Every year 130 Czech governmental scholarships are awarded to “third countries in need” students based on academic merit*. The precondition for such scholarship award consists in successful passing of one-year preparatory course of Czech language and of entrance examinations, which are supposed to be undertaken in the same conditions as for Czech native speakers, without enjoying any particular privilege.

As a foreigner from ‘third-country’ myself (I wonder how such expression can still appear on the official website of Ministry of Education), I was interested in what all those students suddenly become after graduation and how did they manage to overpass all troubles implicitly related to study in a foreign language. I tended to be more critical and focused entirely on the black side of the topic, trying to make public some discourses that have been circulating only in a very narrow milieu, but during the first interview I realized such dark side doesn’t exist (at least not for my interviewees), or it wasn’t as dark as I expected. Make long story short: I ended up by unfolding ‘successful stories’ of graduates who bravely endured the slings and arrows of studying in one of the ‘most difficult foreign language on the earth’ (words of my Czech teacher at UJOP, Poděbrady).

A study program that would make sense

Gabriel Belmonte, Bolivia, storage management at IBM (Brno)

The reason I contacted Gabriel is because his story differs from the others, bringing up an alternative note in the repertoire of ‘successful stories’.

He didn’t finish his degree in Nuclear Engineering at Brno University of Technology: “It was insanely hard and I realized it wasn’t really what I wanted to study”. Before going home on holidays, he applied for a job position in Customer Support at IBM, as they were looking for native Spanish speakers. He got then easily accepted when being in Bolivia by skipping any further job interview. After 2 years of Customer Support he had been promoted to storage management department. I asked him if he has ever considered going back into academic world and accomplishing his degree: “I would love to go back one day, but I should find something that would make sense to me.”

As everyone else he’ve been passing through foreign police slow machinery and must deal with cultural shock, bad services, Czechs cold and impersonal attitude etc. His recommendations regarding new incomers consist in being proactive and the initiator when socializing with Czechs. A special assistance for ‘third-countries’ students, similar to Erasmus Students Network, would be welcomed as well.

If you came here to study – then study!

Daniel Gutierrez, Peru, Bc. in Economics, full-time job in Finance in an American company (Brno)

Cristian Benites, Peru, last year of his bachelor in Nuclear Energy, helpdesk administrator in outsourcing company (Brno)

‘We must adapt’ and “Learning Czech” were the expressions I’ve heard most frequently when discussing with Daniel and Cristian, 2 scholarship holders from Peru. Achieving a Diploma with EU label on it guarantees a high position on the labor market once returned to Latin America. “Once we go back to Peru or to any other country from South America, the opportunities will be very big for us, because we will have European Diploma, plus work experiences and high proficiency in languages,” says Daniel. He revealed also that nowadays South America becomes a salient destination for Mediterranean countries as result of economic crisis: “That’s something you wouldn’t imagine 20 years ago. It is predicted that in 10-15 years Peru’s economy will become one of the 25th strongest economies in the world.”

They both take advantage of being seen as very ‘exotic’ in Czech Republic and they are proud of their origins. Sometimes they identify themselves with native Czechs when being abroad or in English speaking environment: “I identify myself with this place especially when I am outside CR and I hear some informal Czech words in the street as ‘ty vole’ – they sound so familiar to me, I say  to myself – hey, he is from CR !” says Cristian with enthusiasm.

They claim that language acquisition was very tough for them as Spanish speakers, but their motivation to graduate was empowering enough to keep them improving continuously. In few cases it was possible to take exams in Spanish and English and both enjoyed a lot of help from their uni mates. Despite all difficulties, they feel at this stage fully ‘integrated’ in Czech society and recommend learning Czech, being open-minded and accepting the challenges with responsibility: “I will strongly recommend learning Czech, that’s the key for everything. And if you came here to study – then study! And after you can get everything you want,” suggests Daniel.  In addition Cristian is addressing the issue of medical insurance by putting forward the proposal of insurance card, just as regular Czech students possess.

Don’t become a person who wants to stay in the country at any costs

Ing. Amal Al Khatib, Jordan, Master in Engineering Computer Science and Automation, Faculty of Mechanical Engineering; Projects Manager, Office for International Studies (Brno)

The interview with Ing. Al Khatib was enriching in many aspects and constantly inviting me to reflect deeply on the whole subject.

She pointed out the difference of being a foreigner in CR in 2002 and in 2013: long-term residence was much more difficult to prolong, since there was no such system of making an appointment or being given a number (there was no system at all), Czech people weren’t very used to see foreigners around and the labor market didn’t have as international dimension as it has today.  She recalled the hard time she had at the very beginning when she couldn’t express herself in Czech, but once she got to learn it little by little she realized the myth of Czechs’ coldness wasn’t true any longer and people were getting nicer towards her. At university she was provided with material in English when needed and her Master thesis was accepted in English as well.

I see her story as the story of someone who could value her own strengths and would always look for the bright side of things, which she kept repeating all the time during the interview: “I also had some bad days, but I tried to look at things from positive side.” In her second year of Master she was searching for a student job and she succeeded to persuade the employee she was the right person to handle it, as the position was ‘Erasmus incoming coordinator’ and the requirements were directed to someone speaking perfectly Czech and English. “It used to be harder back then. It was 2004, it was hard to find a job in Brno. But now, with all these international companies… IBM and Honeywell… it’s much much easier,” – her words sound very optimistic to me.

As concerning the recommendations for new scholarship holders, she encourages them to appreciate their own country and plan wisely their stay in CR: “Always try to make a value of yourself, don’t become a person who wants to stay in the country at any costs […] There is nothing wrong in starting another life in a different spot in the world, but not at any cost.”


Author: Tatiana Dumbrava

The article is part of the Migration to the Centre project funded by the EU’s program “Europe for Citizens,” the Visegrad Fund, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.

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