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Czech Republic

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Country Overview
The Czech Republic is a new country with a rich history and culture. Formed in 1993, the Czech Republic is an Eastern European success story. Its democratic government has been stable and the quality of life has been on the rise.

The Czech Republic's 10.3 million residents live in an area bordered by Austria, Germany, Poland, and the Slovak Republic (formerly part of Czechoslovakia with the now Czech Republic). The Czech Republic consists of Bohemia in the west and Moravia in the east. 1.2 million residents live in Prague, the capital.

The Czech government is a parliamentary democracy. The president's powers are limited, but he or she does hold the important power of the veto. The president is elected for no more than two five-year terms.

The official language of the Czech Republic is Czech. Ethnic groups, including Moravians, Slovaks, Poles, Germans, and Romanies speak their own languages as well.

Considering its relatively small size, the Czech Republic has an amazingly diverse landscape. Traveling around the country will take you by mountains, highlands, lowlands, caves, canyons, bogs, lakes, ponds, and large fields. About one third of the land is covered by forest.

The climate is generally damp. There is no 'dry season.' Summers are warm and rainy. Winters are cold and snowy. December until February are often below freezing, with the coldest temperatures in January. The Czech Republic has 40-100 days of snow per year.

Czech currency is the Czech crown. Major industries are machinery and transport. Tourism is also an important industry, especially in Prague.

Czech culture reflects a variety of influences from its neighbors, Germany, Austria, Poland, and Hungary. Its impressive architecture, sculpture, and puppet theatres showcase Czech artistry.

Czech musicians have been influential. The best known composer is Antonin Dvorak. The Czech Republic continues to enjoy a lively jazz scene.

Czech writers have gained acclaim abroad. Franz Kafka is a household name. More recently novelist Milan Kundera and playwright (and president) Vaclav Havel have earned recognition.

The cuisine is similar to that of its Central European neighbors. Meat is king. The basic meal consists of meat, big portions of dumplings, potatoes, or rice topped with a thick sauce, and a cooked vegetable or sauerkraut.

The main meal is served at midday. A smaller meal is eaten in the evening. Breakfast consists of pastries, pancakes, or other breads and coffee.

The typical quick meal is knedlo-zelo-vepro: dumplings, sauerkraut, and roast pork. Common flavorings are caraway seeds, bacon, and salt.

Sunday dinner is a big event. The family gathers for a big meal of polevka (soup with liver dumplings), dumplings, sauerkraut, and roasted pork chops or goose.

Carp is traditionally served for dinner on Christmas Eve.

The Czech Republic is famous for its beer and it is a ubiquitous feature on Czech tables.

A popular snack is rye bread with cold meat and cheese.

Fruits and vegetables can be very expensive and difficult to obtain.

Education is valued highly in the Czech Republic. All children must attend school until they are fifteen years old. After that they may choose to go on to secondary school or vocational school. Almost all students choose to do so, with about half following each path. This education is all free.

About 15% go on to university. Admission is difficult, but this percentage is increasing.

The government spends a large proportion of its budget on education and scientific research. The country ranks high in the world in the number of scientists and professors.

Czech teenagers enjoy many of the same things as American teenagers. They go to films, hang out, and watch TV. Popular outdoor activities include skiing and hiking. Soccer is the most popular sport in the country.

Dress is casual. Teens wear jeans and sweaters. The dress is slightly more formal than that of American teens.

When teens date, they usually go dancing or to see films. They usually begin to date when they are 15 or 16.

Curfews vary from family to family, but in general, Czech teens have less restrictive curfews than American teens.

The official drinking age in the Czech Republic is 18, however this is rarely enforced. Beer is considered the national drink, and most teens are accustomed to having it with a meal. Most Czech teens do not drink for the sole purpose of getting drunk.

Public transportation is widely used. Most people do not own cars. All major cities are linked by the railroad.

Business hours begin early in the morning and end in the mid-afternoon. In rural areas especially, stores may close for a few hours around midday. Offices are open from 7 or 8 a.m. until 3 or 4 p.m.

The Czechs are not very religious. During Communist rule, which ended in 1989, religious worship was officially discouraged and religious holidays were not recognized. These restrictions have been lifted, but due to the long repression, the number of practitioners is low.

Roman Catholicism has the greatest number of followers. About 40% consider themselves Catholic. Church attendance, however, is low. The Hussite Church and Protestantism also have some followers. Prague has a large Jewish community.

A large numbers of Czechs do not claim any religious affiliation.
Church attendance is generally higher in rural areas than in urban areas.

The Family
Typically, a family will have two children. Families in rural areas tend to have more children. The government has been trying to increase the birth rate by offering childcare for working parents, a lengthy paid maternity leave, and an allowance for each birth.

As the number of working women continues to grow so does the trend towards shared responsibility in the home. Your student may be accustomed to helping out around the house. Be sure to explain what your expectations are and how your cleaning tools work. Something as simple as a washing machine varies dramatically from country to country.

Most teens continue to live at home after they finish high school.
It is fairly common for elderly parents to live with their grown children.

Common Czech greetings are: 'Dobry Den' (Good day) and 'Tesi mne' (How do you do?). 'Thank you' is 'Dekuji.'

When meeting, people usually shake hands. Men usually wait for the woman to offer hers first. Children are taught to address adults using their titles to show respect. When you meet your student, put him or her at ease by saying what you would like to be called.

American prosperity and materialism often surprise international students. You may not consider yourself to be wealthy, but in the eyes of many students you are. The abundance of goods in the U.S. often makes Americans appear wasteful.

Misunderstandings occur easily. The best way to resolve them is to talk about them. Encourage your student to ask questions about anything that confuses him or her. Ask questions yourself, too. Be aware that what can appear perfectly natural to one person may seem confusing or even rude to another. Through patience and understanding, create an atmosphere of openness.

Also try to explain the 'unwritten rules' of your household to your student. Talk about your daily routines, what types of chores you would like help with, which chairs are family members' favorites, etc. Trying to figure out how another family operates is quite a task so encourage your family to explain the rhythms of the house.

Your student will be very grateful for the generosity you have shown by inviting him or her into your home. You will all gain an inestimable wealth of memories.

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