I was 25 years old when I moved to the Czech Republic. I had taken a transfer with Ernst & Young, the accounting firm I was working at in Calgary, to work in their Prague office. I was very excited, given that I had grown up on a farm near a small town and did little travelling prior to this experience. I can still recall being nervous stepping on the plane from Calgary, knowing that I may not be back to see family and friends for 2 years, but excited about all the new people and experiences that I would encounter. My time in Prague was difficult at the beginning given that I am a very social person and it was a hard first few Saturday nights sitting in my rented flat, with no one to call to go out. That memory has always stayed with me and I have always tried to make anyone new feel welcome. After a few months in Prague, certain people reached out to me and, because of that, I loved living there so much that it was a difficult decision to return to Calgary after living in Prague for two and a half years.
I had so many ‘feeling foreign’ situations when I lived in Prague but there is no time to describe them all. One of my favourite memories was my experience at the ‘potriviny’ down the street from my flat. A potriviny is the Czech equivalent of a 7-11 or Macs. I needed to buy ice for a small party at my flat. The older lady that worked at the potriviny did not speak any English. I had only started to take Czech language lessons. I should have brought my Czech-English dictionary with me but I forgot. I recalled that a friend told me that the Czech word for ‘January’ and ‘ice’ were very similar. I had learned the months of the year in Czech, so I thought I would trying asking for ‘January’, in the hopes that she would recognize what I wanted. Unfortunately, that was not initially the case. After several attempts and strange looks from the poor woman, I lapsed into charades, shivering, pretending to make cold drinks, etc. This entertainment went on for at least 20 minutes. I still recall the moment when she finally understood what I wanted and with a big smile, brought me a big bag of ice from the back! After a good laugh together, I was on my way. Later, during the peak tourist summer season in Prague, I helped my new friend to serve some American tourists in the potriviny. The tourists thought that talking louder in English would assist the lady to understand what they wanted. I have travelled to many other non-English speaking countries since my time in Prague and I have never employed the ‘louder method’, after seeing the results.
I believe that ‘feeling foreign’ is something that we all will go through at least once in our lives. I am grateful for my ‘feeling foreign’ experiences. These experiences are often initially uncomfortable but have taught me to appreciate differences in others and recognize that we all see the world through a different lens. Appreciating our different perspectives helps us to evolve as a human race.