How you can get by in Ostrava without speaking Czech
I came from Hungary to Ostrava for two months to do my practical placement as a social worker. I arrived in August which is really unusual time for starting a program, but I believe this gave me an opportunity to have a different experience from any other Erasmus students.
When I moved to the Czech Republic, I moved with that romantic idea in my head that Ostrava will be just like any other Czech cities. Full of history and beer (the second part is actually true), but I had to realize that google search is actually true about the industrial city claim. After a short disappointment, I started to enjoy the feeling of the place. I was excited to figure out if Ostravar or Radegast will win my heart and I absolutely adored the surrealistic look of Vítkovice.
At first, I lived in the city center with an Italian family and ballerinos and I started my placement in a small kindergarten run by a foundation for kids with special needs. I was really good at saying Dobry den! and Ahoj! but it was pretty much all my Czech language knowledge.
My first shock was the fact that an average Czech person speaks very little English. And this provided me plenty funny situations. First of all, I went to get my travelling pass. My Erasmus coordinator (she is an amazing woman, by the way) helped me to fill out the paperwork but I had to go to the kiosk myself. (Useful tip though, to always have a dictionary on your smart phones.) I wrote down a few words and practiced them before I went in, but my pronunciation was so terrible that I just got the lady even more confused. She was quite frustrated and I saw the question in her eyes: ’why would someone move here without speaking Czech?’ I started to write things down and so did she. After all we managed to put my transportation pass request in motion. A few days later I got my card, and here I was, free to move wherever in the city!
At my workplace, I had similar experience. I was working with two teachers and one assistant with 6-10 kids, and a google translator. What I found brilliant about the situation was that I was able to connect to these kids who had different disabilities or behavior problems. I felt like I was a disabled person myself. Wasn’t able to communicate in a way I wanted to, it was much slower and so much harder to make sure that we are not misinterpreting the things we say to each other. But this experience gives me more empathy towards people who are struggling vocalizing their problems or hardships.
The other thing which made me wonder is what do you do, if something is taken away from you? In my case, this was the ability of free understanding and speech. It forced me to think outside of the box. Like use signs, dictionary, Google, pictures, act the things out. I think I hardly ever fought that hard to make myself understood. Have you? I’m so easily assuming that people are thinking in a certain way without even asking them if it’s true or not. I (wrongly) think we understand each other just because we speak the same language. This is the best way to build up prejudice and hard feelings in our relationships and in our societies.
My time in Ostrava hasn’t just made me question a lot of patterns and habits in my life, but also gave me an opportunity to find new ones. I realized that I love ballet! And Ostrava has an AMAZING ballet company. It was pure joy to me to go there from time to time and get lost in the dance moves and music. Without making a sound, our bodies can tell stories by movements, and I started to focus on that truth, especially when I had to work with kids with speech-problems. My work was really challenging, but I felt excited every day on my way to these kids. I learnt to laugh more from them, and I learnt dedication from my colleagues. They were always up for helping our kids to reach their limits and kept pushing them for even more development. And they did the same to me.
I could go on and on about fun or moving stories from my two months in this beautiful city, and about the great people who I met, but maybe this is for another time. I appreciate that Ostrava is such a caring, fun, open place for short term residents like me. It gave me so much, not just as a student, but as a person as well!
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