If you've been following these wanderings and lost-ings for some time now, I'd be willing to bet that you might assume I'm living off of the inheritance I got from a dead relative, or that maybe I did a commercial for Dr. Pepper three years back that's left me rolling knee-deep in dough. Unfortunately (or not?) neither happen to be the case. I do work, in fact, and hard. What, pray tell, do I do exactly? I wipe boogers.
Let me rephrase that: part-time, I teach English to three-to-five-year-olds at a pre-school in Prague 4. So, in addition to holding tissues at tiny kids' tiny noses (which, for their size, produce a truly impressive amount of snot), I also sing songs like "Jingle Bells" for Christmastime, hand out mugs of milk at snack time, build rockets out of blocks with the boys and multi-layer cakes with the girls, and pick up Czech via fables and fairy tales. Basically, it's a pretty awesome gig. Oftentimes, like on birthdays, there's candy involved.
If anyone asked me concrete, in-depth questions about the technicalities of moving to Europe or about work permits and visas, I would hesitate to offer advice, because my case is somewhat unique. I can say, however, with full disclosure and speaking from experience, that being a native speaker of English in a city like Prague offers almost nothing but benefits. Sure, I'm still struggling to correctly pronounce the names of tram stops, but there are countless opportunities to learn enough Czech to get by from day to day.
One of the best things I've found out about Prague is that there is a thriving expatriate community. The Prague Post is a weekly newspaper published entirely in English. Websites like www.prague.tv and www.expats.cz have directories where you can find apartments, schools, and services, as well as job listings offering everything from one-on-one tutoring to positions in established, international companies and firms.
Me? I teach the little little ones, and I use the term "teach" rather loosely. If I had to describe it, it would be something more along the lines of "meet some really cool little kids who totally just win your heart with their adorable antics and innocence and hang out with them a few days a week," because at that age the concept of "teaching" as we probably think of it is minimal. Oh, I'd also include the following addendum: some kids need to be medicated. Heavily.
I should probably admit at some point here that I've never really been that big of a fan of kids. They're often dirty or sticky, and I don't particularly foresee myself ever having any. Personally, I'd rather have dogs than kids, but these Czechs keep insisting on having kids so somebody's gotta teach them English, right? Little did I know that over time I'd be lucky enough to actually get to know the already complex personalities of three-year-olds.
It's funny: I guess I just never considered the possibility that such a small person could already exhibit such unique, individual personality traits and quirks. Even less did I consider the possibility of actually liking some of them, but favorites I do have, I must admit. Take, for example, Dominik Bobinik (below). Or Dominik Shmobinik, or Mobinik, or whichever rhyme he feels particularly drawn to that day. In case you couldn't tell, he's one of the token "troublemakers." He knocks over entire Lego cities without so much as a wince and consistently possesses a mischievous glint in his big eyes like green glass saucers.
However, his mischief is so innocent that you can't help but share in his smile: today, he told me (in Czech, but still) that the candies he brought for the class from his recent trip to the mountains were stolen from reception. In the this photo, he's handing me a pizza he made out of these magnetic toys. Did I mention he's four?
Then there's Jeni. When I first met Jeni, he'd always toss back a gruff "No!" to just about anything I'd say to him or ask him, if he'd give any verbal response at all. This, for some reason, made me want to get him on my side all the more. With kids, I've learned the secret: all you have to do is possess more patience than Mother Theresa and Gandhi and Jesus combined. The thing is, though, that the payoff is totally worth it. Eventually, Jeni wants to hold your hand when it's time to make a big circle, and greets you with "Good morning, Kasia," in a Czech accent, and that's around the time when your heart just melts.
The youngest kid in the class of about 20 is a little three-year-old named Kubik, and he's easily one of the most persistently adorable little things I've ever encountered. This is what Kubik looks like:
But this photo definitely illustrates his personality much better:
Kubik is barely ever paying attention. Half the time, he's happy just rolling up into a ball on the floor or building a tower as tall as himself. Today, when the teacher asked what he was going to do with the candy Dominik just handed out (the correct answer being "put it in my cubby"), there was a silence of about two minutes before Kubik replied, rather boldly, "Anything I want."
If you're wondering, "Yeah, but are these kids actually learning anything from you?" you've missed the entire point. Learning is for later, when real school starts. For now, Dominik, Jeni, Kubik, the kids and I are happy playing games, amusing ourselves, and maybe learning some new words in the process.
Images courtesy of the author, along with the following note: If you're wondering why the kids are wearing weird stuff, it's because these photos are from Vanoce, which is a strange holiday around Christmastime unique to Czechs where a devil and angel comes around to kids' houses with Santa and they find out if they've been good or bad. I don't really get it, either, but hey, whatever keeps the kids in line, am I right?