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.

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