2017/03/10

Get to Know a Grantee - Kelley Garland

By Maureen Heydt

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Kelley Garland
Kelley Garland hails from Wantagh, New York, and is spending the 2016-2017 school year serving as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to the Czech Republic, in the northeastern town of Nová Paka. In a town of about 8,000 people, Kelley devotes her time to teaching English in the local high school, while also involving herself in creating cross-cultural connections between herself and her students, colleagues, neighbors, and community. Read below to find out more about Kelley, a former class president of her college, as she speaks about her experiences living in a small Czech town, and why she considers international education and exchanges to be so important. 

-------------------------------------- Fast Facts ----------------------------------------
  • Hometown: Wantagh, New York
  • College, Major/Minor: Providence College, Global Studies/Business Studies, French, Sociology
  • School in Czech Republic: Gymnázium a SOŠ pedagogická, Nová Paka
  • Age: 23
  • Favorite Quote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”-Maya Angelou
  • Favorite Czech food: “I like svíčková, and the honey cake, medovník!”
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Hello! Can you please give a brief introduction of yourself, where you are from, what you studied, and what your interests are?
I am originally from a small town on Long Island, Wantagh, New York. I grew up about a ten-minute drive from the beach, and was definitely really spoiled from that. I went to school about four hours away in Providence, Rhode Island at Providence College. It’s a liberal arts college, and I really wanted to go there. I was very undecided about what I wanted to do in life, torn between traveling or teaching, and the college gave me the opportunities to explore a multitude of different paths there.

And what are you passionate about?
I am really passionate about traveling, and learning new cultures. I think the best way that we learn about ourselves is by seeing what people from other countries do. Even going somewhere just for a day, although you don’t really get the whole picture of a place or a culture, it gives you that tiny insight. It makes you really reflect on that, and with that as well, I’m a really reflective person. I love writing. I think it’s very important to jot down a few notes at the end of each day, and think about the best, or most challenging parts of your day. I also really enjoy blogging about my experiences here, so that my friends and family at home can have a little bit of Czech culture back in the U.S.

And why did you choose to apply for a Fulbright to the Czech Republic?
In the summer of 2014, I did an eight-week study abroad, internship program in Prague. I really wanted to have a complete culture shock, and a language barrier, and the Czech Republic was a country I didn’t really know much about. I wanted to come here to get a better understanding of this part of Central Europe, and I absolutely fell in love with it!

I wasn’t interacting with a lot of Czech people though, because I was living with Americans, and attending Anglo-American University, but there was one woman in particular, Ivana, who I met that made an impact on me. I sat next to her on a bus one day from Brno to Prague, and she told me about her life in the Czech Republic before 1989, and today and the differences, and even though it was in broken English, and I knew no Czech, it was so compelling. When I got home to the States, I felt like a there was this huge hole and emptiness… I knew that I needed to come back to the Czech Republic, and continue to learn about this rich culture, history, and people.

That’s wonderful! And how did you hear about the Fulbright ETA program?
In my Global Studies major, a lot of students in the past have gone on to be Fulbright Fellows, and basically within the week that I was home after coming back from Prague, I was online looking up every possible way for me to go back to the Czech Republic after graduation. Fulbright came up, and I had a few good friends applying for it, so it was great to have their guidance and support, as well as the teachers and faculty stateside, and my study abroad advisor in Prague helping me through that journey.

And can you tell me about the town you’re living in this year?
I am in Nová Paka. It’s in the northeastern area of the Czech Republic, and the town is about 8,000 people, so it really is a tiny place. I remember my first week wandering around Lidl, and running into someone that I had met, and that’s when I really understood what the small town culture would be like here! It really is a beautiful town, the people are so great, and we’re surrounded by forest and hills. We’re also located by the Krkonoše mountains, so everyone here loves to go hiking, and loves to be outside. For me, being from Long Island and so close to the ocean, it’s definitely a change of scenery here, but it really is a nice, quaint, small town.

And what is the school that you’re working at this year like?
It’s really interesting! There’s three separate tracks, or classes, at this school. There’s an eight-year gymnazium, a four-year gymnazium, and then a four-year pedagogy school for people who want to become kindergarten teachers. It’s really interesting going from the students in the gymnazium, who have a bunch of different interests for what they want to see and study, and then going to the girls and the one boy in the pedagogy school, who the second you walk in, they’re listening to music and playing piano. They are so creative and artistic. It really is a great change of scenery all the time, and although these classes are all separate, the students are only in classes with the students in their track, they still interact with each other in sports, and in the school musical. It’s a nice, communal experience.

And do you have an extra project you are working on this year?
I started my English conversation club with students on Mondays, and it’s really great because not only have the students been coming, but they also bring their friends who are home from university, or from other schools that don’t have access to a native English speaker. Also, twice a month I tag along with the head English teacher from my school to her women’s English club with some of the women in our community. They’ve been meeting for ten years now!

Wow, that’s amazing!
Yes! It’s really great. They come from all walks of life with different occupations. We were there yesterday, having wine and cheese, and talking. It’s been a great way to see other people in the community, that I wouldn’t have had interactions with otherwise.

And what do you like about teaching English?
I’ve really loved having students come to up me, and ask me about the present continuous, or the past-perfect simple, and all these grammar terms that I think as a native speaker I really take for granted. For example, when I say something, I just say it, but they’ll ask me all of these really detailed questions that I don’t always have the answers to. So, it’s made me more aware of the English language, and I think also seeing how much the students have changed already from September until now. Even if it’s students who don’t have a strong grasp of English, just having them come up to me and say, “Hi, Kelley!” because if that’s what they’re comfortable with, then we’ve already made a huge step forward. That’s progress that they feel comfortable saying hello to a native speaker, and that’s great.

Absolutely! And what is one of your favorite things you have done, or experienced so far this year?
There’s probably been two, I have to say! I was invited to go on a week-long exchange trip in Menen, Belgium with my school. I went with one of the mathematics and one of the German teachers, and about 20 students. It was great, because I got to interact with some of my colleagues from other departments that I didn’t know beforehand, and it was also this great meeting of Czechs, Belgians, and an American all coming together, sitting around a table, and talking about the differences, not only between Czech and Belgian cultures, but between American culture, as well. It was a great way for me to get to know some of the students outside of the classroom pretty early on.

The second favorite experience, was that I put together a Thanksgiving party, or as me and my students like to call it, the first ‘Czechsgiving!’ It was really cute! It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and we did it potluck-style. We watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade, and I was so overwhelmed by the students who showed up, and wanted to see this part of American culture. I definitely got a little choked up to see it, and that was a really special moment, because they share Czech culture with me every day, but as one individual, it’s hard to show them the depth and importance of different aspects of American culture. So, even though we didn’t have turkey or casserole, it was just great that they were so excited and enthusiastic to become part of this little tradition.

That sounds really wonderful! But what would you say is the most challenging part of living and working abroad?
I would say the hardest part is being okay with being alone. When you go to these smaller areas in the Czech Republic, you’re not going to know anyone at first, and we teach 20 hours a week, so that gives you a lot of free time. It can be pretty daunting at first. I was coming from a situation at my university where I was the class president, and I was going from class to meetings with the president of the college, the board of trustees, and student affairs, and having a full schedule from nine in the morning until midnight every day. Now, I’ve really had to adjust to from, ‘okay, do I really want to sit on my computer all night and be on Netflix?’ Or, what can I do with my time that will really make my experience here memorable. You have to learn to put yourself out there in a way that I hadn’t had to do before. It’s been hard, but you definitely learn from it.

And the flip side? What is the most rewarding part of living and working abroad?
I think meeting all of these amazing people that I didn’t even know existed. I had no idea Nová Paka existed before getting my placement, and now I am here every day, having a routine, and talking to students. The people here have really made my experience and time here feel like home, and they’ve become not just students and colleagues, but friends and almost like family.

And what are some places in Czech Republic that you want to travel to?
Oh, I have a list! I haven’t been to Olomouc yet; I would love to go there. Also, Hluboká na Vltavou, and Litomyšl. But I think the best places I’ve been to so far, have been the places my students have taken me to, because I would never know about them otherwise.

So right now, you are about halfway through your grant. What is something you are looking forward to that is still to come?
I’m looking forward to all of the experiences. Mostly, continuing to spend time with my students, especially the oldest students who are preparing for their maturita [Czech graduation exam], because starting in April, they’ll start coming to school less and less in preparation for the exam. Also the warm weather! My students and I already have some dates lined up to go hiking in the mountains, and they’re taking me to some of their favorite small towns. But I don’t want to have any expectations because every day has been a new experience, and a new surprise for me. I just want to enjoy every possible second I have left here. I don’t even want to think about leaving yet, it’s hard to imagine it’s already halfway through!

Definitely, it goes by so fast! And what does the Fulbright mission mean to you?
I really think the Fulbright mission is about transformation. I hope that by interactions with people at Lidl, in the school, at the cafes, on the bus, and by being a smiling, happy American, people will change the stereotypes and perceptions they have of Americans. I hope I am transforming the ways that the teachers might go about doing lessons in the future, but also, they’ve all really transformed my life in ways that I’m still trying to figure out, and process. I don’t think I’ll ever really understand how much until I’m back home in the United States, and I think that’s what Fulbright is all about. It’s about changing individual lives, and with those changes, those individuals can go on to do great things.

And with that, why do you think international education and exchange is important for students to experience?
That’s a great question! This was the subject of a debate I was having just the other day, about why the Fulbright program is so important. I always get the question, ‘Well, if program funding is cut, is it really going to be detrimental to Americans that you’re not going to the Czech Republic?’ and, I think it absolutely is detrimental. I think these programs everywhere around the world are so essential. If you look at our school systems, we’re only ever telling part of a very large story, in a very predetermined narrative by textbook companies. Our education system is all about teaching for a test and memorizing facts, and not appreciating cultures, people, and their stories. Americans need to go overseas, and people need to come overseas to the US. People think the world is such a huge place, and it really isn’t. Things that are viewed as differences should be celebrated, not viewed as threats. I think you really only get to realize that when you sit down with someone, celebrate a meal together, and realize that things aren’t that different. You can’t learn that in a textbook, or sitting on your couch watching TV. You get that by experiencing the world.

Well said, and how do you think your life will change as a result of this year abroad with Fulbright?
I think for me, I have always lived my life according to a plan and the societal expectations like, do well in high school, and go to a good college. But early on, I decided that when I finished university, I would hopefully do a Fulbright. All of that has worked out pretty well for me so far, and this is the first time that I have that big question mark of ‘well, what’s next?’

I think because I live in a completely different culture with a different language, I have to deal with a lot of questions and answers, and have to be okay with not always knowing what to do day to day here. I’ve learned that I don’t need to have everything planned out, because things aren’t always going to go as perfectly as planned. Fulbright has taught me to really be adaptable, and because of that I’m going to have a much more stress-free life moving forward.

Speaking of ‘what’s next,’ what do you plan to do after your Fulbright year?
I was debating about staying in the Czech Republic, or somewhere else abroad, but I have realized that I do really miss my family and friends at home. I don’t know what I want my next step to be. I really have loved teaching and being a part of education. I have been accepted into a few graduate school programs for that, but I haven’t felt that same excitement I felt when I received the Fulbright. So, I’ve taken that as a cue to put off graduate school until I am certain and excited that this is the next step that I want to take. I’m looking to move back to the Boston area, and I’m hoping my travel bug can be satisfied in the States. I want to test the waters in another field or industry, and hopefully within the following year, go back to graduate school. We’ll see!

And do you have any advice for anyone considering applying for a Fulbright, or teaching abroad?
Yes, when you’re thinking about applying for Fulbright, or teaching abroad, even if you’re just thinking about it, do it. You can’t go back after an application deadline, so definitely just take the plunge and commit, and later on you can decide if accepted, whether to do it or not. I think my second piece of advice is to really think about the reason why you want to go to the place you are applying. You’re going to be living there for one year, and that’s a big change and challenge. You should do it because you want to get know that culture, that country, that language more, not just because you looked at the statistics, and thought, ‘okay, this is the best way for me to get a Fulbright,’ because that’s not what Fulbright is about. It’s not a statistics game, it’s about changing the way we see our world and changing the lives of the people you will interact with in that country.

For my last question, I want to know, how are you feeling about everything right now at this moment?
I’m feeling really great right now, and I think it’s because of the amazing and insightful conversations I’ve been having with everyone. I am so inspired to see the youth in this country so interested about what is happening not only in their country, or in America, but around the world, and how insightful their questions are. I don’t think I expected to have such deep conversation with my students, but I’m having them every day in the hallway, in the classroom, and on Facebook messenger. So, even though sometimes it’s hard to see what’s happening in our world, I think of the individuals I interact with, and they’re so inquisitive and interested. You have to really take a step back from all the news, to see there really is a bright future ahead of us. There’s so much potential, and great things are going to come.

And is there anything else you would like to add?
Just that I am so blessed and grateful to have had this opportunity! I hope that this Fulbright experience continues to happen, for many years to come, that many more Americans can come and experience Czech culture, and many Czechs can come to the States, and see what we’re all about.

Kelley Garland, first on the right, with students at their "Czechsgiving Party."

If you’d like to read more about Kelley’s experiences, check out her personal blog, https://kelleygarland.wordpress.com.

2017/03/01

Get to Know a Grantee - Rachel Landau

By Maureen Heydt

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

Rachel Landau
Rachel Landau is a native New Yorker, who is serving this year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in the small town of Hranice, Czech Republic. Having pursued Environmental Studies for her baccalaureate degree, Rachel was placed at a Czech high school specializing in the field of forestry. Along with her teaching duties, she has participated in as many activities as possible with her students, ranging from taking dance lessons, making home visits, to even going out on a hunt with students. Rachel works earnestly and dynamically to make the most of her grant year as possible, serving as an exemplar of what the Fulbright Program is all about, making lasting connections across cultures and countries- a message that’s as important as ever today. Read below to find out about Rachel’s myriad passions, and her experiences spending a year teaching English at a forestry high school in the Czech Republic.

-------------------------------------- Fast Facts ----------------------------------------
    • Hometown: Hollis Hills, New York
    • University, Major: SUNY Buffalo, Environmental Studies
    • School in Czech Republic: Střední lesnická škola, Hranice
    • Age: 22
    • Favorite Quote: "Ben Zoma would say: Who is wise? One who learns from every man"- Pirkei Avot
    • Favorite Czech food: “I love koláč, especially the tvaroh koláč!”
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Hello! Can you please give some personal background details? Where you are from, what you studied, and what your interests are?
    I am from Hollis Hills, New York; it’s a part of Queens. I studied Environmental Studies, but I also did a lot of pre-health related subjects, like microbiology, physiology. I’ve always been interested in healthcare, and I’m considering a career in this field.

    With my interests, I adore English and German literature, and I love languages in general. I love folk music, but the kind that’s 300-400 years old. I very much enjoy music of all sorts, and I like singing in different languages! I like history as well, specifically, medieval history. Also strange as it might sound, I enjoy talking to strangers. Just the strange encounters I have, and even if I never see them again, I like collecting all of these sort of, bizarre personages. These people you meet for five seconds, and the person on the bus who talks to you for too long… And aside from just making friends and getting to know people, I also love to be introduced to their families and see their home environments.

    And what are you passionate about?
    I love stories. I like to tell, collect, and memorize them. In some of my classes, if the students are particularly hardworking, and we finish working a little early, I will tell them a story. I usually choose something like a classic story from English literature. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is what I’m telling right now. I tell them in little episodes during the last five to seven minutes of class. It’s such a pleasure for me, because I get to tell people all about “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” and do the gesticulations. They seem to really like it! So I’m passionate about listening to stories, and retelling them.

    I’m also passionate about- it sounds so horribly cliché, but I suppose its cliché for a reason- it’s very important to me to be immersed in people’s cultures. I want to know the pop culture references. I want to know what people eat for a regular Wednesday night dinner with their family. I want to be immersed, and I enjoy being as exposed to as many different ways of life as possible. Even in the United States, because it’s just as diverse there, in terms of how people live, and go about their lives.

    And why did you choose the Czech Republic for your Fulbright grant?
    It sounds very, very silly to say, but I didn’t know very much about it before I got here. Honestly, all I could remember from learning about it in high school was the Defenestration of Prague, and these dramatic, historical events that stuck in my head. I realized these things were sort of caricatures. It’s not really that deep, it’s kind of superficial, and I wanted the challenge of having to learn a language I literally had zero exposure to. I do know quite a lot of German, and people often ask why I didn’t go there, and I love Germany, but I wanted to be here, and see what it’s like here, to explore, and to make my own family and friends here, have my own roots. My curiosity drove me. I was excited by the challenge of having to start from square one, and learn as much as I could before and upon arriving.

    And how did you hear about the Fulbright ETA program?
    I saw it in one of the offices at school. It was the Office for Scholarships and Study Abroad; it’s this general umbrella, for opportunities to go abroad, and learn, teach, or work, somewhere else. I saw it in the office there.

    Did you have a moment of being like, “What’s that?” Like, “Maybe, I could do that?” Was it something you were immediately drawn to, or was it something you saw, and came back to later?
    Oh, I was drawn to it immediately. At first, I was a little intimidated initially; like there’s no way I could possibly get it, but I still wanted to try.

    And you got it!
    Yes!

    So, how did you prepare for your Fulbright grant to Czech Republic?
    Oh, that was fun actually! I figured okay, I don’t know if I’ll get it, but on the off-chance that I do, I should probably learn some Czech! So, I took a lot of pains to try my best to get some kind of foundational vocabulary. I downloaded two apps on my phone, I had my učebnice, my own little textbook and workbook, and I bothered the International Students’ Office ladies, “Can you find me a student who is originally from the Czech Republic who might want to sit and have coffee with me?” Eventually, I found two different ladies! They were wonderful. They answered all of my questions, gave me pointers, they would speak to me in Czech, just to help me tune my ear to it. And then before I came, I studied like crazy, reading about the history, and trying to learn as much of the language as possible.

    And can you tell me about the town you’re living in this year? What is it like?
    My town is called Hranice, and it’s in Moravia. It’s a town of about 22,000 people. The town is actually quite interesting because on the one hand, there are lots of housing developments, but if you move into the center, there’s this lovely, quaint town square and these winding pathways around it, and the baroque church! Then, if you go further south, it’s very green, quiet, and hilly, so you have kind of a taste of everything in this town. I like that; I like the very different neighborhoods, the vibe. I live in the center of town, and everything I need is within walking distance. What’s fun is that because the town is so small, I constantly see people that I know! Not just students, but for example, the lady who works at the bakery I like the most, my neighbors, my colleagues, and it’s really nice, and kind of foreign to me to bump into people I know all the time.

    It sounds wonderful! And what is the school that you’re working at like?
    My school is a forestry school. Most of the students live in the boarding houses, one for girls and one for boys, and they live there five days a week. They learn history, Czech and foreign languages, mathematics, and science, however, because it’s a forestry school, there’s a special emphasis on subjects like tree harvesting, forest stewardship, forest sustainability, forest pedagogy, which is teaching children and adults about the forest- why it’s important, how to protect it, and how to use it for economic gain while at the same time preserving the ecosystems. So, while it’s a very specialized training, they also learn about what students in other schools would be expected to know.

    They do a lot of practical education. They spend quite a bit of time outside. It’s built into their weekly schedules, and they do some pretty difficult, physical labor. Even now, in this bitter cold, they’re out in the school forest working and learning. And it’s like -8 or -10 degrees today.

    Do you have an extra project you are working on this year?
    I do a lot of after-school activities. I do coffee hours at the girls’ boarding house and at the boys’ boarding house. It’s not separate, it doesn’t matter what their gender is; I just go to the different boarding houses so it’s more convenient for students. I took dance lessons with my students, and was in a choreographed ball with them! I’ve been out on a hunt with students, and I’m quite frequently invited out to do things. I really enjoy the experiences I’ve had talking with students, hearing the names of their parents, where they’re from, some funny stories, or being invited to their houses. They’re from all over Moravia, so I’m getting this really comprehensive picture of life in the central and southern Moravia region, as well as the Moravia-Silesia region. It’s giving me a very holistic view.

    And what do you like about teaching English?
    I like teaching English because it’s something I’m passionate about, and it also is something that will be very useful for my students in their lives in terms of their careers, but also maybe it will facilitate them making friendships with people from all over the world, and having a broader view of the world from that.

    What is one of your favorite things you have done or experienced so far this year?
    Oh man, that is perhaps one of the most difficult questions so far!

    You can pick a few. It’s not so strict.
    Oh, thank you! So far, I suppose even the very simple everyday things. These little victories that remind me that I really do have a life here, and however limited it may be, I do have the ability to actually talk to people, and interact with them in a meaningful way. Really establishing a rhythm of life here, talking to people, and trying my best to make them smile. And the balls were wonderful! Hubertska was so nice! It’s like their maturitní ples [the Czech equivalent of prom and graduation], but it has a forester flavor to it, because during the ceremony, when the graduating seniors come in, they actually carry with them the animals they caught on the hunt into the ballroom!

    No way!
    Yes, really! Dead deer, pheasants, foxes, wild boar! And there’s trees, and pine needles everywhere, so it has a real forester flavor to it.

    That’s amazing! I’m impressed.
    Yeah, it was really cool. Something else I should mention, is that my colleagues at the school have contributed enormously to my experience. They have opened their homes to me, and I get to hang out with their children, and go to my mentor’s house for Sunday lunches... It’s domestic bliss, I suppose. I have a real soft spot for that kind of thing.

    That’s wonderful! But what for you is the most challenging part of living and working abroad?
    Well, unfortunately, my Czech is functional, but it’s not good enough to express myself wholly, and likewise, I can understand, but not well enough for people to really tell me things in great detail. So, the fact that I miss things, or it gets lost in translation, and I can’t connect as deeply as I could if I did speak the language fluently. It can be very frustrating. And of course, Czech legalese is frustrating; I had an issue with customs, and my mail. My friend helped me, but so losing a little bit of self-sufficiency because of language issues, is something I’m working with.

    And the flip side, what is the most rewarding part of living and working abroad?
    Just all of the unbelievable people you meet, and the experiences and things they share with you. Trying things I never thought I would do, things that were never even on my radar to begin with! And obviously being in a different place, with different customs. It’s nice to just notice the differences, the subtle ones and the big ones, and to enjoy them.

    What is something interesting you have learned about Czech culture?
    It’s very interesting to listen to people. I like asking people, especially older people, who have lived in both the old regime and the current socio-political environment, and it’s very interesting to listen to their stories, and in their estimation how the last regime has influenced society and people’s mindsets. I find that really interesting, and other things… I’m thinking of very small things. I love celebrating people’s svatek, their name day. We don’t do that at home so much, it’s not really a thing. Little things, like celebrating people’s name day, all of the wonderful beer there is to choose from, having people laugh because I can’t remember the name of a dish I like. I don’t know, these things don’t paint a very big picture, but-

    But sometimes it’s the little things that can make the biggest impression, that when taken altogether form a bigger picture.
    Yes, so just the little things that stand out to me. My students teaching me campfire songs, listening to all of these interesting folk singers; it’s really wonderful!

    You are about halfway through your grant now, what is something you are looking forward to that is still to come?
    I’m looking forward to more wonderful weeks at school, and more casual hangouts with students. Rewarding experiences in the classroom, but also fun, silly, memorable things outside of the classroom with students, teachers, and friends. Spending more time with them, and learning more from them.

    What does the Fulbright mission mean to you?
    I take it very seriously. I really take forging lasting relationships very seriously. That resonates the most with me. Aside from being a good teacher, and motivating my students, and making English interesting, applicable, and enjoyable for them, I would say even more so I’m just really interested in forming lasting relationships. I want to have family and friends here forever. People who can come visit me in New York, and meet my family and friends at home, and I really like that we have so many opportunities to exchange things about our cultures. We ask each other questions, and it seems like we’re all learning a lot from the exchange.

    How do you think your life will change as a result of this year abroad with Fulbright?
    I have been flirting with a number of different career trajectories, and the question has been eating at me for months. Actually, it’s making me consider teaching a lot more than I had considered it before. But it has also given me the chance to really take initiative. I like that this is my life. I take care of my house, and all of these things for myself, and if I want it, I have to go and do it even if it’s difficult, because perhaps there’s a language barrier, it doesn’t matter, just try. So, just to step out of my comfort zone even more so, and to enjoy it, rather than worrying about whether I’ll make a mistake.

    What do you plan to do after your Fulbright year?
    I will likely go back to school and pursue either a Master’s degree, or I’m considering going to nursing school. I’m not entirely sure.

    And do you have any advice for anyone considering applying for a Fulbright, or teaching abroad?
    Yes, keep an open mind. Do not be afraid of making really silly, or sometimes terrible, gaffes. Laugh at yourself, and be constantly aware of how incredibly special it is to be living somewhere else and to be taken in, and treated like a daughter, or like a friend by somebody abroad. These people who welcome you into their lives, they are really part of your integration, and even if you know a language perfectly, what is it if you don’t speak with other people? In brief, seize upon all of these different opportunities to get to know people, and to try new things. I’m sure everyone says that, but everyone says it for a reason, because it’s true and important.

    And for my last question, I want to know, how are you feeling about everything at this moment?
    I am profoundly happy with everything. Every day since I’ve been here has been somewhere between great, good, fantastic, lovely, or wonderful. I’m really happy with how things are at school, and with how things are outside of school. I’m just really happy.

    Rachel Landau, in a student’s backyard. Hranice, Moravia



    2017/02/20

    Get to Know a Grantee - Professor Mark A. Novotny, PhD

    By Maureen Heydt 

    This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

    Mark A. Novotny
    Distinguished Professor and Head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Mississippi State University Mark A. Novotny, PhD, is serving this year as a Fulbright Scholar and Distinguished Chair in the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University in Prague. Professor Novotny has cultivated a prominent career in physics that has seen him earn his PhD from Stanford University, teach and conduct research in four different U.S. universities, and work for two years at the IBM Scientific Center in Bergen, Norway as well. His contributions to the field of physics are great, including his discovery of a new nano-device that he has named quantum dragons. Here, Professor Novotny discusses his current research, the differences between his home and host institutions, and the importance of international education exchanges in today’s world.


    -------------------------------------- Fast Facts ----------------------------------------

    • U.S. Position: Giles Distinguished Professor and Head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Mississippi State University, MS
    • Czech Affiliation: Distinguished Chair, Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, Charles University, Prague
    • Project: Studies in Quantum Systems, Including Quantum Materials and Quantum ComputingDiscipline/Specialization: Physics
    • Academic Background: Ph.D., Physics, Stanford University, CA, 1978
    • Favorite Quote: “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.”- Albert Einstein
    • Favorite Czech Food: Potato dumplings
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Hello! Can you please give a brief introduction of yourself?

    I’m originally from Minnesota, and grew up on a farm in the northern part of the state. I was one of eight children, and I went to a small school, about 22 kids in the graduating class. Very rural. From there, I went to North Dakota State University as an undergraduate, majored in Physics, and have enjoyed doing that ever since. I spent four years there, and then went to graduate school at Stanford University in the Physics department, and worked mainly at the interface between mathematical physics and experimental physics. After finishing my PhD, I got a postdoc position at the University of Georgia in Athens, and was there for three years. There I moved to what is now called computational physics, but back then was frowned upon as not really a way of doing physics, because it wasn’t experiment and it wasn’t theory, and computers were so small, that you know, what can you do on them? So, after three years there, I moved to Northeastern University in Boston, was there for five years and again doing computational physics and teaching, and then I went to work for IBM up in the scientific center in Bergen, Norway, and enjoyed working for them for two years. I then moved to Florida State University, and was there for a dozen years as a research scientist doing computational physics, and then in 2001 moved to Mississippi State University as the department head, where I’m still the department head. I’ve tried to do research there, as well as administration, and the research is still on computational physics. I’m getting more and more into working on the quantum aspects of things, both in the computing side, and what I’m actually computing for, so both the machine that I’m using, and the atomic, materials, and engineering systems studied.

    And what courses are you teaching this semester?

    I’m teaching one course in quantum mechanics, but it’s a non-traditional quantum mechanics. It’s a graduate course, but there are some undergraduates and some postdocs that are sitting in as well, so it kind of spans the gamut.

    What does your research focus on?
    Right now, focusing on two different things, one is quantum computing. In particular, focusing on adiabatic quantum computing. There’s one company in the world that makes a quantum computer; if you write a check to them, they will sell you one, and they just announced one that has 2000 qbits, so in theory, these computers can do calculations that no classical computer can do, but theory and practice are still flirting with each other, shall we say. That’s one thing I’m working on, and the other thing I’m working on is I’m trying to find dragons. I’ve discovered this type of nanomaterials that I call quantum dragons. After all, if you discover them, you get to name them, and I thought it was a cool name. So, I spend a lot of my time looking for quantum dragons. I discovered some before I came here, and now I’ve learned a different mathematical path to find the same ones, and looking for more.

    What are the quantum dragons you have discovered? What do they do, or what is their function?
    A quantum dragon is a type of nano-device I discovered. The nano-device is composed of atoms (in the picture below the spheres), and the hopping of an electron between two atoms (the cylinders in the picture below). The nano-device can be of many different forms, or in the lingo of the field, can have a lot of disorder. When properly connected to input and output leads, the quantum dragon has complete transmission of incoming electrons for all energies of the incoming electron. In other words, every electron in the input lead goes to the output lead, none are reflected back into the input lead. This property makes quantum dragons have zero electrical resistance (in four-probe measurements). Electrical resistance is the reason your smartphone gets warm when you use it. Quantum dragons can be made in many different styles, some interesting in engineering, and others just fun to look at.

    And what do you wish everyone understood about physics?
    That it’s really the basis for all of our modern technology. If you talk about your cell phones and your computers and electronics, it’s all based on quantum mechanics. But it’s based on quantum mechanics at the classical level, and the new computers, the quantum computers, are going to be quantum mechanics at the quantum level, bringing even more power, and probably changing the society we live in some more.

    I also read online that the time spanned by algorithms you have made for nanoparticle dynamics “is as many decades in time as the number of decades between the volume of a raindrop and all the water on Earth.”
    Yes. So, you really have to come up with advanced mathematical methods to be able to calculate things in a way other than a brute force method. A brute force method only allows you to look at things in certain time ranges, very short time scales, but if you use advanced mathematical methods and embed those in your algorithms, then you can come up with things that are exact mathematically, that get you the same calculations, but you’re essentially doing it in a much smarter way.

    How long does it take you generally to create one of these algorithms?

    Usually, it’s a couple of years to get there ultimately. Often, you don’t really know what you’re setting out to accomplish, you’re just setting out to accomplish something, and then you find something. That’s how I found the quantum dragons. I wasn’t looking for them, because I didn’t think that they could exist when I looked for them, because it goes against some of the ideas of disorder in physics, and those kinds of things. And it was also that you put together three different, very hard things and together each of them is hard, but you put them together, and it makes something that is easy, which is very unusual in physics and mathematics.

    So sometimes you just go off, and explore in the woods, and you find something. You’re just heading in a general direction, and when you get there, you say, wow, if I knew I was heading in this direction, I would have planned. But that’s the way research is. Actually, one of my favorite quotes by Albert Einstein is, and I’m probably paraphrasing, but it’s, “If we knew what we were doing, they wouldn’t call it research.”

    That’s very interesting! And how is your host institution, Charles University, different from your home institution, Mississippi State University?
    Mississippi State University is a land grant university. About a 150 years ago, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that allowed states to create one university which was supposed to be an agricultural and mechanical university, so in every state you will find at least one land grant university. The land grant university is really charged to be responsible for the engineering aspects, which means the sciences, and also the agricultural aspects. The emphasis is really on the education of the engineering and the agricultural sides, as well as on the science and social sciences, and so on. And even though there are some small branch campuses, there’s one main campus. Which means that if I’m sitting in the Physics building at Mississippi State, I can walk across the street, and I’m in the Political Science building. Whereas here at Charles University, to go to a different faculty, a different department, it’s a half hour ride away; so that’s one of the big differences. The building I’m in here really holds the Faculty of Physics, which includes material science in particular, and quantum systems and theory related to those, but there are other aspects of this science that overlaps that’s done in completely different parts of Prague, even though they’re at the same university.

    And how is living in Prague different from living in Mississippi?
    Mississippi State University is in a little town called Starkville, so living in a little town is different from living in a big city. I’m really enjoying my time here, and being able to attend concerts and events. Just walking and seeing the architecture is amazing here as well, it’s one of my favorite things to do.

    What are some differences you have perceived between Czech and American university students, if any?
    I think it’s much more dependent on the particular student. I’ve certainly met some students here that are extremely bright, extremely motivated, and hardworking, and they’re definitely going to succeed, and those students in the U.S. succeed as well. It takes U.S. students some time to find themselves, but since I’m teaching at the upper level here, I’d say the students at the upper level here are comparable to the students at the upper level in the U.S., because by that time they have already found themselves, and if they’re in a rigorous course of study like physics, then they are definitely motivated.

    And do you think your semester here in Prague will effect or influence your teaching back at MSU? How so?
    I think so, because here I prepared a brand new course in quantum mechanics. Typically, when people teach quantum mechanics, they start with the wave function, which is a mysterious thing that I would venture to guess that no physicist understands, but yet we use it all the time whenever we’re talking about atoms, or we’re talking about materials. I decided I was going to take a different tact, and try not to mention wave functions when I teach quantum mechanics. I didn’t know where this would end, because I lectured it every week, and every week I pushed it a little further. So, it will definitely influence the way that I teach quantum mechanics, and topics related to quantum mechanics when I return to the U.S.

    Why did you choose to do a Fulbright to the Czech Republic?

    Well, first of all, you’ve seen my last name.

    Yes, Novotny!
    Yes, so about 150 years ago, my great-grandfather came from Mala Strana in Prague, and went to the U.S., so the genes have come back! And it’s a great university and I knew it was a beautiful city, and so as soon as I saw they were looking for a Distinguished Chair in Physics or Mathematics, I said, it sounds like me! It was a perfect fit.

    That’s wonderful! And what is the biggest benefit of international education in your opinion?
    In my opinion, science is really an international endeavor. Everyone comes at it from their own perspective, because of their own background, but ultimately there’s a set of facts called nature that we’re all trying to understand, and to be able to meet with other people that are trying to understand nature, from different backgrounds, really allows you to get a better handle on what we are trying to understand in the sciences.

    And relatedly, what does the Fulbright mission mean to you?
    To me, the Fulbright mission is really meant to encourage interaction between countries. Certainly, hearing the stories of people here talking about what happened when the Iron Curtain was still up, and having visited both Hungary and East Berlin when the Curtain, the Wall, was still up, and just seeing how everything has changed and progressed, to me it really means that you want to have this connection between people from different countries to be able to lay a foundation to essentially advance humanity, as opposed to erecting Iron Curtains.

    What is your overall impression of life in the Czech Republic?

    First of all, my overall impression of life in the Czech Republic is it’s an extremely nice culture. The mass transit is extremely functional, and something that I wish the U.S. would do more of. I think people have a nice balance between work and what that entails, and shall we say, living, enjoying life, family, those kinds of things. I very much appreciate seeing that. You see kids out with their parents all the time, in all weathers, which is very nice, being pulled on and off the trams. I think it’s a nice family atmosphere.

    What has been the most rewarding for you so far during your Fulbright year?
    I would say interacting with the faculty and students at Charles University, and discussing things with them. Mainly science, because we are scientists after all, but other things as well, and just getting to know new people, and seeing the culture as well.

    Have you given talks at any other universities in Czech Republic, or in Europe?
    I gave a talk at University of Lisbon; I was on my way to visit my son, so I stopped in. I’m scheduled to give a talk in Poland, and also a talk on mathematics of quantum computing at Charles University, but in a very different part of Prague. And at the beginning of the next semester, there’s a named lectureship I’ve been asked to give, so I’ll be giving that to essentially kick off the semester for the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics. It’s to me, a real honor to be asked to do that.

    That’s so exciting! And right now, you are halfway through your grant.
    Hard to believe!

    Yes, it goes so fast!

    It does!

    So what is something you are looking forward to that is still to come?

    I would say it really took one semester to get to know people, talk with people, find common ground and common ideas, so I’m looking forward to bringing those to fruition, and hopefully submitting a paper, or two or three, with people here.

    Have you been able to travel much in Czech Republic? Or, is there somewhere you would like to visit here?
    There’s a lot of places I want to visit! I’ve visited some places; we met Steve and Ellen [Fellow Fulbright Scholar Steve Doig and his wife] in Brno, explored with them some, and saw some of the small villages. But we haven’t really gone towards the German border from Prague, and that’s a part of the Czech Republic I want to see.

    And do you have any advice for people who might be considering applying for a Fulbright?
    Just to apply! Because it’s extremely rewarding. Yes, there are hoops to jump through, and you may or may not be selected, but if you are selected, then it’s a great honor, and a great chance to give something back to your discipline, and really the two countries you’re in.

    And is there anything else you’d like to add?

    I just feel fortunate for this opportunity, because I think it’s been fulfilling to me, and at the same time, I feel like I’m contributing to a better dialogue between the U.S. and the Czech Republic. To me, that’s really a large part of what the Fulbright grants are for, is to get people in sort of similar areas, but from different countries, different cultures, to talk to each other.

    2017/02/16

    Ladislav Zikmund-Lender: Kalifornský sen

    Od listopadu 2016 do června 2017 pobývám díky Fulbright-Masarykově stipendiu na kalifornské univerzitě v Berkeley. Co tu tedy dělám?

    Bádám. Proto tu jsem. Kromě vytyčeného výzkumného cíle (kterým je rozšíření teoretických rámců pro zkoumání českých, slovenských a polských queer umělců, sběratelů, mecenášů a architektů hlavně v první polovině 20. století) jsem se jako člověk trénovaný v historických vědách přirozeně snažil najít nějaký historický vzor pro svou aktuální výjimečnou zkušenost. Zajímalo mě, jestli a jak lidé z českých zemí v minulosti reagovali na návštěvu Kalifornie a jak je to poznamenalo po návratu do Evropy a do Čech. Konkrétně mi šlo o lidi kolem architektury – samotné architekty nebo stavebníky. Nesmírně mě to chytlo a snad z toho bude nějaký další výstup, ale to zatím z pověrčivosti nebudu prozrazovat.

    UC Berkeley

    Zapojuji se. Důležitým cílem Fulbrightova programu je pro mě nejen jednosměrné vstřebávání Ameriky, ale „výměna:“ nejen si odsud odvést plno poznatků, zážitků a nových přátelství, ale také něco předat. Mám tu čest a radost přijmout pozvání na konferenci k 150. výročí narození Franka Lloyd Wrighta v Teliesinu ve Phoenixu, AZ, svůj výzkum budu prezentovat na domácí univerzitě v Berkeley a ještě jednám o přednášce v New Yorku. Je skvělé využít všechny tyto možnosti a nabídky k poznání nových míst, vytvoření nových kontaktů a taky k tomu připomenout náš periferní, ale vlastně už zase ne tak zaostalý kus světa, který je trochu mimo pozornost Američanů. V rámci univerzity funguje také řada studentských spolků, mezi jinými Humanities and Social Sciences Association, která sdružuje studenty humanitních věd a poskytuje různé formální i neformální platformy – třeba setkání k akademickému psaní, kde se vzájemně diskutují různé texty. Je to skvělá věc pro cvičení jazyka, stylistiky i způsobu akademické argumentace. Organizuje i různé večírky, není to jen suchá věda.

    Studuji. Kromě výzkumu občas zajdu na přednášky a to zdaleka nejen ze svého oboru a zdaleka nejen na domácí univerzitě – skvělé přednášky organizuje třeba sanfranciská veřejná knihovna. Kromě konkrétního a přesně zacíleného výzkumu je to skvělá příležitost zjistit, jak se obor i vůbec vysokoškolské vzdělávání provozuje jinde. A je to v mnoha ohledech opravdu sakra rozdíl. Snažím se sledovat místní kulturu – výstavy, nové knihy (o tom více na mém blogu na webu o umění Artalk).

    Jím. Mám to štěstí a zároveň smůlu, že bydlím na dohled od obchodního řetězce Whole Foods. A to věru není žádné Tesco. Po prvotních rozpacích nad některými základními potravinami – třeba najít druh chleba, na který máme vypěstovaný kulturní návyk, byl docela oříšek (všechny jsou buď nesnesitelně sladké, nebo nesnesitelně kyselé), majonéza nebo hořčice byly z počátku taky docela chuťovým překvapením. Když si tohle po pár dnech sedlo, staly se nákupy potravin hříšnými orgiemi. Protože jsem na západním pobřeží pacifiku, užívám si mořské plody, co to jde. Na clam chowder, polévku ze škeblí, jsem už docela expertem. V případě čerstvých smažených kalamárů (ne ty indiferentní kroužky, o kterých jsem až doteď nevěděl, nebo nechtěl vědět, z které části vlastně jsou, ale celá ta tělíčka se schránkou i chapadýlky) jsem prošel celým procesem od prvotního zhnusení až po nadšenou obsesi. Zvlášť návštěva přístavu v Monterey s uličkou rybích restaurací byla zatím nepřekonatelná.

    Cestuji. Co to jde. Navštívil jsem LA, Santa Cruz, San Simeon, čeká mě cesta do New Yorku, Buffala a Phoenixu. Často je třeba volit levné řešení (couchsurfing se na rozdíl od Airbnb osvědčil), osmihodinová cesta autobusem do LA sice nebyla vrcholem luxusu, ale stálo to za to.

    Golden Gate

    Nakupuji. To by se dalo shrnout do populární komiksové epizody Sarah‘s Scribblers: Jídlo – jen to nejnutnější, drogérie – jen to levné, oblečení – občasné povyražení, ale jen to základní, knihy – dolary létají vzduchem. Za první dva měsíce je skóre 14 knih z antikvariátu, který stojí po cestě do kampusu. Už jsem musel změnit trasu a nechci myslet na to, jak tu knihovnu odvezu domů a jak to všechno proclím (účtenky si radši schovávám).

    Angažuji se. Přijel jsem do Kalifornie pár týdnů po zvolení prezidenta Trumpa a zažil uvedení do úřadu jeho administrativy. Tedy spíš s tím spojené protesty (a protesty související s podporovatelem prezidenta Trumpa Mila Yinnopoulose), které byly velmi intenzivní. Angažovanost ve veřejném dění a ve veřejném protestu má bezpochyby v Americe daleko silnější tradici a daleko vyšší společenský status než u nás. Kromě podpory poklidných protestů (protiinauguračních protestů a Women’s March) jsem se rozhodl zapojit do dobrovolnické činnosti (protože kromě výzkumu je skvělé poznat i něco jiného a celý pobyt je příjemnou příležitostí vystoupit z komfortní zóny). Po vstupním tréninku začnu v nejbližších dnech dělat dobrovolnické směny v Pacific LGBT centru nedaleko kampusu v Berkeley, které se zabývá podpůrnými programy pro LGBTIQ+ osoby v nejrůznějších životních situacích.

    A doufám, že ve zbývajících 4–5 měsících přibydou další odstavce.

    2017/02/15

    Get to Know Grantee - Lianna Havel

    By Maureen Heydt 
     
    This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.


    Lianna Havel
    When it’s sunny outside, Lianna Havel can see Poland from her bedroom window in Broumov, Czech Republic. An alumna of the prestigious Teach for America program, through which she spent two years teaching in a low-income school in New Orleans, Louisiana, Lianna now serves as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Broumov, a town of 7,000 people. She also interestingly shares her surname with perhaps the most famous Czech person of the last century, the late President Václav Havel. Here in her Fulbright interview, Lianna describes what it’s like to have the most recognizable Czech surname as a foreigner in the Czech Republic, what the myriad difficulties and rewards of living and teaching abroad are, and her advice for anyone considering teaching abroad. 

    -------------------------------------- Fast Facts ----------------------------------------
    • Hometown: Columbus, Ohio 
    • University, Major/Minor: George Washington University, Political Communication/Film 
    • School in Czech Republic: Gymnázium Broumov 
    • Age: 24 
    •  Favorite Quote: “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”- John Stewart Mills 
    • Favorite Czech food: Fried cheese
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 

    Hello! Can you please give a brief introduction of yourself?
    My name is Lianna Havel, and I grew up in Worthington, Ohio. I was born in Washington D.C., and returned back there for college where I attended the George Washington University. I majored in Political Communication, and minored in Film. After that, I participated in Teach for America, where I taught in a low-income school in New Orleans, Louisiana for the past two years, and now I’m here!

    And what are you passionate about?
    Things that are really important to me all have to do with words. I love communicating through teaching. Writing, I’m an active writer. I write every single day. I also really love theatre. I was a nerdy theatre kid. Film is really important to me, and I travel a lot.

    Why did you choose to apply to the Czech Republic for your Fulbright grant?
    Well, I was lucky enough to study abroad in Prague during college, and I was aware that Fulbright places you in a small town, and not in a city. I was really intrigued by the possibility of getting to explore Czech life and Czech culture both in a city, and in a small town, to compare them. Also though, I really just found the people here to be lovely, and the culture is amazing.

    And how did you hear about the Fulbright ETA program?
    I was the weird kid who knew since second grade where she wanted to go to college, and coming from that, I knew what I wanted to do after college, and what programs I wanted to participate in, so I was aware of Fulbright from a young age. My dad was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and he always wanted me to do that, or Fulbright. He put the idea in my head probably starting in early high school, maybe even middle school. I worked for it, and pursued it after college.

    What is it like to have an incredibly recognizable Czech last name, and to share it with one of the most famous Czech people of the last century?
    I mean, it’s really fun. When I first got here every time I saw my last name, which is a lot of places, I would take pictures of it, but after a while that got a little bit old. I really enjoy it as a conversation topic. Every time I have to share an ID someone will say, “are you Czech?” or “Do you know your last name is like the most important last name?”

    Because he’s a popular figure, it’s really nice that people will warm up to me for something that’s not really my fault. They are just kind, and excited to talk to me. I’m sure that is true also for non-Havel last name people, but it’s true for me, and that’s how I experience it.

    And do you have Czech heritage?
    This is a great topic of debate in my family. My whole childhood, my dad said we’re named after the Havel river in Germany, but since I’ve come here, my dad has claimed all of sudden that I am of Czech ancestry, so I’m not entirely sure.

    So what is the town you’re living in this year like?
    Broumov is very small; I think it’s around 7,000. We’re right on Polish border; when it’s light out, I can see Poland out my window. There are the student-age people and their parents, and I am under the impression that there’s not a lot of people in between, or at least I’m having a hard time finding them. It’s very small, it’s very quiet, you can walk everywhere. We have this beautiful monastery. It’s very pretty, and I’ve walked to Poland. That was fun.

    And how about the school that you’re working at this year?
    Gymnazium Broumov is three stories tall; it’s in this very beautiful building. It’s not really a cliff per se, but it hangs out over a second part of the city, so it has a beautiful view of mountains in the distance, and there’s some really ornate designs in the stairwells. The teachers are kind and welcoming. I teach everybody, from the first year students who are twelve years old, to the nineteen year-olds who are about to do Maturita [Czech graduation exams for high school students]. It’s really neat to see the progression of English teaching knowledge for those eight years.

    And do you have an extra project you are working on this year?
    I have a couple of things I’m doing. I have something called Welcome Lesson, just a day after school where I hang out, and if kids come by we talk about English, movies, politics, or travel- whatever we feel like discussing that day. One time, a kid helped me make a doctor’s appointment; it’s like a really useful all around thing to have. I also was talking Czech from students, so I’m trying to learn Czech. I’m not good at languages, but I’m trying. I went to the younger schools a couple of times to try to get them enthusiastic about English too, even though they’re not yet at the high level of the older students.

    What do you like about teaching English?
    I like that communication is a very important part of everything that we do in our lives, whether it be business interactions, or talking to a stranger on the street asking for directions. I think it’s really special to me to be able to share my language. There’s this idea that everyone should speak English, which I don’t necessarily agree with, but I do love my language, and to get to share it with other people, and let them catch onto little things that they didn’t catch onto when I would say them at the beginning of the year. It’s a really beautiful moment to watch that light turn on for people that don’t speak my language, who start to love the language that I love so much.  

    And what is the most challenging part of living and working abroad?
    I think the most challenging thing for me has been weirdly coming to learn what small things matter so much to me that I don’t have access to. This is just an example, and probably sounds silly, but I have always known how important movies are to me. They’re like my comfort, when I’m sad, I want to watch movies, and when I’m happy, I watch movies. I analyze them, and the fact that the nearest cinema is over an hour away in another town, and they show one movie a day, and last month they didn’t show any movies I wanted to see, just not having access to that. Or, that I love Indian food, and there’s no Indian restaurants near me. Missing little things that you take for granted that give you comfort in your life, I think has probably been the hardest adjustment for me. It’s not loneliness, which I thought it would be.

    And the flip side, what is the most rewarding part of living and working abroad?
    Just having access to a whole world that you’ve never been a part of before. I’ve always lived in big cities, and I thought I was going to really struggle living in a small town, and I have at points, but I think finding in myself these strengths, and finding independence in myself has really helped me grow as a person in a way that I could not have achieved, had I not had this experience. And also getting to be a part of the culture.

    What was one of your favorite things you have done or experienced so far?
    Well, this weekend I’m going on a ski trip with my school, and I’m so excited for the opportunity to get to see the students outside of the school environment, but still engage with them in English, and get to know them as people, and not just as students. I know from my past experiences as a teacher that is probably one of the most valuable things that can help enhance a classroom, but that hasn’t happened yet. Also, I’m bad at skiing, so they’ll get to make fun of me, which is exciting.

    Definitely! You are about halfway through your grant right now, what is something you are looking forward to that is still to come?
    I’m really excited to get to the point where my Maturita students are about to take their test, because even in these past four months, I’ve seen immense growth in their English language skills, and to see them get ready for the test, and go in confidently with pride, is going to be something really beautiful, and I’m very much looking forward to that.

    And what does the Fulbright mission mean to you?
    I think that to me, the mission of Fulbright is to create connections among young people across the world to our country, and to the English language, so that they believe in America, and they are able to participate in a global society where, for good or bad, English is one of the main languages. And I think that in eight days [January 20th] when things change, it’s going to be really important for a lot of young people who are impacted by Fulbright, who have had ETAs come to their school, to know that not all Americans believe in hatred, and we put a positive image of a country into the world where sometimes there’s not a positive image of the United States.

    How do you think your life will change as a result of this year abroad with Fulbright?
    Personally, I’ve already seen immense growth in my independence and ability to be myself with myself, because I think a lot of times, I struggle to just be alone and be Lianna.

    I think on a professional and educational level I’ve learned a lot about a part of the world I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. I’ve had the great opportunity to travel. One of my goals in life is to be in the ‘100 Country Club,’ to have traveled to 100 countries, and I’ve made great strides in that. By the time I’m going to back to America, I’m going to stay in Europe for a month after, and I will probably have been to 50 countries by then. I think also this will hopefully open doors for me for the future.

    And what do you plan to do after your Fulbright year?
    I am currently applying to graduate schools, and hopefully I will be accepted somewhere, and I’ll go from there.

    Do you have any advice for anyone considering applying for a Fulbright, or teaching abroad?
    I think that if you want to do this, be sure that you are willing to do the emotional, personal work. I think that most college graduates are probably capable of the work ethic, and the effort required to be successful as an English teacher in a small town, but it’s going to be challenging to live by yourself in a place where no one speaks your language and there’s no one your age, and if you’re not open to learning more about yourself, then it’s probably not something for you.

    As far the actual teaching, I would just recommend looking up what is developmentally appropriate for people the age you’re going to be teaching, because I am very familiar with what is developmentally appropriate for kindergarten through fourth grade, because that’s what I taught in New Orleans. I think that it would’ve been helpful to me to study how to engage older minds, because I think at first, I really struggled with thinking, ‘I’m five years older than these kids, why would they listen to me?’ But that’s not true, they do listen to me, but I had to get over that hump.

    And is there anything else you would like to add?
    Thank you for interviewing me! I’m really loving this so far. I’ve grown a lot personally, and I’ve learned so much about Czech culture, and it’s been a life-changing experience. I’m honored to be a part of the Fulbright ETA program.  

    Lianna Havel, center, with students, on a school ski trip.

    2017/02/01

    Get to Know a Grantee - Sonam James

    By Maureen Heydt 

    This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

    Sonam James
    Zlín is a picturesque, bustling Czech city, nestled in a valley deep in southeastern Moravia. The hometown of many famous Czech people, including Tomáš Baťa and of course, Ivana Trump, ex-wife of President-elect Donald Trump, Zlín is also home this year to Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Sonam James. As a political science major, Sonam was interested and bemused to learn about this political connection to her placement town. A native Texan, she is also passionate about different cultures and international relations, so much so that she even started a Model United Nations club at her school. Here, she talks about her Fulbright experience, and what it’s like to live in a town that’s having a political moment in the sun.

    -------------------------------------- Fast Facts ----------------------------------------
    • Hometown: Montgomery, Texas
    • University/Major, Minor: Trinity University, TX/Political Science, Economics/Spanish
    • School in Czech Republic: Gymnázium Zlín
    • Age: 23
    • Favorite Quote: "Not all those who wander are lost." -J.R.R. Tolkien
    • Favorite Czech food: Schnitzel and potato salad
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Hi! Can you please give some personal background details, where you are from, what you studied, what your interests are?

    I’m from Montgomery, Texas. It was a small town when I was growing up; there wasn’t much to do. There wasn’t any diversity. I was probably the only diversity there, so at a young age I was really interested in travelling and different cultures. I like politics, political science, and social sciences. It allows me to explore policies and laws in different countries, and that’s always been interesting to me. I later studied abroad in Barcelona my sophomore year. I think the one thing I did in college was I took advantage of every travel opportunity I could; I studied abroad, and I did a class where I spent two weeks in Berlin this past summer. 

    And what are you passionate about?
    I am passionate about traveling, and getting to have different experiences. I try not to spend my money on too much material stuff, and more on experiences, like going to events with people, traveling, and going to music festivals. I’m really passionate also about learning about other cultures, and trying to immerse myself in different cultures as well. And I have to say, I’m one of those people who really likes politics; I read the news every single day. 

    Why did you choose the Czech Republic for your Fulbright grant?
    I chose the Czech Republic because when I was thinking about a few other countries, and googling them, I found the Czech Republic to be one of the most interesting. It is a post-communist country just finding its way out of that era, and kind of in transition where the older generation was experiencing something very different from what the younger generation is, and as a political science major that is really interesting to me, and of course the beer [laughs], I like the beer, I’m not going to lie! And also whenever I mentioned the Czech Republic to people, they always said how beautiful Prague is, that was probably the number one thing people said. And Prague is just so beautiful, it is one of my favorite cities. So, I did a bit a more research, and I decided that this is the country that I wanted to apply to. 

    How did you hear about the Fulbright ETA program?
    I was planning on teaching abroad after graduation anyways to have the experience of living abroad and being in a different country and culture, and someone just happened to tell me about the Fulbright. After that, I immediately went to the professor in charge of it, and applied. I always wanted to do something like this. 

    Can you tell me about the town you are living in this year?
    Zlín is quite a sizeable town, it’s probably 70,000 people. I have to say I’m really lucky! I do see a bit of diversity here; I see why they placed me here. There are a lot of the things that remind of me of home, like H&M and certain brands in the mall, a movie theater that plays movies in the original English, and there’s McDonalds and KFC. So, I don’t feel completely at a loss, like so far away from the U.S., and for the most part, I’ve found people to be friendly. It’s definitely a bigger town, so it’s not as isolated. 

    Zlín is also famously the hometown of Donald Trump’s ex-wife, Ivana. Has that come up at all?
    Yes, my town has a history with Donald Trump. Ivana is very famous here. She actually went to the school where I teach at, and one of the teachers here remembers her from when she was a student. They have their house here, and I’m pretty sure Donald Trump has visited here just because it is her hometown. I think it’s kind of funny for them just to have that weird connection. Like, there’s only three degrees between me and Donald Trump, and it would be really funny to see if Ivanna got the ambassadorship to the Czech Republic. It’s going to be interesting to see what things are like after January 20th, and what kind of standing the Czech Republic will have with Donald Trump, because he does have a personal connection to it. And I’m the most pro-Hillary Clinton person, and for me to be in this town where there’s this personal connection to Donald Trump, it’s kind of funny.

    That is pretty crazy! And what is the school like that you’re working at this year?
    The school is Gymnazium Zlín, and it’s great. I love the school I’m working at. The students, their English is amazing. A lot of them are really well traveled, and quite a few have studied for a year in the U.S., which was really surprising. Some of them are completely fluent, so I can have really high level conversations with them.

    Teaching was something I had to learn to get into. I have done a little bit of teaching with refugees and ESL classes in San Antonio and Houston, but this was a little bit different, obviously. I had to get into the way of making sure it’s interesting for them, and they understand what it is. It took like a month to get into the flow of teaching, and getting to know my students, but after that, I think I have a great interaction with my students. I do get to learn a lot of interesting things from them, too. 

    Do you have an extra project you are working on this year?
    I did Model United Nations for four years at university. I was head delegate on the team by my senior year, so I really wanted to take some of those experiences from Model U.N., and do it at this school. I started a team, and we’re actually going to Prague this April to compete! I have a team ready of twelve students, and I’m really excited. For some of them, this will be the first time they’ve done something like this, so it’s really interesting for them! They’re really interested in international affairs, and possibly doing something with it in school, or in work. It’s a really great opportunity, as the school does not necessarily have things like this.

    And whenever a holiday comes up, we do holiday based things. So for Thanksgiving I had a party for the students, and for Valentine’s Day, we might have another one. 

    What do you like about teaching English?
    I enjoy really talking to my students! They make me laugh, and we learn from each other. One of my favorite things is talking to them, and having a good conversation about something interesting. I do like teaching them about weird topics, or interesting things they’ve never heard of, to open up their understanding of the world by showing them something new. It makes me really happy when they enjoy the lesson, because I put work into them for the most part. 

    What is the most challenging part of living and working abroad?
    Communication is one of the biggest ones, obviously. Zlín is a big town, and the students speak English really well, but communication can be tricky when you’re trying to say something or you need something. The majority of the older people don’t speak English well, so it’s harder to say exactly what you want. Trying to figure out how to get you want is really hard, but I am taking Czech language lessons for free at the integration center, which is really nice. 

    And the flip side, what is the most rewarding part of living and working abroad?
    There’s a lot! There’s the learning about being able to live in a different culture that I didn’t know very much about, and being able to just find my way through it. The confidence from being in a different culture, and being able to really do it by myself is a big part, and also having help from other people. I think the human interaction too, like seeing the Czech Christmas with my student was really great, and these random little, happy moments I have with people are really good. 

    You are halfway through your grant, what is something you’re looking forward to that is still to come?
    One thing I am looking forward to is the springtime, and being able to really travel a bit more through the country. For the first half, I’ve been trying to adjust to where I am, and I would like to see more of the Czech Republic. I’d like to learn more about the history of the different areas, and why they’re different for what reasons. 

    And what does the Fulbright mission mean to you?
    I think it means to be an ambassador of the U.S., but also to show the diversity that exists in the U.S. I’m from Texas, people are from California, we have all had very different life experiences. As a Fulbright ambassador and grantee, I want to show them that the American experience is a diverse experience, and a different one for everyone. 

    How do you think your life will change as a result of this year abroad with Fulbright?
    I think I’m going to have so much of a wider perspective. I’m definitely going to have something that a lot of people don’t have, the opportunity and the ability to live abroad and be in another culture. That is something I can take back with me to the States, and bring a little bit more of a global perspective to whatever I do when I get back. When you live abroad, you have to be flexible with everything that’s going on, and you can’t expect everything to happen perfectly, so I would say I’m much more of an adaptable person. I can adapt to things so much better, because you have to, and situations change very quickly, so that’s one thing I’ll be able to take back. 

    And what do you plan to do after your Fulbright year?
    I’m hoping to either work in law or policy, maybe with an international aspect to it, so hopefully that. 

    Do you have any advice for people who might be considering applying for a Fulbright, or teaching abroad?
    Don’t be afraid to do it! Just do it, and remember to have a very open mind when you do it, because you never know where you’ll be placed, or what you’ll be doing. Really go with an open mind, and be ready to adapt to any situation. And if you can do that, the experience is so rewarding. 

    Is there anything else you’d like to add?
    I’ve really enjoyed it. I’m really happy with the placement of my town. I’m happy here, and the people have been super helpful. I have to say that my mentor was really a great help in getting me settled in immediately, so I’m really grateful to the teachers at the school for being really helpful!


    Sonam (third from left) with a student’s family over Christmas