Half 'n Half Welcome

For any non-Czech, living in the Czech Republic is a learning process, a series of linguistic and cultural adaptations to a new way of life.

Sharing experiences of family life in Prague

How does it feel taking your children to school the first day in a new country where you can't even pronounce the essential děkuji (thank you) properly? When you have waited patiently for half an hour at the doctor's office closest to your flat because you're sick, what do you do when you discover that she's not taking new patients? Why does your children's dentist meticulously count, but never clean, your children's teeth? When the Czech post office's customs department confiscates a package sent from your family back home, how do you go about getting it back? Why do you see Czech babies parked unattended in their strollers outside small shops in the city or on village squares? When your 10-year-old wants to walk home from school by herself, should you let her?

For any non-Czech, living in the Czech Republic is a learning process, a series of linguistic and cultural adaptations to a new way of life. Whether or not you consider yourself an expat or an immigrant, whether you speak the Czech language or don't; living here for any length of time, you are bound to have a bit of Czech culture rub off on you. Likewise you're likely to bring a bit of your home culture to the Czechs whose lives intersect your own.

Now that I've been living in Prague (and on its outskirts) for several years, the Czech Republic has become more like home than ever. Obtaining a firm grasp on the Czech language has helped, although raising half-Czech children has also played a significant role. Finding other half-n-half families makes the Czech Republic feel more like home. Even though most of my non-Czechs friends here have different home cultures and customs than my family does, knowing that we're all experiencing life in the Czech Republic has helped forge friendships and strengthen support networks as we go about making our individual lives here.

Living in the Czech Republic as a family has its own set of benefits and challenges. Through this Half-n-half column for Prague.tv's new Family and Kids section, we'll explore some of the most prevalent issues for English-speaking families living in the Czech Republic. Topics will include a look at Czech culture and family life, traditional holiday celebrations, raising bilingual or multilingual children in the Czech Republic, education and schooling considerations for English speakers and cultural aspects of local healthcare. Retaining the identity of your family's non-dominant languages and cultures while living here, while also finding interesting ways to explore Czech culture, city life and the Czech countryside can be a balancing act for the whole family.

Whether you're new to the Czech Republic or have lived here for decades, I hope you'll find something in Half-n-Half that you can relate to. When I started writing the stories for the Prague Daily Monitor in the autumn of 2007, I wanted a way to communicate the cultural differences and similarities that I observed while living in the Czech Republic with my Czech husband and three children. Over the years, I've learned a lot about the Czech Republic and its people. Through regular feedback from readers both in the Czech Republic and scattered around the world, I've learned that many of you can relate to the experiences I've written about. On occasion, you've corrected my assumptions or pointed me toward a new and more interesting story.

Finding a sense of community among other bilingual and multicultural families has meant that living an ocean away from my blood relations hasn't been as lonely as it could have been. Already my children recognize that many of their friends here speak languages other than Czech, and they are realizing how helpful it is to be able to speak both English and Czech when communicating in the park or on the playground.

As one reader pointed out, one advantage of exposing your family to different cultural perspectives is that you can cherry-pick the good parts from each way of thinking. In general, I believe that the minutia of parenthood is much the same everywhere, but I've found that sharing common experiences with other half-n-half families and watching as they set down roots in the Czech Republic, has helped me better settle into my own life here. Learning the neighborhood protocol has helped me establish boundaries for what I'm willing to let my children do or not do.

Getting tips from other Czechs about the most family-friendly spots in their country and popular weekend family activities has led my family on adventures around the Czech Republic: mushroom picking at a friend's chata, castle touring in the Czech countryside, biking on trails near Prague, and camping in idyllic Český ráj (Czech paradise). I've also gleaned insights from the English-speaking community in Prague on tips for children's theater performances in English as well as after-school clubs and free time activities in English. Participating in both types of activities has helped keep my family's cultural and linguistic balance over the years.

Recently, one of my adult English students commented, “Sometimes I think you don’t know where you belong, in the Czech Republic or in the US.” She’s right. Although my American heritage is strong, after more than ten years living here, I have adapted to life in the Czech Republic, and I’m sometimes torn as to where to call home.

I hope you enjoy these stories about family life in the Czech Republic. Please let me know at emily@prague,tv if there is a particular topic you'd like to see explored in the Family and Kids section.

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