This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
-------------------------------------- Fast Facts ----------------------------------------
- Hometown: Aurora, Illinois
- Education: Grand Valley State University, Writing/International Relations, Applied Linguistics
- School in Czech Republic: OŠ zdravotnická a Střední zdravotnická, Trutnov, and Obchodní akademie, Trutnov
- Age: 23
- Favorite Czech word: sníh (snow)
- Favorite quote: “The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” -Dr. Seuss
Hello! Can you please give a brief introduction of yourself?
I grew up in a city about 45 minutes west of Chicago, and I went to college in Michigan at Grand Valley University. I started as a nursing major, and I think I changed my major maybe five or six times, before ending up as a writing major.
And what are you passionate about?
I would say two things. The first one would be communication, hands down. I really like reading, writing, learning languages, and talking to other people. Stories are one of my favorite things ever! Whether it’s what you’re reading, or what you hear from talking to other people. I’m kind of a word-nerd, so I really like listening to other people. My second thing would be food! I really love food, trying different things, messing around with ingredients and recipes, and learning about different traditions from different places. I love it!
Why did you choose to apply for a Fulbright grant to the Czech Republic, specifically?
It was for a lot of different reasons. I knew I wanted to be in central Europe, because I was really fascinated with this idea of so many countries being really close together, geographically and politically. The Czech Republic in particular, I thought was really interesting, mostly because of its history, and how many changes it has gone through.
Had you been to the Czech Republic before?
No, I hadn’t! I had some friends whose family had come from Czechoslovakia, but me personally, besides visiting Mexico on vacation, I had never been outside the US before this.
And were you nervous to move to a country that you’d never been to before?
I was terrified! [laughs]
But how did it work out, how do you feel now?
I am so glad I did it! It is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s been amazing. I’m so glad it did it!
That’s so great to hear! And how did you prepare for your Fulbright grant?
I went to the library by my house, and I checked out every single book they had on the Czech Republic! Most of them were children’s picture books, but the information and the pictures were good! Besides the library books, I read a lot of travel guides, and spent a lot of time on Google images, and I bought a Czech textbook to try and learn Czech.
What is the town you’re living in this year like?
Trutnov has about over 30,000 people, and it’s in the Eastern Bohemia region. Trutnov is all snuggled up against the Krkonoše mountains, so the scenery and the nature are phenomenal. It’s absolutely beautiful. Most of the places in the town are either walking up or downhill, so that’s been a workout. My favorite place in the town is probably the town park, because it looks down at the city center and the main square, and it has a fantastic view of the mountains. I love it!
It sounds beautiful! And you actually work at two schools this year. What are they like?
Yes, one of the schools is a business academy, and I’m mainly teaching the third and fourth year students. One of the cool things about this school, is that they have this class that’s like a ‘practical company’ class, where they practice running a company! They come up with products and do the marketing and advertising for it. It’s really cool, and it’s really impressive to see what they’ve come up with.
And the second school is a medical secondary school, and there I teach all four grade levels. It’s a little bit different than the business academy, as students are split into two tracks. There’s general studies, and then there’s a track for nursing assistants. They have a pretty specialized curriculum since most of them are going onto medical professions. They also do a lot of hospital training, which is really impressive to be in high school, and have real hands-on experience.
What is it like to teach at two schools at the same time? How do you manage it?
It can be tricky. The hardest days are probably when I teach at both schools, because it feels very disconnected, switching between colleagues and which classes do I have, and making sure I have all of my materials, but I really like the variety.
I’m sure there’s always so much going on, that you don’t get bored with this kind of schedule!
Definitely not! It was hard to get used to, to be honest.
And do you have an extra project you are working on this year?
I do an English discussion class with teachers on Wednesday afternoons, and it’s pretty cool. It’s nice to see them outside of class, and I get to know them better, as people beyond the classroom too, so that’s been cool. In the winter, it’s not so much a project, but I went ice skating every week with a group of girls from one of my schools. I also did a personal project, where I’ve been putting together a collection of recipes from some of the Czech food I’ve had!
That’s such a great idea!
Yeah, I love it. I’ve gotten to do a lot of cooking with some of my colleagues and students’ families. It’s delicious, and really good for learning Czech. I have recipes so far for svíčková, garlic soup, goulash, Czech bread, and some Christmas sweets, like vanilla rolls. I love it so much! Hopefully, I’ll be able to replicate them at home!
And what do you like about teaching English?
I like being another resource for the students. It’s been really cool to watch them interact with me and with each other, and to just get more confident with English as the year’s gone on. I really like learning with them, and also from them, at the same time that I’m teaching.
What would you say is the most challenging part of living and working abroad?
I definitely would say it’s how isolated you sometimes feel, for a lot of different reasons, like the language, of course. No matter how much you might have practiced Czech, if you didn’t already have a pretty good handle on it, it’s really hard to pick up at first, and to use it at the speed that everyone does, so you end up feeling left out of conversations sometimes. It was hard to get used to not being near friends and family too, and because of the time difference, you really are on your own a lot when you’re not with your colleagues and your students, so it can be pretty lonely at first.
And has that gotten better the longer you’ve been there?
Yeah, definitely! Definitely!
And on the other side, what is the most rewarding part of living and working abroad?
That’s a hard question! I think for me the most rewarding part has been how much I’ve learned. Which is kind of funny, because I came here to teach, but I’ve seriously learned so much about the Czech Republic, politics in Europe, different education systems, public transport and how to use it, and food! There’s just been so much to learn here!
What was one of your favorite things you have experienced so far during your grant year?
There’s been a lot really great experiences, but I think my favorite would have to be the Maturita ball [Czech equivalent of prom and gradation, all in one]. I went to two, because I had one for each school, and it was so much fun! Everyone looked great, and we all danced, and it was such a good time!
Sounds wonderful! And now, you’re more than halfway through your grant. What is something you are looking forward to that is still to come?
Just springtime in general, because all the way since August, all of my Czech friends have been telling me that springtime here is just really beautiful, so I’m excited to see it. I’m going to do a lot of hiking, see some castles, and spend as much time as I can, enjoying this country, its people, and the time I have left.
Why do you think international education and exchanges are important for people to experience?
My answer is kind of contradictory, because I think one of the reasons it’s most important is because it shows you how big the world is, but also how small it is. Big in the way that there’s so much you can learn from the countries, cultures, and people, but small, because we already have so much in common, that you don’t really realize how much until you go to a different country. That kind of duality is cool!
Definitely! And with that, what does the Fulbright mission mean to you?
I think the simplest way I can describe it would be to say, it’s having the opportunity to discover new ideas and gain these perspectives that you would never have considered. I think it’s impossible to leave a Fulbright the same as you were before.
What do you plan to do after your Fulbright year?
That’s a fantastic question! I don’t really know to be honest. There’s so many things that I want to do that it’s hard to narrow it down, but I think this summer I’m heading back to Chicago, to spend time with my family and friends, and I think immediately after that, I really want to kick it up a notch with language and my language abilities. I want to keep learning Czech, get back into Spanish, and I want to get better at it and use it more, and maybe pick up another language. Other than that though, I don’t know!
And do you have any advice for anyone considering applying for a Fulbright?
Do it! Absolutely do it! It’s terrifying, and it’s exhilarating, and it is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, and it is 100 percent worth every second.
And if you could sum up your Fulbright experience in one word, what would it be?
And is there anything else you would like to add?
Just to say thank you to everyone who is involved with Fulbright, and who helps make it run. It’s been amazing since the moment I opened the confirmation email, and I can’t imagine not having done it. And a special shout out to the Czech Fulbright Commission! They’ve been phenomenal, and immensely supportive at every single turn!
|Megan Rodawold with her students|