Interview By: Maureen Heydt
This article is the first in a new series appearing on the Fulbright Czech Republic blog entitled “Get to Know a Grantee.” Throughout the year, we will be conducting interviews with our American grantees to the Czech Republic for the 2016-2017 grant year, and publishing the articles online. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Jeremy Acevedo is a 25-year old college graduate who is spending a year abroad as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Plzeň, Czech Republic. Jeremy previously studied abroad at Charles University in Prague, and was so enamored with his four-month sojourn, he decided he had to come back and this time, stay for longer. Below, Jeremy discusses his life prior to becoming a Fulbright ETA, his experiences so far in the Czech Republic, and what he hopes to accomplish during his year abroad.
---------------------------------------------- Fast Facts ----------------------------------------
-Hometown: Middlebury, New York
-University/Major: SUNY New Paltz, Sociology/Philosophy
-School in Czech Republic: Střední zdravotnická škola a vyšší odborná škola zdravotnická, Plzeň
-Motto: "No mud, no lotus."
-Favorite Czech food: Svíčková
Can you give some personal background details like where you are from, what you studied, what your interests are?
I’m from Middletown, New York in the Hudson Valley region. I studied sociology and philosophy. My original intention was to go to law school and become a lawyer, but while studying, I realized I was more interested in human behavior, and using social, behavioral and medical science to help people psychologically, emotionally and socially. Now I’m interested in becoming a psychotherapist.
Why did you choose the Czech Republic?
I chose the Czech Republic, in part, because I studied here in 2012 at Charles University in Prague for a semester. I truly enjoyed my time here, so when I thought of applying for the Fulbright scholarship, I knew they had a program in the Czech Republic and it would be an opportunity to have a more in-depth and richer experience of the Czech culture, language and society. My semester at Charles in 2012 was my first time abroad, so I thought that those four mouths would be longer than I could handle, but by the end of the semester I realized that it wasn’t long at all.
How did you hear about the Fulbright ETA program?
The English teacher that I assisted at a gymnazium in Prague in 2012 suggested that I apply for the Fulbright ETA program, and that was the beginning of my thought process for the Fulbright. In 2012, I was also a Gillman scholar and because of that, I was invited to numerous Fulbright events and I was exposed to Fulbright that way.
Tell me about your school that you are working at this year.
My school is a health sciences school in Plzeň; it’s part-secondary school, and part-college of higher education. Students who are at the secondary level study nursing, dental and medical assistant programs, and at the college are the students who are pursuing a more advanced certification in social work, becoming a registered nurse or dental hygienist.
Do you have an extra project you are working on this year?
In addition to teaching at my school, I will soon intern for the NGO Ledovec in Plzeň that provides psychosocial support for people with mental illness and learning disabilities. I will intern with them to teach English to their clients and also other supportive activities, like guided meditation and helping organize some of their events. I’m also hoping to start meeting with my students outside of school to have more conversations with them, and help them more with their listening and speaking skills.
What do you like about teaching English?
I most enjoy the connection and conversation that I have as an ETA. I’m able to be the conversation teacher, so we can worry less about grammar, and structure and we can focus mainly on having interesting and meaningful conversation. Also, by way of that, helping my students improve their listening and speaking skills.
What do you hope to accomplish during your grant year?
I hope to be as helpful as possible. And I know, I already know, that I will grow professionally and personally from this experience. I simply hope to be as helpful as possible and I also hope to more fully immerse myself in the culture and to be civically engaged with the community.
What is the most challenging part of living and working abroad?
The most challenging part is the ambiguity of everything. Everything is different. Mainly it’s the language barrier. If I knew more of the Czech language, I would be able to adapt more to the ambiguous environment, so I find myself struggling at times with the language barrier. However, it’s also a kind of an enjoyable experience because I’m put in a position where I need to learn the language, and I find that to be a productive and fruitful experience, despite the major challenges that it poses.
What is the most rewarding part of living and working abroad?
The most rewarding part is seeing, experiencing and witnessing a different culture and different way of life as it happens. [It’s] that sense of excitement, bewilderment, being somewhere totally different and new, and just being here to witness all of the differences, diversity and the cultural exchanges.
What places in Czech Republic do you want to travel to?
I’ve already traveled to Brno, and Kutná Hora. I’d like to travel to Český Krumlov, Karlovy Vary and Olomouc.
What is something interesting you have learned about Czech culture?
What I’m learning about Czech culture is really understanding more of their social life as it is connected to the tumultuous history with communism, all the shifts and changes in their national identity, and their struggle to protect their national sovereignty. I’m still learning about the Czech Republic, and what I’d like to learn more about is their social life as it is connected and rooted in their history.
What does the Fulbright mission mean to you?
Building mutual understanding between the United States and other countries is exactly what the Fulbright Foundation is doing. It’s been my experience thus far, whether it’s with teaching or just having conversation with people. When they ask why I am here, I’m able to tell them that I’m here with the Fulbright Foundation, in order to not simply teach, but to hopefully have conversations and discussions about the similarities and the differences between Czech culture and society and American culture and society.
What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about spirituality, psychology, theology, religion and social justice. I’m most passionate about human connection: connecting with other human beings whether that’s through teaching English as a foreign language, or perhaps as in the future where I see myself treating people in psychotherapy. Just connecting with people, and helping them in some significant way is what I’m most passionate about.
What do you hope to get out of your year here in Czech Republic with Fulbright?
I hope to learn the Czech language more. I know that I probably won’t be fluent in Czech by the end of the year, but definitely to learn more Czech and I just hope to continue to connect more with my students. I hope that by the time my grant is over, the people that I worked with will feel that I truly helped them and contributed to their growth and development.
How do you think your life will change as a result of this year abroad with Fulbright?
That’s a great question because from the beginning of this experience, I have been experiencing constant change, and being exposed to something new every day so I can’t really say how the Fulbright will change me. But I know, and I have a really good feeling, that it will be for the better. Definitely professionally and personally, I know that this experience will change me for the better and contribute to my growth and my success. I know that it will prepare me for the career that I will build for myself after I begin graduate school, and pursue becoming a licensed psychotherapist.
What do you plan to do after your Fulbright year?
|From left to right: Ivana Křížová, headmistress, Jeremy Acevedo, ETA, American Ambassador Andrew Schapiro and Radka Horáčková, English teacher and Fulbright mentor.|