Scott Neuman is an American living in Prague. He’s on assignment for IBM, the company he’s worked for, for almost 14 years. He arrived only this past February, so the freshness and culture shock for a guy from the mountains of Vermont, transporting his family to live in Eastern Europe, is still quite fresh. Still, Scott says there isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t pinch himself, amazed that he is now living in the Czech Republic.
Scott is on assignment to oversee marketing for 30+ Central and Eastern European countries for IBM. The posting is a great business opportunity for Scott, and a great adventure for the whole family—his wife Amy and their three children, Annie (age 14), Henry (12) and Emma (10).
“Coming from the mountains of Vermont, city living of any kind is quite an adjustment. But what a city,” says Scott. “Charming both architecturally and culturally. The metro is, dare I say, nearly spotless, well lit and safe. My kids take it every day to school by themselves. We are still wrapping our heads around the vast array of options to entertain ourselves each weekend from restaurants, theater, boat trips, hiking, sight seeing, castle touring, etc. Toss in the ability to hop on a 2hr flight to almost anywhere in Europe for a 3-day weekend and the possibilities are endless. So far we have checked Amsterdam, Dresden and soon to be Tuscany off our list and we have only been here 3 months. So from this perspective, we are not missing home too terribly much.”
Scott says what they do miss most are family and close friends. “Good friends take time to develop, but we are starting to make some new ones here.”
The diversity of the folks living in Prague is both a shock and a comfort. Scott says he doesn’t stick-out as an American living among Czechs because of the wide variety of people who have come from all over the world to live in this centuries-old city.
“So far, Prague appears to be a very transient city, so I feel much less like an ex-pat than I would expect to in other cities like Warsaw, Moscow or Bratislava based on my initial impressions.” says Scott. “My Czech is terrible, but it's easy enough to get around with English. With a few basic phrases and a polite apology for being an ‘ugly American’ who can't speak more than his own native tongue, and I find that people are more than happy to help.”
“I feel like you can't swing a dead cat around here and not hit someone from another country,” says Scott. “Just the other day a woman came up to me on the sidewalk asking for directions in Czech. I apologized and she walked on. Looking over my shoulder I noticed that the next 2 people she came across did not speak any Czech either. At that point she threw her arms up in the air exasperated and continued on in vain to find someone in the Czech Republic who actually spoke Czech!”
At the office he is working with peers coming from Spain, Austria, Italy, Germany, Australia, Columbia and Lebanon. And, he’s overseeing a whole host of countries with diverse cultures-- Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Kazakstan, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Serbia and Turkey to name a few.
Scott says it is amazing to see the change in perspective that his kids now have on the US. “Being away from the 24/7 news cycles of Washington and Hollywood, going to school with kids from over 60 different countries and spending a lot more time together as a nuclear family has been an eye opening experience for them.” He says they really are gaining a global perspective on things. “And for that, I have to thank IBM for making this opportunity available to us.”
"Just by living here we are learning so much about cultural differences and are beginning to develop a better understanding for the little things that can make us stand out as Americans. These 'little things' often fly in the face of the cultural idiosyncrasies that we are trying to pay attention to and emulate. For instance, we have found many Czechs to be fairly quiet especially in public places. I now find myself amazed at how a simple family conversation in a restaurant (or on the metro) can quickly elevate to the loudest corner of the place. One of us is often whispering something like, 'Hey guys, we are sitting right next to each other.' Back in the US we were not typically the loudest group in the room, not by a long shot."
Scott and his family plan to return to the States after this assignment. They’ve promised their oldest daughter Annie she’ll be back for her Junior Year of High School. “But would Amy and I raise our hands again once we are ‘empty nesters?’ I would think so!”
"Leaving America" is a series of articles on experiences and observations of Americans who choose to live outside of the country. Call them ex-pats (ex-patriots), global citizens of just world travelers, these folks have crated-up their belongings and their loved ones and emigrated outside our borders to live.