International Students: Why Do We Come Here?

27. 11. 2006 | | Názory, Studentský život

Walking through the halls of VŠE it often seems the university is split into two factions – the locals on one side, and the foreigners on the other. The tension wafts in the air all day, and eventually makes it back to the dorms where it settles for the night’s rest. It can be difficult to break sometimes, so for this reason I decided to ask people what they thought.

Walking through the halls of VŠE it often seems the university is split into two factions – the locals on one side, and the foreigners on the other. The tension wafts in the air all day, and eventually makes it back to the dorms where it settles for the night’s rest. It can be difficult to break sometimes, so for this reason I decided to ask people what they thought.

“I guess the international students are split into two groups,” said Jana Eršilova from Mlada Boleslav, “those who are interested in the culture, and those who just want to have a good time.” I was one of the first international students she’d ever spoken to – a statement in itself.

“But most of them aren’t interested in meeting Czech people,” she said, “they come here to party and live in a very closed community.” Her thoughts were echoed by many of the Czechs and Slovaks I spoke to, who believed we just come here to drink, and live cheaply. The general consensus is that while the locals slave away with difficult exams, we have it too easy.

As one particular Swedish student told me, “I came here because it’s beautiful and the beer is cheap. If Rome had cheap beer too then maybe there would be more of a contest.”

“We sometimes walk around as if we own the place, “ said Kenneth Laslavic from the USA, “When it comes down to it, after six months we’re gone and the Czechs are still here. But my reasons for coming here weren’t just to spend time in Juve drinking,” he said. He is very interested in the development of post-communist countries, and in his own words it’s just great to be here and living amongst it.

Michal Nešpor from Prague said because the city is so lively and full of culture, it attracts people from all sorts of backgrounds. “I don’t think any students just come here to have a good time,” he said, “It’s more likely to be a case of a bit of both – they enjoy themselves and learn at the same time.”

Barbera Kissova from Bratislava said she meets a couple of international students a month, but it is usually just to help them out with directions, or with the logistics of the university. “It’s rare that I ever get to know a foreigner on a friendship basis,” she said, “but I’m always happy to see them and make them very welcome.” It gives her an opportunity to learn about different cultures, and she can improve her language skills at the same time.

And why did I come here? In the winter of early 2005 I did a backpacking trip around Europe, and spontaneously decided to come here with my cousin for three days. Petřin Hill was covered in snow and as we looked out at the Vltava River, the Charles Bridge, and the magnificence of the Narodni Divadlo, it was one of the most beautiful sights I’d ever seen. I said to myself, “I am definitely coming back. I don’t care what it takes.”

I went back home to the scorching summer heat of Queensland, Australia, and got back into the routine of university. I love my home, but I also knew that I needed to travel. I needed to do something new and different.

I worked for 18 months as a waiter, whilst studying, so I could save up to come here on exchange. In January I took it upon myself to learn Czech, a task which has proved quite difficult, but nonetheless has been rewarding for me. I read all the Milan Kundera books I could get a hold of, and also made friends with some VŠE students that were on exchange at my university – the University of Queensland.

But I guess my main reason for coming here, and the main reason that most international students give me, is that Prague is so different to anything they’ve ever known before. The average person in Australia knows next to nothing about the Czech Republic, and when friends call me they often say, “are you still in Czechoslovakia?”

Czechoslovakia doesn’t exist anymore, and if that’s all I can teach people when I get back, at least it’s something.

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