Not all our readers have met us face to face yet, so we are going on with the interviews introducing our Brno Expat Centre crew. This interview presents our latest and always smiling colleague Lucia.
What brought you to Brno and what do you like the most about living here?
When it comes to Brno, in my case it really isn´t about what but who brought me here. And the answer is: my parents. The very first time I visited Brno was in 1983, several months before I was born. My father, who had studied landscape engeneering at Mendel University, graduated that year and the whole family – including me in the belly – attended the ceremony.
Much more important visit, however, was the second one eighteen years later, just me and my father. What I believed to be another little road trip of ours turned out to be a very well thought-out and cunning plan. My father has always loved Brno and he decided to show his oldest daughter the best of the city so when she was deciding where to go study, she would pick the city he had spent his best years in and would thus continue the family tradition. And that is exactly what I did. I became one of the freshmen at the Faculty of Arts at Masaryk University a few months later and – just like my father – I have been in love with Brno ever since.
Which brings me to what I like about living here the most. I see Brno as my city – I came here as a young girl and had to learn to live on my own. And yet, from the very beginning it has felt (and always does) like a second home to me. Brno simply runs in my family.
What are your favorite places usually not listed for tourists?
I like Brno very much. There are parts of it, however, which I like more and where I like getting lost every now and then and wander around. I have always liked walking around Masarykova čtvrt on Kraví hora and amusing myself with picking a villa I would buy if I could afford it. Other favorite places of mine are a long street called Třída Kapitána Jaroše slightly out of the center which – probably because of the long alley of high trees with many little benches – reminds me of a Parisian boulevard, or the beautiful and beautifully quiet Pellicova street with the best playground ever. I also love strolling through Brno parks, especially in early warm autumn when they turn yellow and red and I can walk through the fallen leaves.
How would you compare life and studies in the Czech Republic to France?
Since 1998 – my very first school trip to Avranches in Normandy – I´ve visited France many times as both student and tourist, and enjoyed this beautiful country each time I went. When it comes to life in France, the majority of my memories are those connected with Paris and Breatagne (mes amours), great food, great services – especially if one happens to be fluent in their mother tongue – and great Jacques Prévert. However, many times I also experienced clashes with ‘the vicious circle of the French bureacracy’ which the French themselves sometimes call Les Douze Travaux d’Astérix – The Twelve Tasks of Astérix out of which ‘Finding the Permit A 38 in The Place That Sends You Mad’ – pretty much any regular office in France – truly is the worst one.
As for my studies, I started with French when I was seven and continued with it at a biligual highschool as well as at universities here and in France. There are areas such as IT facilities in our study rooms or university information systems, in which, I believe, our schools are rather ahead. However, I have to say that certain things I only learnt thanks to the ‘French approach’. Apart from the cross-disciplinary teaching of sciences and the emphasis put on the importance of practical training, I have always appreciated l’argumentation / la dissertation – the art of dialectics and rhetoric – which still represent an integral part of their higher education.
Do you have any other places in the World where you would like to live or stay for some time?
There are so many places and things I would love to see! Iceland, Canada, Burma and Cambodia, Nazca in Peru, blooming sakuras in Japan or quokkas on the Rottnest Island… Although I have always felt the need to belong somewhere and have a place I could return to when I feel like it, deep inside I have wandering shoes. Every now and then I start to feel a sudden urge to leave (wherever it is I am at the moment) and travel for a while. When talking about living somewhere, however, I would go for a closer destination so I could easily visit my family. I have already spent some time in Denmark and Bretagne and – maybe because of the beautiful surroundings both natural and architectural, really friendly people and ease I felt every time I rode a bike around Aarhus, walked the cobbled streets of the old Rennes or just sit on a beach – I would probably choose one of these places.
You are technically a foreigner, your partner is a foreigner. Is there any major barrier for foreigners when integrating into the country and the city?
Yes, you are right, we are both expats in the ČR – I am Slovak and my partner is English. However, I think in some ways our feelings about being foreigners here are completely different. I was born in the former Czechoslovakia and will probably forever see the two countries and the two cultures as one. As for Phil, although he has spent many years living and travelling abroad, settling down in Brno took him some time anyway. It was mainly due to the language which wasn´t – and still isn´t – easy for him, but also because at the time – eight years ago – Brno wasn´t so welcoming towards foreigners. As for cultural differences, he feels that Czech people are still very family oriented and many of them enjoy regular weekends at family cottages. Another thing is the great enthusiasm of outdoors activities such as hiking, cycling (usually clad head to toe in lycra) or mushroom picking. One of his favorite cultural differences is Czech and Slovak Easter, as men get to whip women with the traditional ‘pomlázka’ and still get a thank you and a drink or a painted egg in return.
You teach English to Czechs. Can you tell us why so many Czechs are afraid to speak English when addressed by a foreigner?
I believe it is so because, especially in Brno, it has only been recently – with the increasing numbers of foreigners studying and working here – that Czechs started to experience English as a part of their daily life. Many of them are still getting used to hearing it in the streets, restaurants or stores. It seems that even those whose English is on a rather good level, feel somewhat surprised when addressed in today´s lingua franca. As German, for example, has been a part of the Czech history for a longer period of time, Czechs seem more at ease when encountering German speakers. Plus personally, I just think most Czechs and Slovaks are still rather shy and tend to underestimate themselves. They therefore need time and space to get to know people and be able to chat. Let me say here, even as an English teacher, thanks God for the nice Moravian wine and good beer!
What is the most common assistance you do for foreigners when working with the Brno Expat Centre? And what do you enjoy the most?
In general, the BEC offers their clients three types of services – consulting, assisting and organizing events. Although I am involved in all of them, I prefer spending time with people or organizing things to sitting at my computer and answering emails. As for the most common way I assist expats, it is probably visiting the Immigration or Trade License Offices. But what I enjoy the most about my work for the BEC is the people I get to know and talk to every day as well as the fact that, as I believe, my job can thus never really become monotonous.
Lucia graduated in English and French literatures as well as Public Administration in Brno one and a half years ago after nine years of studies in Brno, Aarhus (Denmark) and Rennes (France). She has visited many countries in Europe and spent some time backpacking around Egypt – the country of ancient Pharaohs she has admired since she was a little girl. Lucia loves reading and- being a linguist – also studying languages. Apart from working for the BEC she also teaches English and French. What she enjoys about her jobs the most is that she gets to know many interesting people and that every day is different to the previous ones. She believes that one should never stop learning and likes dancing, making jewellery and crocheting while listening to audiobooks, and singing (or doing pretty much anything) with her younger sister.