Introducing the BEC team: Jan Kopkáš
Not all our readers have met us face to face yet, so we are opening a new serie of interviews introducing our Brno Expat Centre crew. Let’s start with Jan who joined Brnopolis as a new BEC project manager in summer 2011.
You were used to meeting foreign nationals already before joining our team in BEC. Where did your experience come from?
First of all, I am a traveller and I used to live in far away countries. Living over one year in Canada and the U.S. and then again a year in Japan and Thailand was a great opportunity to see not only different cultures but to see my own culture from a different perspective. Things I took for granted at home suddenly were strange and original. That’s what I like best about travelling. Coming home and seeing things from a new perspective.
Then I can put myself in the shoes of the foreigner and understand his or her situation better. Moreover, as a foreigner living, travelling, and couch surfing abroad I made so many fortunate encounters and so many people were willing to help me in their country that now I feel an obligation to pay it back to all strangers in my country.
Why do you think the city needs to take special care of foreigners?
The city doesn’t need to take “special” care. Our society should treat foreign nationals the same way they treat locals. Giving them the same chance to live, work, participate, use public services as locals do. But newcomers are disadvantaged. They don’t know the language, the culture, the way services work. We are helping them to be able to reach the same opportunities as Czech nationals are. It is not about giving them special care but making them an equal and integral part of the society. In a perfect world there wouldn’t be an Expat Centre if every officer, clerk, service provider, neighbour was able to speak more than one language and was attentive to other people’s needs.
How do you look back at the last 12 months? What did you not expect?
I didn’t expect I would have to train myself into a legal adviser. Immigration law is so complex and confusing that we cannot even trust officers at the immigration office and have to go for a second opinion. Dealing with authorities is such a bureaucracy where nobody wants to make it easy and simple even if they could. I feel ashamed for the Czech government when waiting with a hundred immigrants in a corridor in front of a closed door with nobody being concerned with the fate of each one of them. Customer service is something unheard of.
What is the most difficult task in taking care of Brno expats?
Filling in all the statistics, reports and paperwork… Not really. It’s difficult to target the group. Expats are not a homogenous group. They are as different as any one of us. So there isn’t a service we could offer to all and just keep repeating. There isn’t an event or party where all expats would totally fit in. We have to think of many different age groups, singles, families, kids, managers, assembly workers, freelancers, researchers, nationals from the west, from east etc. So in this sense, every day work is difficult to predict but that makes it adventurous at the same time.
A lot of people are interested in what kind of expats contact us and what they mostly need. What would be your short description?
We are ready in BEC to help with pretty much anything. But most frequently foreigners contact us when looking for an English speaking doctor, searching for a job or applying for a trade license. Next it would be real estates, registering a vehicle, learning the language. Mostly it is just a language barrier what makes them to look up our services. Expats who contact us typically work in some international IT or shared service company with English as a working language. Second big group are individuals from third countries who simply want to live here for any reason (friends, partners, studies, lifestyle) but need to be legalized in this world with borders. Then we have to set up a legal “purpose” for their stay. I wish people could just live where they want. In this regard, EU nationals are very fortunate.
What do you think the Municipality can do about helping the most qualified and talented foreigners to stay in Brno?
Besides having a better infrastructure and an international secondary school, the municipality should let the city “breathe”. Let creative people intervene in the public space. The Municipality should be more fearless and let courageous ideas get out of the box, let people with international experience take over and invite everyone to participate in public space even if they don’t speak perfect Czech. Brno has the potential to become a very pleasant place to live in. Professionals stay here because the city is compact, easy to navigate, family friendly, green, has a progressive student body and is becoming more and more international.
Do you have secret tips for the must go places that could be hidden to expats’ eyes?
We share all the tips with our expats all the time. My favourite pastime with my guests visiting in Brno is to go to the obelisk under the Petrov cathedral, get a bottle of wine, petanque balls and stay there until the night lights go on. Or have a picnic in Lužánky park with musicians, sports people, yoga trainees, fencers and dogs around. I just wish the Indian summer lasted longer.
Jan gratuated in Sociology in Brno two years ago after nine years of extensive studies in Brno, Prague, St. Catharines (Canada), Hirakata (Japan). Thanks to his passion for travelling and exploring new cultures he visited over forty countries in Europe, North America and Asia training intercultural understanding. Before meeting in the BEC Jan has worked with Don Sparling in the Office for International Studies of Masaryk University and tutored foreign students. He loves exotic vegetarian food, fresh pasta, ice wine, tea and one day will take over his fathers tea house in Prague.
Read interviews with other BEC crew members: Vlastimil Veselý, Lucia Konôpková, Don Sparling, Katka Báňová, and Roman Schwanzer.