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.  

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.

What?
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.


2018/05/15



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.

2018/04/12


Scholar Spotlight Interview: Azeta Hatef
by Chloe' Sky 



Summary Azeta Hatef is serving this year as a Fulbright Scholar through an affiliation with Masaryk University in Brno, Czechia. Inspired by her personal journey as an Afghan-American, she studies, researches and teaches international communications and world media systems. Read below to find out about her research in the Roma community, how ethnography informs her method, and why she thinks Fulbright is such a valuable experience.

Fast Facts  
Hometown: Fremont, California
Age: 30
College, Major/Minor: B.A. – Berkeley; M.A. – Syracuse; Ph.D. - Penn State in Mass Communications
Czech University: Masarykova Univerzita
Favorite Czech word or phrase: učitelka, teacher
Favorite Czech food: Azeta is a vegetarian. She likes the meatless classic
smažený sýr, or fried cheese.
Favorite Quote: “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.” -Carl Sagan

  
Explain to me exactly what it means to be a Fulbright Scholar.

The Fulbright Scholarship that I am a part of as a graduate student focuses on dissertation research. I have an affiliation with Masaryk University in Brno, which provides a lot of support and has made my transition to living in Brno so smooth. I work very independently, so my days are scheduled around interviews and observations that I am conducting for my research. The Fulbright program is about exchanging ideas and skills and as a Fulbright Scholar, that’s exactly what we do. It allows individuals to share their experiences and to learn from one another.


What’s your research about?
Broadly speaking, my research focuses on how marginalized communities use social media, specifically as alternative spaces for the development and support of organization, community, and engagement. While there may be certain responses, for example, to these communities gathering in public, I explore how they may use alternative spaces to create identity and community. During my first trip to the Czech Republic in 2016, I met with an organization serving as the largest Roma media server. I noticed many parallels to my work and began researching the topic of media use within Romani communities. My research today examines the intersections of identity formation, community building, and media use by Roma in the Czech Republic. I don’t see social media as a panacea of sorts, but rather a valuable tool and I’m interested in learning how these resources are being employed.


How do you make relationships with people in the Roma community?
Prior to beginning the Fulbright program, I traveled to the Czech Republic to meet with scholars, activists, and organizations working within Romani communities to learn more about the individuals I should be speaking with to understand the questions my research sets out to address. These individuals and my colleagues at Masaryk University have connected me with the people that I have been interviewing since I started the Fulbright year. From there, it’s been like a snowball effect, how one person you meet will introduce you to others.


Where did your interest in the Roma come from?
I have a personal and academic interest in understanding identity and how we perform them in different spaces. My interests in understanding hyphenated identities stem from my own experiences as an Afghan-American. So, I am particularly interested in understanding the lived realities of this insider/outsider relationship. In my case, the personal has inspired and informed the academic.

After coming here in 2016, I started to see a lot of parallels to the questions that guide my research. I became interested in learning more about the social and political issues within the country and as someone who researches media, I set out to explore how online spaces could be utilized to foster greater intercultural awareness and possibly empower communities.


What kind of challenges have you encountered in this work?
Of course there is the language barrier. It’s interesting and different for me because in Afghanistan I could communicate with people directly because I speak one of the official languages, Dari. Here in Czechia, individuals who feel comfortable speaking in English will; otherwise, I work with an interpreter and it’s been working out really well.

There’s also the fact that I am a woman of color, something I am hyperaware of living in the Czech Republic. This provides a different perspective to my work and allows me to make connections and understand the intersections of oppression between different marginalized communities.


What has been the most rewarding for you?
Connecting with people and listening to their powerful stories. I appreciate the individuals’ graciousness in sharing time with me and their reflection on sensitive topics. Sometimes they ask me why I came to Czechia, and I respond, “Why not?” The work I do with ethnography allows me to spend an extended time here to learn more about the lived realities of being Roma in the Czech Republic. There are many community leaders who are working towards change and it is inspiring to speak with them.

How is your analysis going?
It’s going well. I’m still doing interviews, which can take between 45 minutes and two hours. There is a diversity in terms of gender, age and sexuality among the individuals I am interviewing. At this point, some themes are starting to emerge in terms of how the Roma produce their identities online and how they create community, which is empowering.

What solutions do you see emerging from this research?
It depends on the findings this research yields and it will take time. There are different goals for individuals and communities, for example, political representation. So, findings on political engagement online may help comment on some possible solutions.


How do you think Fulbright will impact your future career trajectory?
The research will continue – I see myself returning to Czechia and collaborating further with the organizations and individuals I have met over the year. I also hope that I can do some comparative work with this project in the future.
 This year will also inform my teaching. I teach courses on international media, and I always tell my students, “If there’s one thing you take away from this course, I hope it’s given you a sense of curiosity that inspires you to understand different individuals and cultures.” This opportunity from Fulbright has been so important. The program encourages connecting and learning through our differences. Given the current political climate, this is particularly important. It’s important to reflect on the purpose and impact of the Fulbright program especially considering the funding crisis it faces.






2018/04/05

ETA Spotlight Interview: Maeve Duffy


by Chloe' Sky 

Maeve Duffy is serving this year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Rakovník (17,000 people), although she lives in a village called Senomaty (1000 people). Having majored in Theatre at Barnard College, Maeve is bringing Broadway to Czechia by directing a play in her town. Read below to find out exactly what classic American story she’s working on with her students, how she deals with the tough topics that are seen differently in Czech and American culture, and how being so close to nature has impacted her life.


Fast Facts
Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland
Age: 22
College, Major/Minor: Barnard College, B.A. in Theatre with a concentration in Acting, pre-med track, minor in Biochemistry
School in the Czech Republic: Gymnazium Zikmunda Wintra Rakovník
Favorite Czech word or phrase: veverka, squirrel. “Day 2 of my grant I was attacked by a squirrel, so this was one of the first Czech words I learned. I used it in the classroom and now my students think I love squirrels. I really, really don’t.”
Favorite Czech food: Maeve is gluten-free. She loves the duck with rye crust from the Prague restaurant Švejk.
Favorite Quote: “People will forget what you say, people will forget what you do, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Tell me about yourself.
I’m an actor, a storyteller, and now an English teacher. I studied Theatre and Biochemistry as an undergrad and I was cast in a play by Václav Havel, Largo Desolato, and I even wrote my thesis on Havel. That’s how I fell in love with Czech people and culture. Oh, and since my grant started, I’ve learned how to bike, ski and ice skate.

I see why you chose Czechia! 
It was amazing to learn about Havel, a man who ignited revolution and served as a figurehead for change. I wanted to go to a country that elected a playwright as president.

Do you have any advice for people applying to Fulbright?
It’s beautiful here, I really love the country. The people who are happiest here have a real reason for wanting to be in Czechia. So – have a real reason for applying to the country you’re considering spending a year of your life in.

Tell me about the area where you live.
It’s 45 minutes west of Prague and I feel so lucky for that. My town has a vibrant theatre scene. It’s also a factory community with Proctor & Gamble headquarters, and other companies like Valeo and Rako. There are a lot of expats here. Also, the desire for English is high, which makes my job much better. My students want to work, travel and consume English media. The village where I live is gorgeous and has a higher elevation than the town, so there are amazing views. I go running all the time in the forest, spending more time outside now than I ever have. A lot of people would tell me in the beginning, “I’m spending the weekend in nature.” Now I really understand what that means. I want to spend the weekend in nature too.

What do you enjoy about teaching English?
My students are really inquisitive and have a strong foundation of English. I can even delve into conversations about gun violence, sexism, racism and politics. They ask a lot of tough questions. And it’s not just about telling my opinion but helping them to figure out their own. Part of Fulbright is learning through listening, and I really try to listen to the students and learn from them – how they view the USA and what they think about what’s happening in our world right now.

What was difficult about adjusting to live in Czechia?
I came from a women’s college where we supported each other and lifted each other up, so it’s difficult to see male students always raising their hands or speaking first. The teaching assistant nature of my job – seeing myself as something of a peer – has helped so much in encouraging even female students to speak. It was also difficult adjusting to the blatant sexism you can encounter here. At my college if we [saw an instance of sexism], we would shut it down. Here in my teaching capacity I can’t do that in the same abrupt declarative way. You have to pick your battles. If everything students say makes you fly off handle, you won’t get anything done and they won’t trust you. Instead, if someone says something inappropriate in class, I may not address it immediately, but come in next week and use it as a teachable moment; for example, “What it means to be a feminist.”

What else has been challenging for you?
Being away from my family and not being able to go back home and be there with them [in tough moments]. I’m really close with my little brother who has Down Syndrome and it’s hard to explain to him why I’m not there.

On the flip side, what has been rewarding about your experience living abroad?
Getting to try everything! I’ve taken the “say yes to everything” approach. Also, Europeans do work-life balance so well. I used to sleep four hours every night and think that was great; now I sleep eight to ten hours. I end school early and then have time to do what I want, I can be outside so much and take five-kilometer runs and it’s amazing. It’s just so simple, a simple form of joy. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, just because I have time to practice self-care, be in nature and really enjoy it. I keep saying nature!

That’s because it’s such a major part of your experience! What are you doing for your Fulbright project?
Since August, I’ve had a theatre improvisation class in English, and I’ve just now started the process of directing a full-length play. I got a small grant from the US Embassy and we’re going to be doing The Wizard of Oz in English. It’s a fairytale, which Czech people love – my town already has an English theatre troupe which has performed some fairytales in English. At school, I’ve announced the play and am now putting the cast together. We’ve read through a 15-minute version and talked about the major themes, but we’re going to do the real read-through next week and I hope to finalize the cast by Easter!

That sounds amazing, especially because most Czech people don’t know that story! Last question: How will your life change after Fulbright?
I spend way more time outside and now I actively search out opportunities to do so, whereas I used to be a passive consumer of exercise. I appreciate the simplicity of life here. I realize that I need far less than I thought I did. For now, I’m hoping to maybe stay in Czechia another year.


2018/03/27

ETA Spotlight Interview: Danielle Mueller

by Chloe' Sky

Danielle Mueller

Danielle Mueller is serving this year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in the little town of Sušice, Czech Republic, near the Šumava mountains. An educator with a Bachelor’s in Sociology and English, Danielle studied abroad in Prague before Fulbright. Read below to find out how many Statement of Purpose drafts Danielle had to write, how Fulbright has impacted her self-image for the better, and what unexpected faux pas she’s committed by drawing basic shapes! 


Fast Facts
Hometown:
Cortlandt Manor, New York
Age: 23
College, Major/Minor: Hobart & William Smith Colleges, Sociology and English plus completion of an Education track
School in the Czech Republic: Gymnázium Sušice
Favorite Czech word or phrase: “Kočička” – meaning a small cat or a pretty girl
Favorite Czech food: Svíčková
Favorite Quote: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Tell me about yourself.
I’m 23 and I’ve lived in Westchester County my whole life. This is the first time I’ve lived abroad for so long, not like study abroad in college, but in the sense of having this permanent home for a year. I’m very athletic, I love music and singing, and I’m a very social person. I love to be around people. It’s a hard question!

The simplest things can take us by surprise sometimes! So here’s another one: Why did you choose Czech Republic?
My college really stressed the importance of going abroad. I was lucky enough that I could fit a semester study abroad into my schedule, and I chose Prague because (1) I wanted to go to Europe, (2) the classes I took there fit nicely with my major, and (3) I was so impressed by the city’s beauty. So I did one semester at Charles University in which I took courses about essential European writers, including one specifically on Kafka; “Comprehending the Holocaust”; the history of the Czech Republic, and Czech language. I loved being here and four months was simply not enough, especially in such a big city where I could easily speak English with the many foreign students. I didn’t get enough of my experience, so I knew I had to come back and that when I did, I wanted it to be a much more meaningful and immersive experience.

What advice would you give to those writing their Statements of Purpose?
I would say to let your authentic self shine through. Writing applications are difficult and they often feel forced. I remember I wrote about fifteen drafts before I got it right! Keep pulling the strings and when you hit on the anecdote that’s just right, hone in on it.

Do you have any advice in general for those coming to Czech Republic?
I would want people to know that in Czech Republic you’ll be received with open arms. There are a lot of stereotypes about how Czech people are cold. Of course, don’t expect warm and fuzzy at first, but when you go a bit deeper, you’ll find that this is the furthest thing from the truth.

In terms of fitting in with your community, your fate is being chosen for a year based on what your application tells the Commission. Be prepared to be flexible no matter what cards you are given, but get involved! Say yes to every opportunity you feel comfortable with. Go to concerts and plays to support your students. The Czechs will open their hearts to you – you can trust that.

How big is your community, and what’s interesting about the area?
Sušice has a population of 11,000 people. It’s in a valley near the Šumava mountains and the Otava river. It’s so easy to be active here because everyone in my town is so active. Everyone knows everyone here and everywhere you look, people are cross-country skiing, hiking, and biking. Another interesting thing is the former Solo factory, which made safety matches. It’s closed now and you can see the ruins of the factory and its smokestacks. (I interrupt and say: Wow! I think I actually have a box of matches somewhere by them; it even says Made in Czechoslovakia.) That’s the one!

What about at school?
For a small town, Sušice is always buzzing. And the Gymnázium I work at is great. It has four- and eight-year tracks and a wonderful English department, which is always looking to improve itself. For example, we are currently taking part in an international Erasmus project called “Fight for Tolerance.” Overall, it’s a very welcoming environment, and I felt welcome from the first day.

I feel that I can really fulfill my interests here. I’ve joined a choir and a football team, and I’m taking ballroom dancing classes. At school, I have started a beginner English club for teachers to encourage alternative ways of learning.

What’s interesting is that in my school environment, age doesn’t really matter. This is different from American schools. I remember being in high school and clearly noticing the difference between freshmen and seniors. But everyone gets along here, and the students treat each other well.

That’s amazing; I’m so happy to hear it. Can you tell me about the adjustment process you went through?
Adjusting was easier than I thought! The thing that terrified me most was the idea of being alone. It was like jumping into a dark swimming pool with no idea of what’s below the surface. However, I was embraced within the first couple of days. The first night, I remember playing UNO with my mentor’s kids. She also invited me to lunch every Sunday, and though it’s a 40-minute walk from me, I went. I didn’t realize until later what a big step that is for Czechs. I got to practice saying those basics, Dobrý den, čau, ahoj – even though that last one will always be strange for me since I will always associate it with pirates J (Interviewer’s note: These are different ways to say „hello/goodbye“ with varying levels of formality. Čau is the Czech version of ciao, and ahoj (ahoy) is in fact a normal greeting!)

It sounds like it wasn’t so bad! Did you face any challenges?
On the adjustment front, it was difficult dealing with ties back home, as well as social expectations here. In the end, [making friends and fitting in] was rewarding, like – I can do this! I could have easily stayed at home – it would have been so easy. I wake up some days and say to myself, I’m living in a foreign country. And I think I’m doing a very good job. It gives you the opportunity to be alone with yourself. Not everyone has a chance in life to do it, to relocate and in a different sense, really meet yourself.

How do you think Fulbright has impacted you?
Fulbright has shown me the power of intercultural exchange. Before I went abroad in my Junior year of college a member of the Global Education team, they gave us a quote to consider: “There’s no growth in the comfort zone, and no comfort in the growth zone.” And I really believe in it. Here we have a support group of 26 other Americans and the Commission and it’s not so difficult. The program gives us structure – and yet there’s a lot of freedom – and there are people to fall back on; you’re never truly alone. At the same time, every one of us has a unique experience. I think it’s helped me advocate for myself growing as an individual, which can be frustrating for some but not for me. It’s improved my communication skills, and I’ve gotten to know my own language better – that’s a side effect of teaching to non-native speakers.

Give me a funny anecdote from your time here.
I’ve got two, and although the second one may not be so appropriate, it will definitely be educational for incoming Fulbrighters…

The first one wasn’t so funny at the time. It’s about Czech eating habits. When I was at [my now-boyfriend] Pepa’s house for the first time, it was Sunday lunch, and I was being my normal American self, cutting with the knife in my right hand and then switching to eat with the fork. And so, his dad asked, “Is she left-handed?” It was just this huge mess and I ended up being so embarrassed because everyone was laughing at my method of switching hands. Now I’m hyper-aware of how I eat and am training myself to eat like a Czech. When I go to switch hands, I say, No, Danielle, focus…

The second one is about a sports lesson I was doing in class with a lower English level while co-teaching. We were talking about baseball and I was explaining the baseball field, so I drew a diamond on the board. But in Czech, a diamond represents the vagina. I was labeling it: Here’s home base; first, second, third; here’s the pitcher’s mound… And my colleague was saying quietly, “No, no…” Of course she couldn’t tell me because we were standing in front of the class and everyone was laughing. I felt so awkward, but I was also frustrated because I only wanted to describe baseball!
Czech Christmas-themed class by Danielle.