of us to shake. “Hello, I’m Jana. Welcome to my home.” She was warm, smiling and genuine. “Goodness, you’re young! You’re so young,” she said, as she shook my hand. As I found out from Adam later, very few teachers who had taught this course were under the age of 40.
Zamberk is a small town of about 6,000 people. English is taught in schools, but in a very old-fashioned, boring way with lots of drilling and memorization. The town residents have very little contact with native speakers who teach in a fun, communicative approach. Jana is experienced and well-traveled and is widely recognized to be one of the best teachers in Zamberk. She has been running this summer camp for 6 years for students who want to use their English in a fun and practical way with native speakers. Jana doesn’t advertise for English teachers, they usually find out about the course through word of mouth.
Each day was divided into two teaching blocks. We had breakfast around 8 at Jana’s house, then drove to the school and set up our classrooms. Every teacher was assigned a different group of children that we taught from 9am-12pm. On paper, it seemed like quite an exhausting morning, but it was surprisingly easy. Since we only taught each group once, we could get away with mostly “getting to know you” games and fun communication activities. With two short breaks between the lessons, the three hours flew by. After lunch, we always had a few hours of free time to do what we wanted until our evening classes. Just before 6pm, Jana drove us back to school where we got ready for two hours of teaching adults. Like our lessons with kids, we taught a different group every day. The children were divided into age groups, the adults according to their level of English. In general, the English of everyone I taught in Zamberk, whether it was an adult or child, was quite a bit lower than what I would normally find in Prague. However, this was simply because they’ve had far less exposure to good English teachers and opportunities to practice the English they know. But as students they were absolutely lovely. They were not lazy or indifferent, they had no bad attitude. They simply wanted to be here, learn English and have fun. What more could an English teacher ask for?
The other very memorable thing about Zamberk was the food. After teaching in the morning and evening, we went over to a student’s house for a meal. Everyone who hosted us was incredibly kind, thoughtful and hospitable. Of course they wanted to impress, but I got the feeling that they really enjoyed liked having us there. There was always soup to start, and then very big, very Czech main course. Often it was meat and dumplings or fish and potatoes or something wonderfully heavy and satisfying. All the meals we were given throughout our stay were homemade, fresh, creative and delicious. They looked, smelled, and tasted great, and they were usually accompanied by beer or wine. On my last day in Zamberk, I learned a new Czech word, “abstak,” which is similar to “withdrawal.” I currently have “abstak” from homemade food.
The week was so memorable because I’ve simply never had so much fun working as an English teacher. In Prague, it often feels like English teachers are a dime a dozen. In Zamberk, we were almost celebrities. I was overwhelmed by the kindness, enthusiasm, and generosity of everyone in the town. After everything that everyone gave us throughout the week, I couldn’t believe that I actually got paid for the lessons I taught (Not to mention paid well, and on time).
It was a fantastic week, and I would be honored to be invited back to Zamberk next summer.