Have you ever considered moving to another country and starting from zero? Maybe you are not happy about the environment you live in, maybe you would like to be at a place with assumedly more opportunities for your career plans. Or let’s simply say you want to have a chance to pursue your own form of happiness. Our guests Gabriela and Gilbert share their journeys with us. Gabriela, who is from Slovakia and is a successful IT Manager, talks about tolerance and acceptance within societies reflecting on both her own experiences and observations. Whilst Gilbert, shares what his life used to be like as an African student who came from Benin to study medicine in Czech Republic and what it is like to live in Slovakia right now.
Our guest speaker Gilbert, wins a scholarship and travels all the way from Benin, a country in West Africa, to Czech Republic to study medicine in the 90’s. When asked why he chose Czech Republic, he said he had acquaintances who were already living there and that it was a good place to live and work according to them.
When I first arrived in the country, I didn’t understand a word in Czech. We went straight to the language school to learn the language.Gilbert
Think about studying in a language you have never heard, and then think about studying medicine in that language. Gilbert spends his first year at the language school along with other students who come from various countries. When our host expresses her amazement at how Gilbert managed to learn a new language only in one year well enough to study medicine, he modestly responds to that saying that they didn’t really have a choice. If they wanted to study there, they simply had to speak the language. He describes his first year as a wonderful experience to be with so many different people.
Gabriela tells about her years in the university and about going through a major cultural shock when she first moved from Banská Štiavnica to Bratislava. She even jokes that the shock was probably bigger than that of Gilbert’s. She tells about her first encounter with a person of color and curious questions that followed. Later they become very good friends, form some international community groups and organize celebrations where they would teach their new friends how to sing Slovak songs.
When it comes to multiculturalism, sometimes there are unfortunate events and not so positive approaches toward foreigners. What’s the best response according to Gilbert? As a doctor, who interacts with all kinds of people every day; he shares that there have been incidents, such as a man reacting aggressively and offending Gilbert after his wife doesn’t get admitted because she doesn’t have an appointment. Gilbert says it was an unfortunate incident and that the couple were asked to leave afterwards; but usually, Gilbert says the best reaction is not to react at all. He also adds that he has not been subject to as many aggressive approaches however, he speaks of the years when there were street gangs who called themselves “skinheads”. They used to attack people of different races for no reason at all.
I’m born Slovak and am very proud of it and at the same time I feel very liberal and open toward other cultures. However, I have to say that it hasn’t always been this way.Gabriela
Gabriela, openly talks about how shocked she and her husband were when their daughter brought her boyfriend from Africa to the dinner. She explains that it was not a reaction meant for the young man’s race in particular but rather a fear of the unknown. She describes her daughter’s boyfriend telling about his different hair style and the accessories he wore and says “after some time, I realized that even if the young man’s skin color wasn’t different than ours; we would still have reacted in a similar way given the fact that his looks and style was very different than what we were used to seeing. It was simply not what they had expected to see. This sums up the reason for the skepticism around cultural integration beyond borders and the hesitance felt before being accepting of diversity.
Nevertheless, different people from different cultures mean contributing toward a broader perspective thus, establishing a diverse society is only enriching for any country.
One of our listeners contributes to the discussion with a question to Gilbert. He asks what he did to get more familiar with the Slovak and Czech culture. Was it music, books or theater? What helped him the most? Gilbert, answers this reminiscing about his first years and how they used to organize celebrations when foreign students would arrive in the university. Every student used to play their own music, cook their countries’ most famous meals etc. The celebrations were a great opportunity for the students to get to know more about each other.
When asked about the most surprising differences, Gilbert tells about his first Christmas in Czech Republic. In Benin, they celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December and it’s rather a fun celebration where they sing and enjoy themselves. He says he was surprised by how quietly and calmly Christmas was celebrated in Czech and Slovakia and jokes about his first reaction being questioning whether it was Christmas or not. He was also surprised that everyone would get presents in Christmas whereas in Benin presents were only meant for children and not adults. Gilbert recommends everyone who is planning on moving to another place to try to adapt to their culture easily, to be more tolerant and not to take everything to heart.
I think that multiculturalism is a part of life especially now that we are able to watch international TV and have open borders. I hope and believe that as a nation, today we are more liberal and open than we used to be in the past.Gabriela
She later explains why it’s so important to be more open and accepting of different people and says that she always puts herself in their shoes and thinks about how she would like to be treated in foreign places. She shares that she has also traveled and lived abroad and has also felt bad when she wasn’t being treated nicely. According to her, there should be a mutual ground where foreigners learn the language and get used to the culture of the country they move to and the locals provide them with as much help and support as they can.
Gilbert leads a happy life in Zohor in Slovakia with his children and wife, whom he met during his first years as a doctor in Shumperk, Czech Republic. He seems to have taught his children to enjoy their differences and that life is especially beautiful with all sorts of colors in it. For those who are less familiar with different colors of life, communication is the key. Getting to know more about each other with tolerance and acceptance will ultimately set the ground for an open society.