Written by David Creighton
You could call Jay Ternavan, the “expat´s expat”. The 27-year old native of New York came to Prague “on spec” to find work after being captivated by the city while working for an American firm in Germany. He then found employment with Crown Relocations, a worldwide company providing domestic and international relocation services, and since autumn 2004 he has been using his experience to help others set up in the Czech Republic.
His story is similar to that of many expats who have considered setting up in Prague. Ternavan majored in business marketing at the University of Richmond, (Virginia, USA), and after finishing his degree in 2000, took up a job as a sales manager with California-based wine merchant Gallo. He spent a year and a half working for Gallo in the US, and then the company posted him to Europe, where his job was “selling wine to the United States Military.” Ternavan´s sales territory covered Germany and other European countries. “I did the classic expat thing, where I was working on a two-year assignment, after which I was supposed to return to the US, “ he explained.
But the situation changed, and Ternavan didn´t go back to the States as planned. “I enjoyed my job but fell in love with Europe, and I fell in love with Prague also,” he said, adding that he used to come to Prague regularly when based in Germany. And these trips, in addition to his first visit, back in 1991, made him curious about the city. He had heard lots of stories about Prague, and the expat lifestyle in the city appealed to him. He began to think about continuing his career there. “I said to myself why not give it a shot, and so I just went for it,” he said.
Doing so involved taking a risk. Furthermore, Jay didn´t have a company to back him up, but there were other factors in his favour that helped him find work. “ I think it was to my advantage that I was already in Germany, which was so close to Prague. I could come here easily,” he explained.
In 2004 Ternavan took the plunge and left Gallo, then immediately afterwards spent a week in Prague searching for job while sitting at a computer and going through American Chamber of Commerce listings. He also looked at the expats.cz website and sent his c.v. off to various firms, including Crown Relocations. The prospects with this company seemed the most promising, and the job in Prague that Ternavan was interested in would give him the chance live to abroad and work with expats, as he had done with Gallo. He was successful interviewing with Crown, and started working with the company in 2004 as the Corporate Services Manager. His experience as foreigner setting up abroad helped him. “The company often hires expats because they can relate to what people are going through, and this is an obvious advantage,” he said.
Ternavan learned important lessons from his relocation to Prague and advises anyone wanting to come here to get as much exposure to the country as possible before arriving, even if it involves just a number of short visits. This way an expat can get a feel for Prague, the business environment and the way of life. “Get as much information about the city as possible and spend as much time there as you can,” he advised. Ternavan also said that those interested in settling in the Czech Republic should contact the relevant chambers of commerce in their own country and find out whether businesses at home have subsidiaries in Prague or the Czech Republic.
Once he had established himself in Prague Ternavan´s job was to oversee the essential aspects of moving, such as transferring household items, as well as helping people settle in the Czech Republic by finding schooling and accommodation for expats and their families. “It´s a little bit of everything,” he said, noting that the marketing aspect of his job has him promoting the company in various ways, including client meetings and networking functions held throughout Prague. He explained that a key aspect of his job was to increase the “visibility of the company” within the expat community of the Czech Republic.
Jay has a positive view of the Czech Republic as an expat destination, particularly Prague. “I think as an expat it´s a very comfortable place to be; I would even say sometimes too comfortable,” he explained, mentioning that while he had travelled other central and Eastern European locations and had seen expat communities there he had be “hard pressed to find a better place for expats in Europe.”
Ternavan said there are lots of clubs and communities to get involved with, which makes networking relatively easy. In his opinion expats in other cities had a less easy time of it because it was difficult to get to know others “I´ve got friends in Frankfurt who are hard pressed to meet people there; it´s not as well catered to expats as Prague is,” he said.
Ternavan also said that while it might take time to get to know Czechs, the Czech Republic is a fairly laid-back place when it comes to socialising, with people perhaps enjoying life more and concentrating less on money than in the US. Although a laid-back approach to socialising may be good, a laid-back approach to business is less so he noted, by pointing out that business is sometimes less fast-paced here, although he countered this by saying that in many ways doing business in the Czech Republic is no different from anywhere else, with the Czech Republic having made great strides in catching up with commercial practices in the West.
He also highlighted some communication problems that foreigners have faced, such as expats not being told about important problems, or where staff presume their foreign colleagues will know about an issue, when in fact they don´t. Ternavan also noted the familiar problems of interpreting body language, and cultural differences can be a barrier, as in any foreign country. “It may not be so much what a person says but the manner in which it is said that can be difficult to interpret the right way,” he warned.
In the future Jay Ternavan sees a changing expat market with more and more Czechs continuing to fill roles that foreigners did five years ago. People are constantly leaving, and he said that Crown Relocations also helps clients deal with all the practicalities of returning to their home country. Despite this, people continue to relocate here and investment is still pouring in, although it appears more in the areas outside of Prague said Ternavan. He also noted that while expats come and go, recently there has been a trend of not replacing those who leave. “The guy a company brought over five years ago is departing and they´re not relocating anyone else in to replace him,” he explained.
Ternavan potentially sees himself moving on to work in different locations. “There are still plenty of places in the world I´d like to see,” he said.