A little piece of advice . . . (or a few pieces)
Before I came here, I challenged myself to live as if I were going to live here indefinitely. This idea of living in your community as if it were a permanent situation can better your perspective in every situation. Would I treat this person the same way if I knew I would see them every week for the rest of my life? Would I be content with this classroom situation if I knew that I would be teaching here next year as well? Would I be satisfied with this ineffective system if I knew this operating system would continue year after year? Would I study Czech in this way if I knew it would be the dominant language for the rest of my life? The basic premise behind this advice was not to settle, to persevere, and to try to better the community I was in.
The above advice was particularly applicable to studying Czech. Czech is a unique language spoken in basically one country alone. No one expects foreigners to speak Czech, and people are very quickly and easily impressed with any Czech usage. Learn it; making the effort will advance you greatly in relational development. Any preparation beforehand is especially valuable because you’ll want to be active in the host country when you arrive and not spending your time shut inside studying textbooks.
One of the most difficult adjustments to any move is creating a new sense of community. When you arrive, make as many contacts as you can and learn who they are, how you can be a resource to them, and how they can be a resource to you. Learn their names and get their contact information. This especially applies to your work environment (find a way to learn the names of your colleagues and students). As your time goes on, communicate as clearly and promptly as possible. Ask questions that you have, and if you are faced with a decision you don’t feel ready or equipped to make, either ask for a specific amount of time in which to consider, or communicate your current thinking in order to make sure that no assumptions are taken. When people ask for your feedback, they genuinely desire it. Even if you have no feedback/opinion to give, you could explain why or give some context. Be careful not to take any withheld information for granted. You may very well be communicating with someone who starts from vastly different assumptions.
When you are in your placement, don’t forget your community back home either. You will be undergoing changes during your time here, as will those stateside. These changes will be easier to process by those back home if you’re in regular communication. Today’s technology leaves no excuses for completely dropping off the radar. Consider starting a blog or committing to a monthly newsletter to interested friends/family back home. Or, for a more personal touch send out letters or postcards. At the same time, be present where you are. I hesitated to use the word “home” above, because it’s important to attach yourself to your given placement in order to instill the appropriate commitment to the betterment of that local community.
Perhaps the best piece of advice I could give is to take initiative, go out in faith, and persevere. Many people will anticipate your needs, but you are the often the only one in your given position, so if you want your voice heard or your concern addressed, you need to put it forth. Your hosts want to see you as comfortable as possible so you can contribute to the fullest. As such, they are often more than happy to help you with any concerns/questions. When in doubt and when you’ve no one to ask, go out in faith. You are in a unique position and are often granted a lot of freedom and flexibility. Take advantage of these opportunities to exercise your creativity or to bring something very “you” to the table. As a teacher, my colleagues were often the most pleased with lessons I generated out of my personal assessments of what was needed and out of my observations rather than those lessons that were produced after more rigid directives given by them.
Finally, persevere. Don’t let the timeline of your grant keep you from trying to affect the situation or institutions you’re involved with. Yes, you can “put up with anything for x months,” but if something’s a problem for you, it may be affecting the rest of that academic community, and you do have influence. Moreover, the deadline on your stay could make people more willing to experiment with your suggestions.