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The Last Word

“Life is the Art of Drawing without an Eraser”

Kelly Anne Cross '08

As John W. Gardner says, there truly is no eraser. This has become a reality to me within the past couple of months.

I am a May 2008 Albright graduate. Since the moment I crossed the stage and received my diploma, my life has taken off. My time in college was a roller coaster ride, taking off and flying by, and postgraduation life seems to be more of the same.

I graduated with a degree in sociology, Spanish and theatre. Because my academic career was so rich and fulfilling, I needed to do something after graduation that tested me intellectually, physically, spiritually and culturally; a feat I deemed impossible.

So, what better attempt than to leave my family, best friends, my language, currency, understanding of culture, and sense of belonging to move to a new country. Forget country! I moved to a whole new continent; a country that was under Communist rule 20 years ago-- Prague, Czech Republic.

All I had was a one way plane ticket and an airport shuttle to Hotel Pivovar in Prague 9. I had enrolled in a “Teaching English as a Foreign Language” course (TEFL) hoping it was going to be a good move. I was crazy. I didn’t know anyone who had gone through the course. I only read about it online. It could have been a scam. I could have hated it. I could have ended up on the streets. There are
so many “could have’s,” but I did it and I loved it.

I thought graduating with three majors and completing a senior thesis was challenging, but this one-month intensive teaching course was a test of intelligence, perseverance and morale.

In one month I became a teacher of English, a master of the English language. Well, that may be pushing it, but a teacher nonetheless. It was incredible how a simple tagline, Albright’s “A different way of thinking,” became a daily statement in this course. My professors would remind us that teaching English is unlike anything else, it requires a “different way of thinking.” Teaching a foreign language with the experience of learning a foreign language was instrumental. Without my Spanish background I would not have been as successful as I was. The constant drilling of vocabulary, the tedious, yet effective grammar exercises are critical, and of course the simple understanding of what my students are experiencing is very important.

Two months ago I also didn’t realize how many teaching theories derive from philosophy and sociology, like theories as simple as the “collective conscience” by Emile Durkheim. All students act as one unit with a “collective conscience.” As a teacher you must break it or embrace it. I was flabbergasted when I heard his name in class. I realized just how relevant my liberal arts education was.

After graduating from the course I applied for jobs and searched for a flat. Talk about the “real world” smacking you in the face. Interviewing daily and searching for a place to live in a predominately non-English society is a humbling experience. Luckily I found not only a job, but a place to live right in center city Prague, or Praha, as we say here.

In my classroom, I have the opportunity to put on a“show” of the English language every day. It’s very much like the “Educational Theatre” course offered at Albright during Interim. We play games and sing songs, and it’s also a class-act improvisational show. One day, a student asked me what C.I.A. and F.B.I stood for and what a secret agent meant. I introduced them to Mr. James Bond, which transitioned right into role-playing. That moment when a student makes a realization and understands something is incredible. It’s the reason I’ve fallen in love with teaching and with Prague.

Right now, I am tested every day. The latest challenge was opening a bank account. Thank goodness for universal signs and miming. I’ve become quite the mime. After two hours I successfully had an account. Of course, if I spoke Czech the process would have taken about 30 minutes; the joys of being an expat!

The interesting thing is that in the United States this would have aggravated me, but here I’ve learned to embrace it. I have learned to embrace many things. I have become used to eating fresh bread with every meal and adding sausage of some variety to my lunch and dinner. Commuting every morning to work is not a chore, it is a privilege. The famous Charles Bridge is impassable from dawn to dusk. Prague Castle is covered in fog most mornings, and tourists flood the streets and the supermarket. There is no peanut butter, and every time I eat out I never really know what I’m eating. And, I spend 85 percent of my time lost trying to find my way down cobblestone streets. But I would not change anything.

Teaching abroad is difficult, but what isn’t? What matters is that it’s possible. When you’re surrounded by a community that supports you, it’s hard to fail. You are set up for success. That’s how I feel. I’ve been set up for success.

Now, I’m drawing an indelible picture every day, as I hope you will too.

- Kelly Anne Cross ’08
is teaching English in Prague,
Czech Republic.

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