Two years in Prague
Recently I passed my second anniversary of my arrival in Prague to start a lifestyle that doesn’t involve going into an office everyday.
On May 23, 2018, I left from DTW airport in Detroit, Michigan, and on May 24, I arrived at Vaclav Havel Airport, with one big 52-pound suitcase (my last pair of pants weighed 2 pounds, apparently), two backpacks, and a hope that this life would be more fulfilling than the last.
I enjoy writing each year about my experience abroad, because if you can’t look at what you were doing last year and smile at your own naivety, then you haven’t really done much. And if anything, this article may serve as a time capsule that can be dug up in later years to discover how clueless I really was.
The second year has been less turbulent than the first, which I wrote about here. After a whirlwind of job changes, working crazy schedules, and relationships, things have calmed down in a nice way. My schedule has solidified and my work has varied… teaching group lessons, individual lessons, teaching adults at a camp in Croatia, and proofreading textbooks. I prefer courses that go easy on the grammar, where we can have conversations about current events and news stories. Importantly for me, I’ve had the time and energy for some passion projects that I didn’t have the capacity to do before I left for Prague.
The arrival of the Coronavirus has made life very different here. After maintaining around 40–50% of my lessons via Skype, I’ve been able to maintain a normal income, thanks to the fact that most of what I spent my money on before (traveling, restaurants) has been limited. That, and financial assistance from the government for self-employed people has been extremely helpful. An overview of the Czech “stimulus” can be found here. In addition to the stimulus, the government has suspended social security and health insurance payments for self-employed people until August.
Watching the virus response around the world has been stressful. The primping of statistics and complete lack of empathy that some governments show towards their vulnerable, dying citizens is depressing to say the least.
The Czech Republic is comparable to my home state of Michigan; with similar populations (Michigan 2019 population: 10 million, Czech Republic 2019 population: 10.65 million), sizes, and climates, it seems natural to compare the two.
I still remember when the Czech Republic had about 250 cases (which sounded horrible at the time), Michigan got its first two. Since then, Michigan easily overtook the Czech Republic, which has actually had some of the most positive results worldwide after locking down. As of May 24, the number of cases in Michigan sat at 54,365. In the Czech Republic, it was 8,890. Deaths in the Czech Republic were at 314, while in Michigan that number was 5,223.
One big reason is the speed at which the public was locked down. After the Czech Republic’s 38th case, a taxi driver, who reportedly drove around 90 passengers over the course of three days while infected with the virus, tested positive, the Ministry of Health held a meeting, and quickly closed all elementary and secondary schools, leading many corporate offices to close and home-offices to begin.
While the mandatory use of masks cannot easily quantify the number of lives saved, it seems to have made a difference. The Czech Republic was the first European country to make masks compulsory in supermarkets, pharmacies, and public transport. As of May 24, the Czech Republic completed over 399,800 tests, compared to Michigan’s 537,698.
There have been no protests about closing the public. People don’t show up to the capital building with guns, demanding that businesses reopen. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that the government is actually helping out those who need it, including those who are self-employed, instead of just giving the same lump sum to everyone in the country, regardless of the cost of living. The Czech government helps pay 80% of people’s wages whose businesses have been directly affected by the quarantine, as opposed to letting individuals become unemployed, which has actually been a more financially-sound decision for many employees in the USA.
At first, I was reluctant to wear a mask. Something didn’t feel right about it… it was almost as if wearing a mask either signified that I was either paranoid or dangerous. Unlike many places in the US, however, people here have embraced mask culture. After my initial uneasiness, it eventually normalized.
I don’t feel like my freedom has been restricted… I know that wearing a mask isn’t about me; it’s about the betterment of society as a whole, something which much of the US has lost sight of.
One of my biggest gripes about work life in the US is the lack of freedom. Not only when it comes to vacation (every person here in the Czech Republic looks at me in horror when I tell them I only had two weeks of vacation), but office life in general. Should you get paid to get a job done, or stay in the office for 40–60 hours per week? The virus has showed that most of those meetings could have been emails, and that physical presence in an office is not required to get the job done.
Two years in Prague has given me enough time to compare the social systems of two countries with very different pasts. While none can be truly considered better than the other, it’s obvious to see which country serves most of its people better. The last two years have given me firsthand knowledge of how another society functions, and if anything, this gives me a glimmer of hope for the future of my home country.