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.


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.


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.


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.  

ETA Spotlight Interview: Claire Shoshana Seid

by Sinia Amanonce

In 1978, the Křivoklátsko Nature Preserve became a UNESCO protected biosphere. This unique mosaic of natural elements is where ETA Claire Shoshana Seid is serving her Fulbright term. In this interview, Claire talks about her pet cat, unexpected events of her Fulbright term, and how living in the Czech forests has taught her how to develop a thicker skin. 

Fast Facts: 
Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio
Age: 23
College, Major/Minor: Ohio University Honors Tutorial College, Sociology/ Diversity Studies
School in the Czech Republic: Střední škola lesnická a Střední odborné učiliště Křivoklát
Favorite Czech Word: “My favorite is probably “já nevím” [I don’t know] because that’s the phrase I use the most.”
Favorite Czech Food: “I only know the name in English as my students have told me, but it’s called hunter’s cabbage. Besides that I like smažený sýr [fried cheese].”
Favorite Quote: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” - Assata Shakur

Claire, please tell me about yourself. What are your hobbies? What do you like to do?
I am an activist… Sorry, my cat is in the way.

That’s cool. We have to talk about your cat later on in the interview.
Oh yeah! You bet!

But about you first.
Right. I like cooking, baking, hiking, making things, and being with friends. I like doing work for social justice and things of that nature. I mostly did that in college.

Did you apply for Fulbright at large or through university?
Through university. I went to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio - shout out! I applied during my senior year. I definitely knew that I wanted to live abroad and be able to support myself.

Why did you choose to apply to the Czech Republic for Fulbright?
I chose the Czech Republic first because I love Prague. I first went there for my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate, so I lived in Prague for a month before applying. I thought it was great and I thought the rest of the country would be as equally interesting, strange, fascinating, and different.

Did you get your TEFL certificate while you were still in university?
Yeah, it was all part of the plan.

The plan? Tell me more about this “plan.”
I had a plan throughout university. I knew, as I was going into college, that I wanted to get a Fulbright Scholarship. That was always part of the plan. Do you know that Paul Simon song? It goes, “I said aren’t you the woman who was recently given a Fulbright?” I asked my parents what that was and it sound great so I thought “heck yeah, that would be a great thing to have and to do.”

Is that how you first heard about the Fulbright? Well I researched different types of Fulbrights. I’ve always wanted to live abroad and there was an office of Nationally Competitive Awards at my university, so I went and told them “here’s what I want and here’s what I’m good at.” Then, they suggested that I apply for the ETA position and I did.

What else is there to this great life plan of Claire Shoshana?
The plan was to go to college, work on things that make me more competitive for a Fulbright, and to work on things I’m interested in. I signed up for a lot of scholars programs and did a lot of independent research. I got my TEFL. I was interested in education already. I did my honors thesis on alternative education, mentioned that interest to Fulbright, and they placed me into a forestry school. So the plan was university, things, TEFL, Fulbright, and then the plan stopped. Now, I currently do not have a plan. Fulbright was my “next step” but I forgot to plan the next step after this.

I think that’s exciting. Having Fulbright turn into the year in which you plan the next part of your life gives you the freedom and space to think about your opportunities as they come at you. Now that you are currently in your Fulbright year, what do you think of the program?
It’s been really great. It’s been a wonderful experience. I’ve gone through a lot of things I would have never done. Namely, live in the rural wilderness of the Czech forest to teach English to lumberjacks [laughs]. It’s very different but honestly, I love my placement.

What’s the town you’re living in like?
It’s not exactly a town. We are an hour hike away from a village of 700 people.

Yeah, we live in a boarding school for students who want to be foresters, lumberjacks, or veterinarians. We have a small campus in the Křivoklátsko Nature Preserve. The students live here Monday through Friday, and then they go home for the weekends. We have two main buildings for classes, dorms, a workshop, a gym, some laboratories, we have bees, and a garden in a greenhouse. We have a wild boar as a neighbor. One of the teachers found her in the forest, adopted her, and she lives in a pen across the street. Her name is Tereza and she eats our compost… [Laughs] these are things I did not expect.

And you’re living with your husband and your cat, right?
Yeah! My husband and my cat - my tiny family in the forest. My husband, Paul, is teaching business English and English to kindergarteners in Rakovník. He volunteers there three days a week. He keeps the house, cooks dinner every night, and takes care of the cat while I’m at work. It’s really great. He’s been using this time really productively to do a lot of self-discovery and a sort of “spring cleaning of the soul.” I think it’s been good.
The cat is is one of the beautiful presents my students have given me. They found her in the forest and they knew I like cats. They were like “Hey Claire, do you want a cat?” They showed me the cat and I was like, “Yeah, definitely. I definitely want this cat.” I took the cat home. I showed up at the door with the cat and one of my students and asked, “Paul, can we have a cat? Here she is!”

This is a quite typical way in which Czechs acquire pets. Someone just shows up with the pet, but at that point, the pet is already there, so there is not much else to do.
It is very effective… Then, after I took the cat, my students kept asking me if I wanted other animals that they had on hand! They tried to give me an African Snail. I told them the cat would eat it and I’m not sure if that is true, but I didn’t want a snail… The students have also given me some art and a machete. They’re great, really great.

What do you enjoy the most about working with your students?
Honestly, my main goal for teaching English and learning Czech myself is to be able to communicate with them effectively. My students are all so interesting, so cool, and so funny. I love when they figure something out and they are thrilled. That’s my favorite moment. They have this “aha!” moment when something clicks, and then, all of a sudden, they are using it and speaking with it. Whatever “it” is - a grammar point, vocabulary point, or a culture point. It’s really nice to be able to teach each other about our lives and our cultures through this process.

That’s great! Has your experience differed at all from your expectations of this year?
I did not know I would be so isolated. I thought English proficiency would be higher. Those things have been challenging. I expected it to be more cosmopolitan.
When I thought to myself about a Fulbright year, I did not expect to be placed in a forestry school. When I first arrived, I didn’t really like nature and now we hike all the time - several times a week. We go outside and take the cat on walks. I’m more nature loving and learning to become more sturdy.

I think Fulbright throws the unexpected and challenging at all of our scholars. How was it adjusting to the Czech Republic in general?
It was difficult. It’s very, very different here in thousands of small ways. For example, last week, someone slaughtered a pig outside my window. I heard an animal screaming and when I looked outside, I saw that my neighbor had wrestled a pig to the ground. I thought to myself, “Wow, I have never seen something so big die before.” Then later that day, I was scheduled to meet my students to build birdhouses. I told them what happened and they were like, “So? This is normal. We have pigs and we kill and eat them. Where did you think your food came from?” I had to start eating meat [laughs]. I was a vegetarian for 6 years, but it’s very impossible here in the Czech Republic. Everything delicious has meat in it.

You were vegetarian then, out of necessity and to adapt, you began eating meat. What do you think of life changes like that?
It was a big deal to me because I’m also not eating kosher. But, I cannot avoid eating pig in the Czech Republic. Everything has meat and milk.
I was vegetarian before too! The options are bread with bread and bread. Or dumplings and fried cheese.

It is definitely challenging. On the other hand, what has been the most rewarding part of living and working abroad?
The new relationships I’m making, primarily with the students. Everyday we are learning. The more English they learn and the more Czech I learn, the easier it is to communicate and be friends. Slowly but surely, being able to communicate with someone you could not communicate with 7 months ago is really rewarding. It has given me a lot of new perspectives on what is life, what is normal, what is good, and what is interesting. My students have shown me a totally different experience than what I had growing up in L.A. We are different but we find communication and friendship, which is really great.

To sum up the interview, what advice can you give to upcoming ETAs?
Get sturdier. Develop a thicker skin. Realize the Czech Republic is not American that you will have to acclimate. You may think, “How different can the Czech Republic be?” It is very different.

What do you mean? How do you develop a thicker skin?
I did it by coming here and having things be very difficult. If you can practice flexibility, relinquishing control, and endurance of things that are unpleasant, it’ll prepare you for the strangeness of living in a new country. I think that’s the thing that gets you down over time. Realizing just how persistently difficult and strange everyday interactions are. I mean just going to the grocery store was very stressful. Obviously, you can’t read the ingredients. What if you end up with this and not that? You’re going to have to talk to someone and they probably won’t speak English. It is rare to find someone that speaks English around me, at least for 17 kilometers in any direction. It is going to be, for a while, a bit unpleasant to do everyday tasks. But everyone’s experience is different! Mine is very strange.

How do you think your life will change as a result of this year abroad with Fulbright?
I’ve definitely learned to be, as I said, sturdier. I feel like a stronger and more balanced person. I know more of what I can do and how to be independent. I think our marriage is way stronger now than it would have been if we had spent a year in America. I’m coming out of this stronger, both physically and mentally, with a stronger marriage, and a ton of Czech vocabulary about the forest. I’m more adaptable now.


Michal Trnka, PhD. student na Fakultě elektrotechnické ČVUT, Fulbrightovo post-graduální stipendium na Baylor University, Texas, září 2017 - květen 2018

Život ve Waco

Už ani nevím, jak mě napadlo se přihlásit na Fulbrightův program. Ale pamatuji si, že to bylo celkem spontánní rozhodnutí. Od té chvíle mi to přišlo jako jedna z nejlepších věcí, které by se mi mohly povést. Moc jsem nevěřil ve svůj úspěch, ale i tak jsem z toho chtěl odejít s pocitem, že jsem pro to udělal maximum. Z toho důvodu jsem se v létě místo lenošení s pivem nebo chození po horách usilovně věnoval sepisování přihlášky. Nakonec to vyšlo a moje radost byla, a vlastně i stále je, nepopsatelná.
Před odletem jsem se snažil zařídit co nejvíce věcí. Nakonec jsem zjistil, že kromě těch nutných, kterými jsou vízum a lékařská prohlídka, nemá smysl nic moc zařizovat předem. Ubytování se na dálku shání špatně, a na univerzitě nebylo nic potřeba. Po příjezdu na Baylor University (a celkově do Waco) mě překvapilo, jak dobře to zde funguje. Ve škole se mnou počítali a měli mně již zavedeného v evidenci, měl jsem připravené místo v kanceláři, vlastní PC a hned první den mě uvítala školitelka i vedoucí katedry. Ubytování jsem sehnal po 2 dnech hledání, s čímž mi pomohli i kolegové ze školy. A nakonec většinu nábytku do bytu jsem dostal z kostela, kde na konci semestru shromažďují nábytek od končících studentů a dávají jej nově příchozím. A co jsem nedostal, tak jsem postupně dokoupil v IKEA.
Než jsem dorazil do Waco, tak jsem o něm věděl akorát to, že to je malé městečko, ve kterém žije hodně konzervativních baptistů a kdysi dávno, v 90. letech, se tam udál známý incident s náboženskou sektou. Realita je taková, že univerzita je baptistická, žádnou sektu jsem zde nepotkal, a přestože to není velkoměsto, má to tady své kouzlo a výhody. Například tu nejsou dopravní zácpy, do školy hravě dojdu pěšky, a do víru velkoměsta Dallasu či Austinu to na místní poměry mám „co bych kamenem dohodil“. Nakonec mi to velmi vyhovuje, protože tu mám celkem klid na práci a nic potřebné mi nechybí.
 Vzhledem k tomu, že jsem v Čechách dočasně nechal svou těhotnou manželku, na podzim jsem se na necelé tři týdny vrátil k porodu své první dcery. Až na můj pozdní přílet všechno proběhlo hladce a já se mohl před Dnem díkuvzdání vrátit do Waco, prozatím sám. Na Den díkuvzdání všechny studenty, kteří nebyli místní (což až na jednoho nebyl nikdo), pozval domů spolužák. S manželkou zvali k sobě osamocené duše na svátky už když sloužili v armádě v cizině, a teď v tom pokračují. Nakonec se nás u něj sešlo asi sedm, z toho jsme byli tři cizinci. Na Vánoce mě zase pozval k rodině můj starší texaský kamarád, kterého znám už více než 10 let. Oboje bylo skvělé a jsem rád, že jsem měl příležitost zažít, jak takové svátky slaví místní Američani.
Na začátku února mi do Waco přiletěla rodina, a můj nespoutaný bohémský život skončil. Nicméně to neznamená, že by to teď bylo horší. O jarních prázdninách jsme všichni společně vyrazili na výlet, navštívili New Orleans a postupně dojeli až na sever Floridy. Pravidelně chodíme v neděli do kostela, což je v Texasu dobrá možnost, jak poznat jiné místní lidi, kteří bývají v jiném prostředí trošku odtažití, a člověk se s nimi těžko seznámí.
I přesto, jak moc se mi tu líbí se už těším zpět do Čech. Přeci jen jsem tam doma, mám tam další kus rodiny a kamarády. Texas mi také ukázal několik věcí, které máme u nás mnohem lepší. Jedno je ale jisté, na ten necelý rok budu rád vzpomínat, a rád sem někdy zavítám pozdravit své místní přátele.