Louise’s story – getting on your feet

The first time I set foot in the Czech Republic was September 18th 2009. As part of my university degree I was taking part in a semester abroad. It was a challenging experience as I had never lived abroad before so I was certainly anxious and unsure of what the next three months would hold. Luckily, I was with friends from college so I was not totally alone but not everyone is as fortunate as that and moving to a country where you don’t know anyone or even speak the language is daunting to say the least. When my semester was over I always said I would come back to Prague again and although it took four years for me to follow through, I did. In Auguest 2013 I moved to Podebrady, a small spa town about 50 inutes from the capital and stayed here for the first four weeks. After employment circumstances changed I decided I would ask my chances back in Prague. Now faced with no where to live and no job it was time to start from scratch. Overwhelming and a little disorientating at times I can assure you but definitely  achievable. First things first, you need a job. There are many sources which can provide you with information on jobs. The first place I looked was Expats.cz. This website is a great basis of information for foreigners and their employment section usually has something to offer. The Prague Post is a good place to look also as well as Prague.tv. I searched for jobs as an English teacher, probably with young learners and I was quite lucky to line up two interviews for preschools. The first was in Prague 5 and the second was in Prague 6. When preparing for interviews be sure to have planned a clear route and know where you are going. I would also recommend doing a practice run if you have the time. Interviews are stressful enough without the added pressure of having no idea where you’re going. Google maps and idos.cz are great websites for getting directions sorted. When it came to my  interview in Prague 6 I ended up getting on the right number bus but on the wrong side so I got completely lost. It was extremely stressful and although it was upsetting I was given a second chance to interview later that week. On my second attempt to find the school I got on the correct bus on the right side but I ended up getting an 800CZK fine as my ticket had expired by five minutes. I’ll discuss transport woes later but the good news was that I got the job so the fine didn’t them so bad! So next on the list of necessities was a place to live. Myself and my housemate were not overly fussy. We needed a place to call home and we needed it quickly. I was staying in a hostel in Malostranska and Caroline stayed with a friend. We scoured various websites in search of a suitable apartment which fitted our budget. We agreed 7 – 8000CZK each was our maximum price. Again there are a number of websites worth looking on. We looked on Expats.cz as well as Foreigners.cz. I joined a Facebook group called “Flatshare in Prague” which is another fantastic service as it allows people seeking new room mates to communicate directly with each other. Apartments tend to get snapped up quite quickly on this group but new places appear regularly so don’t be disheartened if you don’t get a place you like straightaway. Eventually, after what seemed like hundreds of emails my housemate found a gem of an apartment on Craigslist. It was 7450 each including all bills and in a beautiful location between Hradcanska and Dejvice. We went to view it as soon as possible and moved in the following day. Be prepared to have some funds upfront. In our case we had to pay a month of rent, a fee for the realtor and a deposit so parting with that cash was difficult. Still, once we had all our stuff moved in and we had a new home it had been worth it. At this point things were beginning to take shape but there were still some bits and pieces which needed organizing. The first of these was a bank account. Although I had had one with my previous employer I wanted to start fresh and that particular bank had got my name incorrect on my ATM card. Trying to explain what had happened seemed more trouble than it was worth. There are a huge variety of banks to choose from here, it seems there is a different one on every corner. Unicredit is quite near where I live and once I knew the employees there had near perfect English I was happy. I opened my account, signed up for internet banking and before long I was set. I was waiting about 2 weeks for my ATM card and once it was activated I had no problems. One thing I would say to research when choosing a bank is the fees and charges which accompany each one. Unicredit is a great bank and I’m happy with it but there are some charges which came as quite a shock on my first statement. Be wary about which ATM’s you use as many banks charge if you use a different banks ATM machine. Most will have a monthly fee for having the account also. I disagree with some of the things that the banks charge for so use your internet banking whenever possible. You will save yourself money in the long run. Fio Bank doesn’t have charges so they’re a good option. There are plenty to choose from so make sure you’re happy with your choice. Public transport in Prague is some of the best I have seen. One ticket allows you to use trams, buses and the metro. You can purchase the tickets in the yellow machines which are located in the Metro stations as well as next to certain tram and bus stops. Some small shops will also have them. They operate on a time system so you can purchase one for 30 minutes, 90 minutes or a day ticket. They remain valid from the moment you stamp them until the time has expired. They are fine if you are just visiting the city but if you live here the easiest option by far is to sign up for an open card. This again allows you to use all modes of transport but you simply pay 550CZKfor a month and you’re all set. This price varies depending on which zones you will need to travel to.You need to apply and this usally takes two weeks. Check out the website http://opencard.praha.eu/jnp/cz/home/index.html or you can fill out the form directly at Mustek metro station. This is well worth the investment as you don’t have to worry about tickets every day and there’s far less chance that you will get fined like I did. Nobody like’s parting with 800CZK! Now that you have all the necessary things in order it’s time to look for some friends which is vital for a happy experience. I had met some people through my first job and those are who I have remained friends with but there are other options if you haven’t made any new company yet. There are many expats out there in the same position as you even if you feel at times that you’re the only one. I had joined a number of groups in order to help myself make friends. Foreigners.cz hold regular meetings and mixers which allow expats come together and socialise. Internations are another organisation which do similar events. Meetup.com is a website which allows you to create a profile and dependent on your personal interests you can find events and gatherings which suit your likes. It will also help you find the ones that are nearest to you. They are all worth looking into. As well as that I joined a yoga class and there are many other sports clubs you can join too. Prague is never short of expats bars either so you’ll be sure to make some friends somehow. Get to know your co-workers also as this is another great way to be introduced to new people. It can be tough when you feel isolated or lonely in an unfamiliar city so give yourself time. Moving back to the Czech Republic has been an interesting experience. So far, it hasn’t been exactly what I had expected but it has been a huge learning curve for me. Now on my seventh month residing here I still encounter experiences which are challenging so my best advice is to not let these hiccups get to you. They are part and parcel of the experience of living abroad and they will sort themselves out. It’s worth learning a few key phrases to help you get by also. Just enough so that you can at least try and communicate with some of the native speakers. The amount of Czech I have picked up just from being immersed in it everyday is great so although it’s a difficult language give it a chance and you might surprise yourself! Apart from all that just enjoy how beautiful this city is. Even when I leave I know it will feel like my second home. – Louise –


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