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A Foreign Alma Mater

According to the ex-Minister of Education Petr Fiala: “Foreign students contribute to a higher quality of education in the Czech Republic by creating an environment of international competition.”

(http://www.msmt.cz/ministerstvo/novinar/studium-v-cr-bude-pro-cizince-jednodussi)

The outcomes of the Czech Statistical Office show that university education does certainly not lack international competition. Currently, the highest number of international students (nearly 39 thousand) comprises university-level students. A large number is formed by Slovak students, who can follow the study in their own language. So far, foreigners have made up only a fragment of the total amount of students; their number is, nevertheless, on the increase.

(http://www.czso.cz/csu/cizinci.nsf/kapitola/ciz_vzdelavani).

According to lawyer Pavel Čižinský, university students are a favoured group among foreigners in the Czech Republic. It is easier for them to obtain visas and the state grants them certain reliefs (e.g. they do not need work permit, they do not need to give evidence of guaranteed monthly income, and receive other benefits that alleviate their bureaucratic obligations).

While many private schools and their foreign students have to face constant inspections from the Ministry of Interior—mainly because in some cases, the only admission requirement is sufficient funding, which enables many ‘students’ to receive a residence permit—students of public universities have a different status. The entrance exams in the Czech language that students need to pass in order to be admitted to a public university require intensive language preparations and foreign students are not offered any facilitation.

The question is, are the Czech public universities and the Czech students willing to accept and support migration of people whose presence is supported by the state?

Vladislava Chlanta, graduate of Charles University, describes her observation:

“Foreign students that chose to follow their university studies in Czech are treated in the same way as their Czech colleagues—which, on one hand, is good. The fact is, however, that they are not Czech. Their teachers and fellow students will naturally treat them differently, which only results in a formation of closed social group and does not contribute to the young educated foreigners’ integration into the Czech society.”

Studying in the in-between space

The integration of young educated migrants, whose presence is supposed to be of interest to the Czech Republic in compliance with the EU agreement, into the social majority is a much-discussed topic. There is hardly any other problem that would be dealt with by an equally high number of NGOs.

Charles University, the biggest university in the Czech Republic, refers to their ‘International Club’ a successful programme that will provide foreign students with a ‘Czech friend’, thus helping them to familiarize themselves with their new environment. There is no doubt about the programme serving successfully. However, the target group are the Erasmus students and Czech students looking for an English speaking friend. Foreign students that ventured to study at a Czech public school in Czech therefore remain in the in-between space, being in need of help for which they do not qualify.

While maintaining that this is a matter of academic freedoms, Czech public schools do not hasten to support young migrants’ projects. The Charles University student Anastasya Yanina describes her efforts to change the situation:

“Studying in a foreign country in a foreign language is a demanding task for any student. All of a sudden, young people find themselves in a different culture thousands kilometers away from their home, without their parents, with no friends and no support. The language barrier is one of many obstacles they have to face. I have seen how demanding the first year was for my friends and have felt myself how hard it is psychologically for me. I wanted to help other international students studying in Czech and drafted a project that would cover this group. After I had sent the project to the academic senate, I received a reply stating that there had already been such a project in practice, referring me to the website of the Erasmus project. This only shows that they don’t see or don’t want to see at all what is happening at the university.”

Some students leave, unable to put up with the psychological pressure, lack of support, and demanding studies. For those that stay, the dream of studying at a European public university turns into a stressful life event that they have to endure.

The University of Economics graduate Anastasiya Dzuromskaia depicts her experiences:
“My university was the school of life. At a certain point it ceased to be mere education for me, becoming rather a matter of strategic decision-making. A lot depended on my choice of teachers and classes. I am grateful to my university to a certain extent, but it didn’t leave me with any pleasant sentiments.”

I have asked Věra Roubalová, a psychotherapist and leader of the successful TEP project (association of specialised therapists that provide free therapy for migrants), for her views:

“In my practice, I often encounter students who, being lonely in the Czech Republic, feel better in the company of other students from their country. They will miss their wide family and the environment and at times worry about feeling different here.”

When I asked what the most crucial aspect for a migrant student’s integration was, she replied with the following statement which requires no further comments: “I suppose the most important thing for foreign students is to feel accepted by the Czech society.”

Author: Oksana Belkova

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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