2019/02/15


Fulbright for Posterity: The Ripple Effects of Fulbright on Rural America

by Niecea Freeman, English Teaching Assistant at the Agriculture and Veterinary High School in Lanskroun, Czech Republic

“How about: It’s quality, not quantity?” my dad proposed, wearing a grin. We were brainstorming city slogans for Loyalton, California, my hometown of 800 people nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains—now named “the Loneliest Town in America.” We all laughed. On the surface, country living seems like paradise, but in reality a myriad of issues affect rural communities across the nation. Employment opportunities are sparse, lower income leads to higher instances of poverty, and—consequently—there is a clear demand and absolute need for higher quality education.

Megan Meschery and her family in Spain, 2008 
When the town’s sawmill closed in 2001, followed by a mass population exodus, Loyalton’s tax revenues declined rapidly and ancillary school programming disappeared with them. First, we lost music and art specials. Later, our middle school was condemned, and students were moved from portable buildings into the high school, losing their separate facilities entirely. In truth, it has only been through the extraordinary efforts of dedicated teachers and community members that our school district has been kept afloat: teachers like my high school Spanish instructor, Megan Meschery, who are determined to redefine our local community without much funding from state or federal agencies.

In 2008, Megan left for a Fulbright grant in Granada, Spain, where she examined how rural economic development funding provided by the European Union reduced inequalities in public schools regardless of geographic location. She sought to find parallels and lessons applicable to rural education in America and to develop ways to promote cultural awareness and growth in Loyalton. While Megan’s experiences rather highlighted the differences between U.S. and EU development models, Megan also returned from her two-year Fulbright burgeoning with ideas tailored to Loyalton’s situation, and immediately found ways to introduce positive change, starting with school electives.My favorite memories from high school are from the culture club she initiated, through which I saw my first Broadway play, Wicked, and visited my first classical art exhibit, featuring masterpieces from Rembrandt and Raphael. These experiences opened my eyes to the world beyond our tiny valley, and change did not stop there.

The Sierra Schools Foundation sponsors hands-on learning opportunities like harvesting chamomile tea flowers in the Loyalton Learning Garden.
The following year, Megan founded a non-profit organization called The Sierra Schools Foundation (SSF – sierraschoolsfoundation.org) to combat inequality in the school district by providing grants for resources and programs such as the STEM Learning Garden, Local-Artists-in-the-School, Advancing to College SAT prep, and others. I volunteered with SSF throughout college, running fundraisers, where I witnessed firsthand how, with dedication and perseverance, local organizations genuinely have power to initiate positive change.

Niecea (right) and her mentor Martina in Lanškroun, Czech Republic.
These formative experiences propelled me to apply for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in the Czech Republic for the 2018-2019 academic year, where I will be living in a rural community not unlike Loyalton, teaching English to secondary students enrolled in veterinary and agricultural programs. As an undergrad, I pursued a B.S. in Integrated Elementary Education with an emphasis in English as a Second Language with the primary goal of becoming an elementary school teacher in a high-needs, rural community in the United States. Now, I am ready to go forward and learn from the students and families of my host country to explore new perspectives and pedagogies that will reshape the way I view myself and my role as an educator. The quantity of programs in Loyalton’s schools has stagnated, but the quality of our education can continue to blossom.


2018/10/09




DO SOMETHING!



Vyrazili jsme s Jiřím na Hrad. Prezident byl oblečený v tom, co obyčejně nosil – v černém roláku. „Samozřejmě, vy jste missesFulbright,“uvítal mě. „Nikoli, misses Albright,“ odpověděla jsem. To byl začátek našeho přátelství. Tak popsala bývalá ministryně zahraničí USA své první setkání s Václavem Havlem, jehož bustu odhalila Kolumbijská univerzita při příležitosti oslav sta let od vzniku Československé republiky. Právě na Columbii se začaly cesty těchto dvou osobností přibližovat dávno před sametovou revolucí, když si zdejší studentka Madeleine vybrala za téma své doktorské práce vliv médií na události roku 1968 v jejím rodném Československu a seznámila se s Jiřím Dienstbierem, pozdějším československým ministrem zahraničí.

Nádvoří hlavního kampusu Kolumbijské univerzity se i tohoto zářijového dne hemžilo lidmi. Když jsem spolu s dalšími návštěvníky stoupala po schodišti k impozantní budově knihovny nápadně připomínající římský Pantheon, hlavou mi vířilo mnoho otázek. Formulovat odpověď na tu nejdůležitější z nich mi trvalo několik dní. Možná i vás zajímá, proč americká univerzita odhaluje sochu prezidenta jedné mladé demokracie ve středu Evropy a kdo jsou ti lidé v publiku, kteří nemají s Českou (a Slovenskou) republikou ve většině případů nic společného.

Václav Havel zde několik měsíců působil jako dramatik. Cynik by podotkl, že účastníky do Low Memorial Library však nepřivedl jeho odkaz, ale úspěšná absolventka Madeleine Albright. Nemyslím, že tímto způsobem funguje život amerických univerzitních obcí. Kalendář veřejných událostí je stejně pestrý jako kulturní kořeny jejich návštěvníků. Posluchače nespojuje národovecký sentiment, nýbrž ideje. Národní kontext – v tomto případě předlistopadový život disentu – je pouze výkladovým slovníkem. Jinými slovy řečeno: máte-li čím svět inspirovat, není důležité, odkud jste.

Ústředním motivem opakujícím se v proslovech všech řečníků byla pravda a síla ideálů, kterou pro ně Václav Havel zosobňoval. Zůstat věrný těmto hodnotám je totiž mnohem těžší než uchýlit se do bezpečí cynismu. V proslovu Madeleine Albright zaznělo ještě něco dalšího, co je odpovědí všem, kteří nechtějí žít ve světě lži a nenávisti. Ideály je třeba měnit v činy. V USA se vžil slogan "see something, say something." Já dodávám "do something!" Není to těžké, chce to odhodlání, trpělivost a hlavně víru, že máme osud ve vlastních rukách. Té byl v New Yorku plný sál. #havel2.0
http://hana.broulik.cz/blog

2018/08/23


Student Spotlight Interview: Robert Patrick Jameson
by Chloe‘ Skye

Robert Patrick Jameson is a Fulbright student with affiliation to Charles University. He is, in his own words, re-examining the history of the personal computer behind the Iron Curtain, specifically Czechoslovakia from circa 1975 to 1997. In our interview, he discusses how computers were popularized, adopted and used (particularly during the 1980s) and how they influenced the transformation of the Czech economy, as well as his deep dive into socialist-era tech magazines! 



Fast Facts: 
Hometown: St. Paul, Minnesota
Age: 29
College, Major/Minor: M.A. History, Iowa State University. Currently enrolled in History Ph.D program at the University of Kansas, with a major field in Russia and East Europe and minor fields in Urban History and History of Technology.
School in the Czech Republic: Charles University Faculty of Social Sciences 
Favorite Czech Phrase: Strč prst skrz krk – a tongue twister that means ‚Stick a finger through your neck‘
Favorite Czech Food: Vepřo knedlo zelo (pork, cabbage and dumplings)
Favorite Quote: 
“The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.” - Ayn Rand 

Describe your research for me.
I'm re-examining the history of the personal computer behind the Iron Curtain, looking at the case of Czechoslovakia from circa 1975 to 1997. The common view among historians of technology is that socialist countries like CZSK inevitably failed to successfully adopt personal computers for ideological reasons (control of free speech, bureaucracy) and reasons related to the inefficiencies of centrally planned economies. I acknowledge that those were important factors, but I look at other reasons as well: a cultural orientation to Western technology, the USSR as a monopsonistic market for CMEA computers, endemic poverty, language barriers, and the lack of a public constituency for computers in CZSK. 

I also examine how computers were popularized, adopted and used (including computer skills) in late socialism, especially the 1980s, and how that created a core of knowledgeable users that drove the Czech economy's transformation into an information and service economy over the last three decades. Day-to-day, my work consists of reading through and copying sources from the popular and professional technical press, like Sdělovací Technika and Věda a Technika Mladeži, and oral interviews with Czechs and Slovaks involved in the computing scene in the '70s, '80s and early '90s - computer scientists, programmers, repair technicians, youth club leaders, physicists, and so forth. 

What makes the Czech(oslovak) situation unique?
I am looking at the Czech government‘s efforts to adopt personal computers, which begin in the late 70s with their attempts to reverse engineer the famous Intel 8080 microchip. They produced their own copy in 1980 with the company Tesla (which was headquartered in Bratislava at this time). About four years later they started producing their own personal computers, which were used predominantly in Czech and Slovak schools. But the Czechoslovak governments invested a lot of money into reverse engineering or importing Western technology to the country and trying to teach kids to program as well as basic computational skills. They wanted to popularize computers as the next big thing and update the economy. It was ultimately a failure if you consider the spread of computers or number of computers available. But even with computers being so scarce in the 1980s in this country, there was still a generation of kids who grew up being able to fix their own machines and write their own software and videogames, for example, because you couldn’t buy them or they were too expensive. They were a very technically savvy-generation that led the way for the tech and information economy in the 1990s and early 2000s.

How have you been discovering more about this time period?
There’s a popular kids magazine that’s still being published called ABC, or Abičko. There was a section where, in the 80s and 90s, readers would write in and say, ‚Okay, I have this computer and I want this game or software, and I can trade you this kind of game or software,‘ so you can track who has what computer by their actual addresses across the country. I have mapped them out. A lot of them are in Prague or in other major urban centers, but you also have a concentration of people who were lucky enough to live in small towns or villages along the northern border, You‘d have people who would cross over into Poland, which had looser regulations at this time, or would cross into Eastern Germany to get computers imported from West Germany like the ZX Spectrum or the Atari 800. Czechoslovak versions were all over the country and they weren’t well-liked, but they were distributed.

How do you find interview subjects?
A lot depends on luck or a daisy-chaining process where, once I‘ve established a rapport with my subjects, I ask them to connect me to one or two people they know, for example someone who was in their computer club, a private collector or someone who taught at their school. I‘ve been fortunate that they always think of other people and possibilities.

Have you encountered any challenges in your time here?
In my research I’ve been fairly fortunate because I’ve been here before (editor’s note: this is Robert’s fifth time here, and he has been coming to CZ on average every other year for the last ten years) and I knew what materials I could use, like the magazines I mentioned previously. Otherwise it’s just being an outsider in someone else’s country for a long period of time. For me personally, I’m more interested in the history and not so much getting into the Czech cultural milieu. I’m already used to the pork-eating and beer-drinking culture (laughs). But it doesn’t feel like a vacation to me. I mainly do my work, sometimes I go to conferences and I travel to interview people. Overall, the main challenge is that I miss family and friends back home.

What has been most rewarding about the Fulbright program?
Without Fulbright, I couldn’t do my research and thus wouldn’t be able to finish my Ph.D program. This would have represented a big blow professionally and personally. Fulbright gives me an invaluable opportunity by providing funding and the organizational scaffolding without which I wouldn‘t be able to accomplish what is essentially my life‘s work.

2018/07/27


Student Spotlight Interview: Vera Pfeiffer

by Chloe‘ Skye


Summary Vera Pfeiffer was serving the past academic year as a Fulbright Student Researcher through an affiliation with Mendel University in Brno, Czechia. She does research on how the scale of agriculture affects bumblebee foraging patterns. Read on to see what traditional village bee hives are like and how the Communist period affects her subject. She does not have Czech ancestry but doesn’t mind if you call her Věra!

Fast Facts  
Originally from: Virginia
Age: 31
American University: University at Wisconsin, Madison - Environmental Ecology
Czech University: Mendel University
Favorite Czech word or phrase: ’jedna báseň’, a poem, as in, “This food is like a poem!” (very delicious)
Favorite Czech food: segedinský guláš (a type of goulash with cabbage)
Favorite Quote: Co jsi to provedl, Pepíku?” – from a Cimrman play

Tell me about your research.
I study agriculture and resource management, including urban and forested areas surrounding Brno; for example, in Šlapanice. The scale of agriculture is the more traditional, smaller scale but there are also some areas with largescale agriculture more like the US, and these were consolidated during Communism. My research is about how that gradient affects bumblebee foraging patterns. In the US, small farms and big farms are more heterogeneously distributed, whereas here you can see the contrast more conspicuously. It’s easier to study landscape-level processes in these more representative areas.

Where do the bees come in?
I take samples from bumblebees after catching them with hand nets and anesthetizing them briefly. To understand something about bees, you should know that they use their front legs to grab on and land and their back legs to collect pollen. I collect their middle legs, which they don’t need to forage. It may sound terrible, but it’s not! This helps me study the community foraging differences in terms of farm size and urban and forest boundaries.

Did you encounter any difficulties?
It was pretty funny walking around in the fields. There was a lot of human interaction in these small towns outside of Brno. Sometimes I could explain my research in Czech, but sometimes it was too difficult!

Why did you choose to come here specifically?
I chose Czechia because it’s a very good example of [landscape distribution]. Aldo Leopold, who founded the field of Ecology and was a professor at Wisconsin, visited CZ and was influenced by the landscape planning strategies as well as local management ethic. This includes the hunter clubs that needed to do surveys of the wildlife, take wildlife management classes and keep track of it in their area to be a hunter.

I have heard of that and it is interesting how the labor is distributed among people who hunt. What do you think about the Czech attitude towards the environment?
There are areas where people are still very connected to producing their own food, like community garden areas with plots together, while during Communism a lot of the larger areas were consolidated into big farms. Nowadays some families take pride in their tradition of community resource management, while some are more distant.

Have you seen any examples of traditional beekeeping?
I once visited a village in the countryside and got the opportunity to see traditional bee hives. There was a large stump with a face carved into it, with holes in the mouth where the bees go in and out. It was like a big, round, hollow piece of wood with a decorated top and was really interesting for me!

What about the results of your research?
I am still working on it. First, I need to finish the DNA extraction and genetic work on the bees. This isolates rapidly changing DNA sections and is very useful in an ecological sense for family clustering that captures the most diverse aspects of their genetic diversity. This way I can estimate colony density and do colony assignment in order to map the colony foraging.




2018/07/20


Student Spotlight Interview: Arvind Kumar

by Chloe‘ Skye
  



Arvind Kumar is a Fulbright grantee in a US Fulbright student program in affiliation with Charles University in Pilsen. He is a recent Duke graduate who took a gamble on a Czech lab trying an experimental surgery technique and was enjoying the manifold benefits of his decision! We discussed stem cell research in the Czech context, his experience taking care of piglets, and how he gets to act the part of a TV surgeon in real life. 


Fast Facts: 
Hometown: Rosalyn Heights, NY
Age: 21
College, Major/Minor: Bachelor of Science in Math and Chemistry, Duke University
School in the Czech Republic: Charles University Faculty of Medicine in Pilsen
Favorite Czech Phrase: ‚asi jo‘ (probably)
Favorite Czech Food: Duck breast with red cabbage

Tell me what your research is about.
I work in a lab that specializes in experimental surgery on piglets using new, innovative techniques and in hopes of eventually translating the results to humans. My professor does research on liver and anything related to the intestinal tract. There’s a disease called sinusoidal obstruction syndrome that damages liver and is a common side effect of chemotherapy in humans. We are trying to treat this by applying stem cells to piglets with the disease and seeing if liver function improves. So far, results of phase I clinical trials are very applicable to humans.

How did you choose Czechia?
It was a ‚windy‘ path. I learned about an international workshop to teach students surgical techniques, and the professor of that workshop is now my mentor. I found out about it because it is similar to my Duke research, which was from a big data perspective, but with a different take because it’s so hands-on. That nitty-gritty detail really intrigued me. I researched it from abroad and the professor and I Skyped a few times. He was really excited and eventually wrote my letter of affiliation.

Do you have experience living or working abroad?
I have never been to Czech Republic before. Unlike the other Fulbright students, who are more interested in Czech culture or history, I came to work in a specific lab. I did spend 2.5 months doing biochemical research in Tokyo, Japan in 2016. I love to learn about the intersection between science and culture in the context of international cooperation. But I have never been abroad so long before. What’s funny is that I may know more about medicine in a Czech context than in an American one. For example, I was speaking with my brother who’s studying dentistry and mentioned the word peritoneum –- he said, ‚Wait, what?‘ [It turns out] it’s pronounced totally differently there. So it will be funny when I go back and start medical school and have to relearn all of the pronunciations.

In the US, stem cells are quite the controversial topic. Can you compare this research in the Czech and American contexts?
Stem cell is quite the buzzword in the American political context. It’s specifically embroyonic stem cells that are the center of the controversy. In our research the stem cells are extracted from the piglets‘ bone marrow and used to cure them, so there aren’t the same political implications. It’s easy to aspirate and extract bone marrow, like blood, while the pig is under anesthesia.

How does your research work?
My mentor Dr. Václav Liška heads a team of eight students. He’s a full-time surgeon, then he runs this lab on the side. He oversees us doing the surgery unless it’s really difficult and he steps in. We all work together and have rotations in terms of taking care of the piglets and getting experience with the operating table. We have a bit of a strange schedule; we do operations 2-3x a week and work roughly from 2pm to 8 or 9pm. Those days get long but my labmates are great and sometimes we go out for a beer.
The lab is state-of-the-art and hi-tech, like you’d expect for humans. Originally I didn’t know what to expect, what my role would be, but we are actually doing the operations – it’s as you see it in the serials, like, ‚Scalpel!‘ (laughs) I am getting so much hands-on experience in surgery. The professor really pushes me to learn about anatomy and physiology.

What has been your biggest challenge?
I knew next to nothing about the medical side of this because I had just graduated with my bachelor’s degree. It was a lot of reading in the beginning to get my footing and be able to have an intelligent conversation about the goals of our research, which was a challenge I welcomed. I’m getting used to the university and lab culture. I take care of piglets, feed them, take blood samples. I also have side projects; for example, alongside a colleague I grow and culture the specific type of stem cell we want so we don’t have to contract with an outside lab in the future. I’ve also submitted a paper for publication on a literature review and I’m waiting to hear back.

What have you gained from your Fulbright experience?
I’ve done a lot of personal development. I’ve improved my coordination skills and medical knowledge. Not all of our research will be processed by the end so I will stay in contact with my mentor and labmates and continue after Fulbright ends. We eventually plan to come out with a paper in 2019.

What has been the most rewarding part of your experience?
I have gained a very different perspective of medicine. I also envision my potential career path differently than I had before. I know that in the future I’d like to be a full-time practicing doctor as well as do research, as a lot of my labmates are now while working towards their MD Ph.Ds, rather than only one or the other.





2018/05/21

ETA Spotlight Interview: Mason Patrick Winkie

by Sinia Amanonce

Next year, Mason Winkie will attend West Virginia University for medical school. This year, he is serving as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Uherský Brod, Czech Republic. Below Mason talks about his Czechoslovakian ancestry, crossing the Slovak border on skis, his experiences with Czech traditions, and the power of using memes in the classroom.

Fast Facts:
Mason Patrick Winkie

Hometown: Bridgeport, West Virginia
Age: 23
College, Major/Minor: West Virginia Wesleyan College, Biochemistry and Clinical Psychology
School in the Czech Republic: Střední průmyslová škola a Obchodní akademie Uherský Brod
Favorite Czech Food: Vepřo knedlo zelo
Favorite Quote: “The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.” - Ayn Rand

Tell me about yourself.
My name is Mason Winkie. I come from Bridgeport, West Virginia. I’ve lived in West Virginia my entire life. I attended West Virginia Wesleyan College where I got two degrees. The first one was a bachelors of science in biochemistry and the second one was a bachelors of arts in clinical psychology. In the future, I will be attending WVU (West Virginia University) for medical school next year. My dream is to be a doctor, hopefully an oncologist and maybe a pediatric oncologist. We’ll see if I can emotionally handle that.

You have lived most of your life in West Virginia and you plan to go back to study. Why did you choose to apply for a Fulbright in the Czech Republic?
My grandfather’s family is from former Czechoslovakia. I actually included this in my grant statement. My mother came back from visiting her cousins who live in Žilina, which is on the Slovakian side. Anyway, It’s the closest family connection I had and I really wanted to go back and learn about my roots.

Have you been to Žilina?
Not yet. My family comes next week and my mom’s cousins are coming to visit us. I’ll see them and meet them for the first time in about a week and a half. I’m interested to meet them.

That’s exciting! How did you first hear about the Fulbright program?
That’s a really good question. I don’t know when I first heard about it but I have known about it for a very long time. I think someone told me about it when I was in high school. I don’t come from a small place, but it’s definitely not a big place. Bridgeport has a population of around 8,000 people and a lot of people around me have never left the state of West Virginia, let alone the country. I’ve always had a strong desire to explore as much of the world as possible and I love meeting new people, especially people who come from different cultures. When I first heard about the Fulbright, I knew I wanted to do it at some point in my life.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve noticed or learned about Czech culture?
I don’t think anything has been overly surprising, everything feels normal to things back home. If I had to pick something, it would be the lackness of laws. I don’t mean that in a negative way at all but its like things are easier here. In the U.S. I feel like we have a very strict set of laws that if you were to step outside of those in the slightest manner, its an instant call for a lawyer or something complex. Here, in the Czech Republic, it’s like “You should have not done that, but no harm, no foul.” It makes school situations a lot more relaxed. The atmosphere overall is more relaxed - that’s been surprising to me.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you learned sooner?
I did a lot of research before arriving in the Czech Republic. I spoke to a lot of people... Oh! So this is what it is - there’s this app called IDOS. [Editor’s note: The IDOS app, also available through idos.cz, finds the quickest public transportation routes in the Czech Republic] Where I come from, there is virtually no public transportation. I try to be smart about these things and really read about what I’m doing but sometimes, it can be really difficult. Even my friends who have lived in the Czech Republic must have forgotten to tell me about this, but this IDOS app makes traveling in the Czech Republic so much easier. I know how to use the public transportation system and am more aware of the options for public transportation. I wish I knew about this app before I came here.

Where are you living this year?
I live in a town called Uherský Brod. It’s near the border of Slovakia and the southeastern part of the Czech Republic. My students think it's a small town. The population ranges from 10,000 to 12,000 people. They have incorporated the populations of smaller villages in the nearby area into the town so it depends on who you ask. We have a wonderful city center, a really beautiful church that sits there, and it has everything I need. As far as things go, it’s a very easy location to get out of. I’m actually closer to Vienna and Bratislava than I am to Prague. The great thing is, that since I live in south Moravia, it’s a lot more traditional and folk. People wear a lot of the costumes, come from very small villages, and speak regional dialects. I get a better view of what the Czech Republic is or used to be. Some people say tradition is dying here, but where I live, it is very much strong and alive.

Since you live so close to Vienna and Bratislava, have you been able to travel a lot?
Yes, I’ve traveled quite a bit. In Slovakia, there is a hiking trail I’d go on every couple of weekends or so with my colleagues to go cross-country skiing. I’ve crossed into Slovakia seven times in the span of a few hours because the trail is right on the edge of the border.

That sounds like a lot of fun. Can you tell me more about your experiences with Czech traditions?
I think it’s amazing. The biggest festivals have been wine festivals during the summer and student ceremonies throughout the year. Here, in southern Moravia, they take wine and slivovica (plum brandy) very seriously. In the fall, it’s the harvest and wine producing season, so they have these huge festivals. People from the local villages that have grown their own wine wore their traditional folk costumes and carried these caskets of their wine, and others had plastic cups. People that grew their own wine would give out little pours for others to try what they have made. There was traditional folk music, did folk dances, and everyone seemed very happy. The folk music is wonderful and very unique. The only thing that I thought was weird is they do this thing where they scream in the middle of the songs and that caught me off guard. My colleagues were laughing at me. But aside from the screaming, it’s all good.
For one of the student ceremonies for the fourth year students, I actually got to wear a traditional costume. I went with my mentor and other people from the community and it was a really nice experience. One of my students works as a mentor to teach younger students their local dialect from a small village that is a mixture of Slovak and Czech. This is something I really respect. Their culture and language has been around for hundreds of years and they work really hard to continue it for as long as they can. It makes for such a unique experience.

What are your other students like?
I teach at a technical vocational school that also has a business academy. The schools are very different. I’d say the technical school is about 95% male. The students at the technical school are the ones I see the most often. I see them four times a week verses only seeing the business academy students once a week. The guys at the technical school are very fun people. A lot of them work on computer programming, robot maneuvering, some of them do blacksmithing, and other traditional factory jobs. They have a very good sense of humor and outlook on life. One style I use with them sometimes is to teach using memes. I don’t know why, but the meme culture, especially in my school, is incredible. If I give them a good meme to laugh at, I know the rest of the class will be perfectly be fine. At first, they were very shy and overtime, I was able to build a strong relationship with them.

What do you enjoy the most about teaching English?

I like teaching English because it gives these students an outlet to really reach further than what has already been given to them. Being here reminds me of home in the sense that a lot of people haven’t left home or the area. Learning English gives them that opportunity to do more. I try to push my students to learn English so that they have this whole world in front of them to explore. The rewards I know my students will have in their futures as a result of learning English is the most enjoyable part.

On the flip side, what will you take from time in the Czech Republic?
When I was a kid, if I saw a house in the distance, I’d think “How does this person live there? What do they do? What makes them who they are?” Ultimately, I knew they’re American so I had some idea of what’s going on. But being in a totally unfamiliar setting and living in a country I otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to live in, like this small village in the Czech Republic on the border of Slovakia - I’m able to see the traditions and make these connections with people. You see that people are the same no matter where you go. This is part of my desire of being a doctor - the idea that if I was a doctor in the U.S., I could still help people in Russia, China, or anywhere in the world. People are all the same and seeing that on a personal level is a really rewarding experience.

 
Mason, his students and colleagues in Uhersky Brod.



ETA Spotlight Interview: Jessica Megan Livingston

by Sinia Amanonce

Graphic designer, Jessica Megan Livingston, is serving as an English Teaching Assistant this year in Prostějov, Czech Republic. Placed in a fashion and design school, Jessica has been able to teach English while also sharing her passion for and expertise in design with her students. Read below to hear how her “go big or go home” attitude has affected success in her grant year.


Jessica Megan Livingston
Fast Facts:
Hometown: Wheeling, Illinois
Age: 22
College, Major/Minor: Carthage College, Graphic Design and Public Relations
School in the Czech Republic: Střední škola designu a mody Prostějov
Favorite Czech Word: Kava [coffee]
Favorite Czech Food: Garlic soup

To begin, please tell me about yourself.
I’m from Chicago, so I grew up with the city life. It was very typical, there were lots of people, lots of noise, and lots of things to do. I went to a private school in Kenosha, Wisconsin which was the opposite of everything I knew. There were a few people, it was a very calm environment, and I really liked it. I studied graphic design with a concentration in computer science. Technology is something I have always been good at, so that’s what I stuck with. I also double majored in Public Relations, which was more support, rather than the main focus of my studies. I’m just a graphic designer from Chicago, I’m a very simple person.

That’s quite unique. I have never heard of a graphic designer who was awarded the Fulbright. Were you able to use your graphic design skills this year?
Yeah! So I am placed in the secondary school of design and fashion. My students are graphic designers, interior designers, and fashion designers. Not only do I teach English, but I help them with their design stuff too. For example, helping them develop their portfolios, helping them create their galleries, and giving them feedback. Similar to my students now, while I was at school, even though our title was “graphic design” we still had to study sculpting, painting, fashion, and interior. I’m very familiar with their studies and because of that, we have an amazing bond because we can do more with English and design. Fortunately, I’m not just an English teacher, but I’m also like a mentor because I work in a field that they, themselves, are interested in. The students are very motivated and they want to know more than conversational English. They want to be able to talk about art and their work using the correct design terms because that’s not covered in their textbooks. I’m very fortunate with my placement because my students and I have so much to talk about all the time. We spend classes talking about pantones and I’m obsessed with typography so we’ve even debated about font preferences [laughs].

Wow, that’s great. Why did you choose to apply to Fulbright in the Czech Republic?
I’ll be honest with you, as a graphic designer, these questions did come up. Why would I do a Fulbright? How can I be sure if this is for me?
I was encouraged to apply for Fulbright by one of my professors. The director of Fulbright at my university is very good at promoting and seeking out students he thinks will be a good fit for the program. For a very long time, he encouraged me to do this and I did not consider it until September. I thought it was not for me, I have never lived abroad, and I don’t speak another language. All of these other people are so impressive, and my experience had been so minimal. I didn’t think I’d be a good fit. Eventually, I told myself, “I’m gonna do it.”
Also, I read a lot! While I was applying, I had just finished reading Ivan Klíma’s memoir, My Crazy Century. It is about 600 pages and was just so different from what I had already read. I would read it on the train to and from work. It was so inclusive and I was hooked on it. At that time, I thought I had a good understanding of Czech history and I did for any other country. Because my travel experience was so minimal and I just learned about this country, I felt more comfortable to applying to the Czech Republic.

Now that you’ve been here for a few months, do you have any advice for the upcoming ETAs on how to prepare for life in the Czech Republic?
I would emphasize how important it is to be open-minded. Not in the sense of being open-minded to gain experience, but be open-minded when you have to be flexible because you will. When you’re open-minded, your experience will be easier. I think a lot of people come into this thinking “I am flexible, I can do accounting and finance.” But then you realize you’re in a room with students who speak very little English and you have to teach them for 90 minutes. It’s a new type of flexibility that most people don’t learn in school. You have to be open and learning constantly.

Can you give me an example of a time where you had to be flexible?
I teach classes on my own, instead of teaching as the co-teacher. I have a very close bond with both my colleagues and my students, and my students get very possessive of their time with me [laughs]. If I miss class for meetings, the Berlin conference, or whatever it is, they will take note of the classes I’ve missed with them and then tell their teachers to schedule a makeup class.

Your students sound so sweet!
They’ll even Facebook message me to ask if I’m okay then ask why I was not in class. Sometimes, they’ll schedule classes with me on their own. I’ll walk into a class and the teacher will ask “Are you supposed to be teaching this class?” Coordinating class changes can be a challenge. The students and teachers have different expectations for me and I try to meet both. Sometimes I’ll teach 8 classes a day, on my own, and at the end of the week I’d reach 24 classes.
It can be challenging, but I’m very, very thankful for my students. My students are not naive. They understand that to be successful as a designer they will either have to move to Prague or go abroad, and to do this, they need to learn English. The students work so hard. Of course they have days when they are tired, especially around the time galleries have to go up. On top of studying for exams, they are working on larger projects and other final projects, paintings, mountings, and creating exhibits. Sometimes we will take the first 10 minutes of class for the students to vent. I focus so much on and feed off the energy of all these students who care so much.

Are you working on a special project with your students?
One of the things I’ve studied is the cultural perception of design - how different cultures create design, react to design, and different styles they prefer. This year, the students and I are currently working on a catalogue. Basically, it's a book that, as a group, we are designing and writing. It features different artists and designers from our school. It talks about their work and how their culture influences their work.
For example, one of my students is bisexual. He says, that for him, his designs and work are very exaggerated because he can’t be like that in public. He says he feels like Czech culture is narrow. Very often he can’t wear what he wants to wear, say what he wants, or talk how he wants to. So in his art, he is making an effort to be more eccentric and non-conforming. All of the students have their own stories on how their experiences has influenced their art and how they express themselves.
In this catalogue, we write features of each student that is participating and about their art. This is something we will leave behind for the school so that future students can see the artists and designers that have studied here in the past.

How did you come up with this idea?
I think I was making cookies. To be honest, there isn’t a deeper meaning behind the idea. I thought, “This could be a good idea, I’m going to talk to the students about it.” They seemed into it, so we did it.

What about you? What are you doing for yourself this year?
I’m trying to keep busy. I’m taking Czech and German lessons. I’m taking piano lessons. All of these things have been great. I feel like I’m doing things I wasn’t able to do or didn’t have time to do in the U.S. I joined an online chess league, but I wasn’t good enough. I was demolished at every turn, but it’s okay. I enjoyed it.

You’re really pushing yourself to do so much this year!
Yeah well, go big or go home [laughs].

What is the most rewarding part of your life in the Czech Republic thus far?
Learning language is not something that I ever really did. In my field of study, it was not something that was required or ever emphasized. Learning language now and having what I hope is a natural knack for it has been rewarding.
I think the #1 thing I was nervous about was building relationships with my students. Yeah, students don’t always care about school, are not always engaged, or they’re not always interested. You know, I’m not a teacher. I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to do for them what they needed. For me, having the relationships I have with my students, especially because I worked ridiculously hard to build and maintain these relationships is really rewarding.

Jessica together with her friends in Switzerland.