ETA Spotlight Interview: Sarah Marie Kidder

Sarah Marie Kidder
by Sinia Amanonce

While attending Penn State University, Sarah Marie Kidder was part of a hip-hop dance team that hosted an event featuring Jaja Vankova, a famous Czech dancer, as one of their judges. As Sarah and Jaja spoke about dance, culture, and the Czech Republic, Sarah was inspired to apply for Fulbright in the Czech Republic. Read below to find out what Sarah has to say about building bonds with students and her experience living in Česká Lípa.

Fast Facts:

Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Age: 24
College, Major/Minor: Penn State University, University Park, Biobehavioral Health
School in the Czech Republic: Obchodní akademie Česká Lípa
Favorite Czech word: “I really like “veverka” which means squirrel and the phrase “tak ahoj!”[bye]”
Favorite Czech food: Chlebíčky
Favorite Quote: “The sun is perfect and you woke this morning. You have enough language in your mouth to be understood. You have a name, and someone wants to call it. Five fingers on your hand and someone wants to hold it. If we just start there, every beautiful thing that has and will ever exist is possible. If we start there, everything, for a moment, is right in the world.” - Warsan Shire

Tell me about yourself.

My name is Sarah and I’m a Penn State University graduate. I graduated in 2016, worked in research for a year at the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, and then applied for Fulbright. I really like travelling, learning new languages, dancing, horseback riding, and I love photography.

Have you had the chance to dance or go horseback riding while being here? Have you had the time to do these things you like?
Photography, yes. I was really excited about being here because I knew I’d have time to improve on my photography. I bought a new lense since being here but I’m still just teaching myself. With dancing, I haven’t been able to do that yet. There is a hip hop dance group in my town called Tutti Frutti. One of my students is on the team, so I’m hoping to do a couple workshops with them, which would be awesome.

I feel like now I’m actually settling down, but the first few months felt like a whirlwind. Even though I have a lot of free time, I feel tired. I think being in a new place zaps your energy and you don’t even realize it.

I have to say, I love your Instagram! You post events and activities with your students, and everyone looks like they are enjoying themselves. How did you build this relationship with your students?
It’s actually kinda funny. We found out about our acceptance to Fulbright in March or April I think, and before I even knew which town I would be placed in, a girl messaged me through Twitter saying, “Me and my friend, Paja, are so excited to meet you in September. We can’t wait until you’re here.” I said, “Oh I’m really excited to meet you too, but who are you?” It turns out, they would be my students. The school told the students about me and posted an article on the school website. I found out the details of my placement through my students and Twitter messages before the Fulbright Commission told me.

A month after that, some of my classes sent me videos or PowerPoints introducing themselves. I didn’t know if it was because they had never met an American or if they really enjoy speaking English, but they seemed excited to meet me. Now, I say “hi” to everyone as I pass them in the hallways at school which is incredible. I don’t think I could have another experience of moving to a different country where I feel so welcomed by so many people. Also, I think I’m close to my students simply because I want to be and make the effort. When I’m friends with someone, and know what they like and care about, I think it’s much easier to teach them. I can tailor my lessons to what they are interested in and it’s always more comfortable to try to speak another language with a friend. In class, I am very much myself, and the school definitely allows for that, so it’s been nice.

Tell me about the town you’re living in this year.
Whenever I tell other Czech people I’m living in Česká Lípa, I get a weird “ugh” and then they always ask “why?” You know how they call Baltimore “Charm City?” Well, Česká Lípa is a place that grows on you. I can’t imagine being placed anywhere else now. At first I thought, “Aww, man. I’m not in Plzeň or a big city with a mall.” [laughs] But, it’s great. Once I saw that there was sushi and coffee, I knew I was going to be okay.

Not sushi and coffee at the same time, right?
No, not at the same time. But yeah, I live in an attic apartment above someone’s home. It’s actually one of my students, and her grandma, grandpa, and great grandma. They are all so great! Grandma and great grandma are always giving me food and hugs and grandpa is always offering me a beer, even in the morning. He also has full on conversations with me in Czech even though I don’t know what he’s saying.

What!? That’s great! Tell me more. How did you find that housing?
Before I came here, Niky and Tereza, my students, were helping me look for a flat. We couldn’t find anything as affordable or as close to the school as I’d like. So Nikki was living in the attic flat, decided to move downstairs, and said, “You can live with us.” I was nervous at first, but since I’m such a people person, I’m so happy there are others in the house. I’m really close with them now. I go downstairs often to just watch television with grandpa or hang out with Niky.

Wow, I’m glad it worked out for you. What about the school you’re working at? What is it like?
I’m at a business academy. I only teach at one school, which has been nice because I’ve had the opportunity to teach every class at least once and meet everyone. I’ve become more and more comfortable with teaching in a classroom. In the U.S., I was an ESL tutor, and the most I had was two or three students at a time. I was nervous because I didn’t know if I’d be able to command a classroom or not. I was also nervous about teaching teens because I am used to working with adults. I have so much respect for teachers who get up everyday and try to pull any amount of emotion out of teenagers.

How was it adjusting to living in the Czech Republic?
I think the experiences I had before Fulbright, like studying abroad in Tanzania, prepared me for going with the flow and knowing that being uncomfortable is a fleeting feeling. Things don’t always work out the way you think they are going to and that’s fine. I adapt more and more each day and now, I really love the way of life here.

What is the most rewarding part of living and working abroad?
This may sound selfish, but I think one of the most rewarding parts is being able to look back and know I lived in another country, functioned from day to day, and had the capacity to be able to do something like this. I’m proud of myself for doing Fulbright because I come from a family that rarely steps out of their comfort zone. I think being able to be independent and on my own are the main reasons I wanted to live abroad. It has been awesome. Also, I’ve made so many new relationships. I’m going to be devastated when I have to go home. I keep thinking “Oh no, I have only so many months left.” Then, I have to tell myself “Stop thinking about that and just be happy right now!” I have friends here who I care about and will want to keep in touch with for the rest of my life.

What is the most challenging part of being abroad?
I think it’s the same as the most rewarding. Being on your own, being independent, and trying to figure everything out. I feel like not being able to express yourself fully is also a challenge. I have to say things in different ways and I don’t know if I’m always getting my point across.

Why did you choose to apply to Fulbright Czech Republic?
I guess there are a bunch of smaller reasons that led me to choosing the Czech Republic. I was really interested in the history and culture of the Czech Republic, and had the chance to meet a few Czechs back in the States. I invited a Czech dancer, Jaja Vankova, to be a judge at my dance team’s big annual ‘jam’ at Penn State. So I got to talk with her about the Czech Republic, which made me even more excited to see it for myself!

How do you think your life will change as a result of this year abroad with Fulbright?
I have no idea because I’m not entirely sure what I want to do after Fulbright. I went into this academic year trying to make sure I was fully present in the moment. I didn’t apply to graduate school because I didn’t want to worry about that while I was here. I hate that I feel like I always have to think about the next year in life. I think it takes away from the experience of what you’re currently doing. I just want to be here, experience everything, say yes to everything, and see where that takes me.

How are you feeling about everything at this moment?

Great! Each day has its ups and downs, but as a whole, I’m really excited still to be here. Maybe I’ll just stay and open up a taco shop because there is a serious lack of Mexican food in the Czech Republic. Not that I know anything about Mexican food, nor do I think I should be the ambassador for that, but I can learn!

Sarah and her students at the gym. 

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