My Prague Job: Ryan Turner helps Czech NGOs communicate with the world

From Princeton and D.C. to Prague, an American shares his insights on working in the Czech Republic

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas Published on 13.07.2020 09:30:00 (updated on 04.03.2021) Reading time: 8 minutes

A new article series devoted to expats working in the Czech Republic kicks off with Ryan Turner, founder of Business English for NGOs who offers some great tips for how to land a job you love.

Tell us the story of how you came to Prague.

I’m a proud native of Richmond, Virginia, and a long-time resident of Washington, DC. During my undergraduate studies at Princeton University in the late 1980s, I had a random series of chance encounters with young some people from then-Czechoslovakia who were heading back to their country just before and just after the revolution.

In the early 1990s, I had a chance to travel across the then-new Czech Republic and met so many students, entrepreneurs, and civil society professionals from different regions who were eager to share their experiences and to know how things worked in the U.S. I would eventually come to visit the Czech Republic every 3-5 years, while also participating in U.S. opportunities focused on nonprofits, social enterprise, and philanthropy in Central and Eastern Europe.

After a particularly inspiring trip to Prague in 2015, I knew I wanted to experience work and live here full-time as my next professional and personal chapter.

What is your current position?

Founder and Principal Consultant, Business English for NGOs. I work primarily with social impact organizations, helping them to build their English language communication skills for their programs, fundraising, and leadership needs.

Did you find it difficult landing a job in the Czech Republic?

I knew what I wanted to do before arriving, and made my plans accordingly. While it was not difficult to find work once I arrived, I had to dedicate time for outreach for some months in advance. Once I was here, I had to commit time, energy, and resources to build awareness of my services while continuing to nurture the referral pipeline.


Building plot for sale, 1072m<sup>2</sup>

Building plot for sale, 1072m2

Slunná, Jenišov - Pod Rohem

Apartment for rent, 3+kk - 2 bedrooms, 93m<sup>2</sup>

Apartment for rent, 3+kk - 2 bedrooms, 93m2

Jeseniova, Praha 3 - Žižkov

Restaurant for rent, 200m<sup>2</sup>

Restaurant for rent, 200m2

Bořivojova, Praha 3 - Žižkov

Where did you search for your job?

I created it.

For how long have you been in this position and what are your career goals?

I’ve been fortunate to do what I do for 4 years. As an entrepreneur, I prefer to set personal and professional milestones balanced against life goals instead of career goals. As an entrepreneur, I want to continue delivering the best quality service I can for my clients.

Professionally, I aim to grow the range of organizations and people I work with while creating more resource options for good groups.

Personally, improving my language skills and exploring a wider range of cultural experiences are at the top of the list. Maintaining a solid work-life balance filled with positive relationships and active wellness experiences will always be part of my long-term plan.

Photo via Spiralis, z.s.

What skills do you have that make you uniquely qualified for this role?

For more than 20 years, I have provided strategic planning, program development, and fundraising consulting to nonprofit organizations and social enterprises in the U.S. and internationally. Along the way, I’ve been fortunate to serve as a guide, program mentor, resource scout, and people connector to civil society, social entrepreneurship, philanthropy, and corporate social responsibility efforts in Central Europe and Eastern Europe.

The majority of my past employers represent diverse, inclusive, collaborative workplaces based upon honesty, trust, accountability, and open communication. I work hard to maintain those same principles throughout my work here today.

What do you love most about your job?

The clients and the energy level they bring to each project. I definitely draw a lot of inspiration from this. The cafe culture in Prague is especially good for efficient meetings or extended conversations. I especially appreciate the ability to set my own schedule. This flexibility gives me time and space to develop better work results, clear my head after each project, and to enjoy life overall. Whenever weather permits, I like to work outdoors, and there’s no shortage of scenic Czech vistas that stoke productive creativity, especially in the countryside.

What are the biggest career challenges you have faced in the Czech Republic?

There is a lot of opportunity, and great demand, for English-language services in general here. But the more specialization you bring, you will find a challenge in developing and sustaining your client base. So the challenge has been a three-way balance among the focus on my target audience, taking advantage of promising opportunities that sometimes fall outside my business focus, and staying true to my value impact without diluting the worth of my services. 

What advice would you give to job seekers in the Czech Republic?

You must be proactive in your job search, and not simply rely on finding a job through job boards or advertisement platforms. Too many job seekers focus on getting a job, at the expense of taking time to see whether the job or company will be a good fit. They do not stop to think that companies and hiring managers are also navigating a fine line between applicant volume and efficient outcomes. If you do not approach the application process with an awareness of the outcome, you will easily get frustrated very quickly.

Photo via Spiralis, z.s.

Waiting to build your professional network until you are actually in the Czech Republic will place you at a severe disadvantage with others seeking work. LinkedIn remains an important tool for identifying good points-of-contact and potential companies in your search, as long as your profile accurately reflects your skills and your online activities demonstrate your value as a candidate. Offering to share your knowledge with others, even in some small way, on the platform helps to establish and build your reputation. You can (and should) start doing this before you arrive here.

In the Czech Republic, word-of-mouth referrals and personal recommendations carry a lot of currency regarding open positions and job interviews. Expat communities – whether international or representing your home nation – can provide much-needed starting points when you need advice on where to look or who you can talk to, particularly when seeking employment with a larger company or as a language instructor.

“In the Czech Republic, word-of-mouth referrals and personal recommendations carry a lot of currency regarding open positions and job interviews.”

Expat job seekers should invest some time and energy into building good offline professional relationships through Czech-oriented networks that align with their interests. Even if your Czech skills are low- to non-existent, taking that extra step to attend some events where you might initially feel out of place will go a long way to demonstrating your interest in the country, people, and culture. In that way, people will feel more comfortable opening up to you and exchanging information that can be helpful with your search or your existing work.

Above all, patience and flexibility are essential. Most things will not operate on your preferred timetable, even with external due dates required by companies or organizations. Respect for the people and culture here are extremely important for a positive, substantive, and beneficial work experience here.

What are your favorite things about working in the Czech Republic?

Czechs have a healthy culture of inquiry, curiosity, and openness which fuels creative ideas and innovative approaches in their work and lives. People are extremely eager to absorb a wide range of knowledge from a wide range of perspectives. Individuals make serious investments in their professional and personal development. They are also genuinely enthusiastic about expressing their insights, often with clever, sly humor. I also appreciate how communities – regardless of the region – place an emphasis on opportunities for civic participation and individual wellbeing. There’s an often unspoken, yet palpable, philosophy to living life with humility, gratitude, and simplicity at the core.

What are the biggest challenges in terms of its corporate culture and workplace etiquette?

The majority of professional challenges I’ve experienced here, to date, generally stem from assumptions Czechs make about my nationality, background, or cultural identity. Many people cannot envision why someone who looks like me would choose to work in the Czech Republic. They also cannot understand that it is possible for someone who looks like me to work in the fields that I do. Once they take time to know my background and my focus area, these assumptions usually fade.

“Many people cannot envision why someone who looks like me would choose to work in the Czech Republic…once they take time to know my background and my focus area, these assumptions usually fade.”

Most of my professional interactions are with Czechs who have some level of English communication skills and some past experience around Americans as students, workers, or travelers. But this does not necessarily translate into awareness or understanding of the diversity among Americans who come from different backgrounds. In its more benign form, these are instances where people are genuinely attempting to start a conversation, but are not sure what to say. Or when I’m being introduced to someone, and they try to connect through some pop culture reference or stereotyped media depictions of American people of color.

In more extreme examples, I have faced comments directed at me in English about my ethnicity; some Czech remarks uttered by people unaware that I realize what they’re saying; inappropriate gestures or muttering by younger or older people; and even some forms of public harassment or aggression. This has happened in urban and rural areas, sometimes due to the larger distrust of foreigners. Just as often, it happens based on some stereotypes, or maybe some negative past interactions people have had with other Americans or expats.

When something does happen — especially in a workplace environment — I will politely but firmly let the other person know that I am not comfortable. This takes it away from a “blame and shame” game, in favor of some good guidelines for how to interact together.

I also will try to ask where the other person is coming from when they said or did the thing that makes me uncomfortable. Sometimes, it is an honest mistake or misunderstanding. Sometimes, the person will firmly deny something that has happened, or will swiftly attempt to change the subject altogether. And sometimes, the negative action has escalated, in which case I have either walked away or brought in another party to attempt to resolve things. Likewise, I operate from the same assumption — that anything I do or say that creates some culture shock or workplace challenge, it is important for my Czech colleagues or clients to let me know. We all have something to learn from each other.

Overall, Czechs have been extremely courteous, hospitable, and kind in their interactions with me. They take great pride in their work, as I do in mine. I’m truly grateful they are willing to share their honest thoughts and perspectives with me. I value their trust very much. Therefore, I work hard to ensure that I reciprocate that respect and courtesy in the same manner, to the same degree whenever possible.”

What is your passion outside the workplace?

Travel, writing, history, art, wellness, food. (Passion Combo #1)!

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