Pre-Departure Logistics

Hello again! Major developments over the course of the last month: I received my long-term residential visa for the Czech Republic and booked my flight to Prague!

The Czech Fulbright Commission has been holding monthly webinars over Zoom, covering topics varying from community engagement project ideas to cultural immersion concerns. In these webinars, I got to hear from past Fulbright alumni as they shared their experiences, and meet some of the other ETAs for this year! At the end of each webinar, we received a checklist of tasks that we should be tackling that month.

Submitting my visa application was at the top of my list for the month of June. The process was fairly long, as is standard for obtaining a long-term visa to a foreign country, but it was further complicated by COVID-19 concerns as well. There were questions about how long it would take for the embassies to process our applications, and as a result, we were encouraged to get them in as soon as possible.

The Czech Fulbright Commission mailed us via DHL the necessary documents that we would need to provide alongside our visa applications. These included proof of employment, income, and housing, all in Czech. Because, oh yeah, the visa application also had to be filled out in Czech. To help with this, the Commission sent a detailed 8-page document on how to fill out the application, what supplementary materials needed to be provided, and which embassy to send the application to.

There are four Czech embassies/consulates in the United States. There are specific stipulations regarding where visa applications are processed so since I live in Texas, my application was sent to and processed by the Czech Embassy in Washington D.C.

First step: going to get some passport photos taken. I didn’t have a recent one on hand, and I also had to make sure that the size of the pictures were consistent with the EU standard. Fun fact: the EU standard for visas is different from the American passport size! Little details like this definitely scared me, because I knew that having a discrepancy like this could derail the process, and I absolutely needed my visa application to be approved to be able to start my Fulbright grant on time in the Czech Republic.

I sent my application in via UPS on June 9 and received my visa on my doorstep on July 20. During those 41 days, I passed the time scouring the Internet for flights to Prague. We had been told to wait till mid-July before booking our tickets, because the COVID-19 restrictions on incoming travelers were still up in the air. For the entirety of June, we believed that all travelers would have to quarantine for five days in the Czech Republic after arriving, which would require us to enter the country on an earlier date.

However, this guidance was soon reversed for vaccinated individuals from the United States, and we were given the green light to book flights. The Fulbright Commission provided us with a travel stipend that covered the round-trip flight to and from Prague. I decided to go with a flight through Dutch airline, KLM, because I have had some positive experiences with them in the past.

We had a lot of freedom and flexibility in booking through any airline on any date. As long as we reached the Czech Republic in time for our in-country orientation on August 22, we were golden. This is definitely a far cry from my experience traveling on an organized study abroad trip, in which everyone meets at the same airport and has the same itinerary. Naturally, that would not be feasible with Fulbrighters living in all different parts of the United States. In some ways, it is exciting to be embarking on this journey in solo fashion, my first international trip by myself.

As my departure date nears, reality is starting to kick in. There is still tons of packing left to do as I have yet to fully figure out what it means to pack for a ten month stay, but I got some good tips from our last Fulbright webinar. I am super excited for what lies ahead, and I am looking forward to sharing with all of you how the packing process goes in the run up to my flight. See you in the next one!

The Start of Something New

Welcome to my blog! Through this blog, I hope to shed some light on my thought process in applying for Fulbright, preparations before departure, and naturally, my experiences themselves while living and teaching in the Czech Republic for ten months. When researching and applying for Fulbright, I relied on blogs like these written by former ETAs to help me better understand the nuances and the complexities of living abroad.

A little background about me: I am a native of the great and majestic city of Houston. I was born and raised here, surrounded by the most diverse communities America has to offer. I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrants who, like many others, traveled to the United States to offer their children better lives filled with boundless opportunities.

A little background about Fulbright: The Fulbright Program was created in 1946 by Senator William J. Fulbright with the intention of improving intercultural relations between the United States and other countries. It has grown over the years into one of the most widely recognized and prestigious international fellowships. The Fulbright Program offers about 1600 awards to U.S. students and 1200 to U.S. scholars annually. There are two main types of awards: Study/Research and ETA. The English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) Award is for Americans interested in teaching English in foreign schools and with a passion for service. This was the one that really resonated with me, my past experiences, and my future plans.

In college, I always had Fulbright in the back of my mind as I considered future plans. At the time, however, it seemed like more of a pipe dream than a feasible ambition for a biology major. I am forever indebted to the University of Houston’s faculty and staff, especially Dr. Rayder, for showing me that Fulbright is a valuable experience and that those with a STEM background have a unique perspective to offer.

I did not know much about the Czech Republic initially— I had not studied abroad or even gone for a vacation there. But the more I learned about the culture and the people, the more I realized how immersed Czech culture has become in Texas traditions. From kolaches to polka dancing, the Czech Republic had found a way into my life without my ever setting a foot in the country. I wanted to know and learn more about what the modern Czech way of life looks like. Moreover, I knew that my love for soccer would be reflected and understood by all Czechs, no matter what city or town I was placed in.

I am exceptionally excited and grateful to be spending this next year in the Czech Republic. There is an equal measure of fear of the unknown as there is excitement for what is to come, but I have no doubt that it will be one of the most important experiences in my life— learning to live in a country where I do not speak the language, building relationships with students and mentors, gaining an appreciation of diverse perspectives, and traveling far and wide.

Thanks for tagging along for the ride!