As I mentioned in a previous post, I am interning at the Forum 2000 Foundation. One of my supervisors is Tereza, who is a Czech native. She looks like your typical Czech woman: blond hair and blue eyes. She is originally from Brno, the second largest city of the Czech Republic which has an unspoken rivalry with Prague. Tereza is proud to be from Brno. I admire her a lot. She is only a few years older than me, and already a full-time Forum employee and a university student. And she is looking to take the FCE exam next year. The FCE, or Cambridge English: First proves that someone is qualified and has the language skills to live and work independently in an English-speaking country. Can you imagine people in the US wanting to take an exam to prove their foreign language competency? Frankly, I cannot. We are too comfortable with the fact that English is spoken everywhere. So, Tereza is simply a superstar!
Tereza helps to challenge the perception that Czech people are unapproachable and stand-offish. She always comes to talk to me in the conference room where I work. Often, we do not even talk about work. Tereza talks to me to make me feel less isolated, since I am the only non-Czech in the office. She also talks to me because naturally, I am one way that she can improve her English, and I honestly do not mind at all! Even if she talks to me solely to practice her English (which I know she does not), I have a means to talk to a Czech native, and learn more about Czech culture. We benefit from our relationship because it is quite mutually educational.
Every time we talk, Tereza repeatedly apologizes for her terrible English which makes me both laugh and get a little annoyed. Her English is not terrible at all! I would say it is even better than that of a lot of native English speakers who rely on text vernacular and do not have a vocabulary beyond third grade. I tell her not to be so hard on herself because her English is phenomenal, especially considering that she does not have many people with whom she can practice. In fact, I tell her I am the one who should apologize for not knowing more than five Czech words while living in the Czech Republic. Why should she apologize for what she incredulously thinks is “bad English” when she is in her native country and I am the foreigner? I am constantly reminded of the privilege I carry and that is afforded to me as an American (-Colombian).
Tereza asks me what I think about Prague and the Czech Republic. She asks about the experience of having Czech professors. She asks me about life in the U.S., and wonders which cities she should visit when she finally goes. We both reminisce about Paris, as I was at NYU Paris in spring 2016, and she was there on Erasmus a few years ago as well. She is always offering me coffee because she loves the coffee machine in the kitchen and wants me to share in her love. She constantly introduces me to different employees so that they know who I am. Tereza has made me feel welcomed in the office and weirdly, by extension, in the country because apart from the RAs, she is the only Czech person with whom I have interacted a lot. Tereza has made me realize that Czechs do want to engage with me because they want to learn more about my double-identity: being an immigrant in the U.S. who certainly has a unique world perspective.
Last week, Tereza eagerly came over to my desk with a huge smile and shining eyes. “I’ve got a great idea, Alejandra! Tell me what you think!” I tried to respond in a manner that replicated her enthusiasm. “I know we do not have that much work for you in the office sometimes so I wanted to propose that you give some of us English lessons.” I was pretty honored and excited because that means I can teach more English (in addition to the classes I am already teaching at the Czech Technical University), and I can interact more with my co-workers. It turns out, there are several employees who plan on taking the FCE next year. I love knowing that driven people exist everywhere! I am looking forward to teaching my first lesson next week.