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Pranav Kakulamarri: Say Less

Pranav Kakulamarri is
an English Teaching Assistant. He currently teaches English at Gymnázium Tišnov. His host town of 10 000 is located 22 kilometers north-east of Brno. In August 2022, Pranav arrived in the Czech Republic with a BS in Neuroscience from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, a life-long passion for chess and a future plan to become a physician after his 10-month adventure in the Czech Republic. With experience as a chess instructor, a reading tutor and a researcher, he had some pedagogy skills, but no prior classroom experience. Today, Pranav is the Tišnov celebrity - he was featured in the town's paper, people greet him in the streets and strangers initiate conversations with him on train or bus, starting with: "I know you, you were in the town's paper." What is Pranav's magic? Natural charisma, positive attitude, disarming smile, and his ability to listen to others.

“What is happiness and how does it differ within a culture? Why does one live and why am I here?” Like a typical young adult in their 20s, I had asked these big questions before starting my Fulbright Teaching Assistant Grant in the Czech Republic. As my grant progressed, I had the herculean task of answering these questions, while trying to understand how to speak about my culture and learning that of Czech culture.

Early on in my grant, I decided that I would do everything I could to answer the questions I had initially answered. Meeting people and trying new things would be the best way to hear the stories of people to answer these questions. Stories, after all, are the bridges that connect the roads of different backgrounds. My motto became “Say less,” every time I was invited to something or when I was confronted with trying something new. This meant that I would not question trying something new, and I would delightedly join in as a “yes man.” I constantly tried to remind myself that the experience was as enlightening for me as it was for my community, with each new activity or experience that I added to my life’s story.

Photo: Pranav with a group of his students from the Tišnov Gymnázium during a hike nearby Tišnov, Fall 2022.   

Within hours of landing in my town, I tried to embrace this attitude by immediately taking a walking tour of Tišnov and proceeding to have a barbeque with the wonderful Helena and her family (my landlord). Within a few minutes, I learned about the traditional “Dobrou Chut” and tried my first Czech meal of Kuřecí Řízek (basically a chicken steak) with a side of Slivovice (plum brandy). This was followed by a tour the next day of the second largest city in the Czech Republic of Brno from my wonderful mentor Zdenka. During the ride, I still remember her speaking with me about how she loved spending time with her family and watching her kids grow, while I shared how my Indian upbringing collided with my American environment. Soon after our tour, I experienced the culture shock of how traditional American coffee starkly differed from that of the espresso of the Czech Republic while I was invited to Zdenka’s house. These small differences made me realize how different of an environment I was in, piquing me to ask more questions.

Photo: Pranav's first barbeque party with his landlord Helena (front right) and some neighbors, September 2022. 
As the weeks went by, I began to show more of my personality, and wanted to show the friendly nature of Americans by fully expressing who I am through my goofy gestures. From teaching people my weird handshakes to dances, I wanted students and teachers to get a complete picture of who I was. The more open I was, and the more I shared my Indian and American background, the more people opened up to me. I still remember when I brought Indian snacks called “Murukulu,” for one class and how they began using English words like “spicy,” and “crunchy.” This made me realize the importance of how connecting with people makes cross-cultural integration a lot smoother.

Photo: Pranav during a lesson on neuroscience, October 2022.  

As my comfort with students and teachers continued to grow, they began to invite me to more events such as the traditional Czech festival of “Hody.” During the first part of Hody, I was able to observe traditional folk stories and ceremonies while attempting to speak to people in my broken Czech. An older woman had recognized my efforts and invited me to the feast part of Hody where I was encouraged by her to take part in the formal dancing. Despite the initial reluctance, I remembered my motto of “Say less,” and I decided to try formal dancing despite having no idea what I was doing. As the night progressed I began to laugh and act like my goofy self to showcase my appreciation of this moment. Soon after I had a crowd cheering for me, and I met even more people. Each moment led to me meeting people, which led to beautiful conversations that led me to understand the deeper-rooted questions I had initially asked.

Photo: Pranav and his students during Indian holiday Holi - a special event that Pranav organized at his school with the help of six other Fulbright English Teaching Assistants from his cohort, April 2023.

With my Fulbright grant, I have continued to pick up a variety of hobbies and reignite old passions such as photography (even bought a camera here), writing, starting a chess club and playing in tournaments, dancing, rock climbing, cooking traditional foods, and reading. Each of these hobbies grew with my conversations about trying new things with people and it became a way of expanding my worldview while helping me connect with people. Through hobbies like cooking, I was able to cook Indian food for Czech people and tell them about my experience as an immigrant growing up in America. I was able to shed light on the diversity of the United States. My openness to culture helped people feel more comfortable inviting me to try various Czech foods and learn about the food culture of the country. Through these various hobbies, I have been able to speak and learn from a different culture while expanding my worldview. Each conversation helped me inch a little closer to answering the questions I had previously asked. I learned the importance of good health, family, strong relationships, and trying new things as a key to happiness. The relationships I have begun to build here have given me a new perspective as to how I would like to foster long-term relationships with people.

With this grant coming to an end, I can say I have learned to say “Say less,” as a means of enjoying life.

Photo: Pranav with his Czech friend and a bouldering enthusiast in a bouldering facility in Brno, winter 2022/2023.

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