Articles| Fortune really favors the bold

Fortune really favors the bold

24. September 2013 - Deník They come from modest backgrounds, but in spite of that, they study at prestigious universities. I am talking about more than fifty extremely talented Czech students supported by The Kellner Family Foundation under its Universities Project, which helps them pay school fees or cover their living expenses abroad.

This is already the fifth year that the foundation supports talented students from all over the Czech Republic. This year alone it has allocated about ten million Czech crowns for them. Alena Machálková is one of the successful applicants for a grant. She is a student of The University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

How is it that a girl from Northern Moravia sets off to study sociology at a leading university in Scotland?
I come from a small village in the Moravian-Silesian Region, which – as far as my studies are concerned – I had never left before finishing grammar school. At the beginning of my last year at the school I was still unsure what to do further. I also realized that my English was far from good enough to allow me to think about studying at a university abroad. My school allowed me to leave for London for three months to work there as an au pair and this was my first successful step. My English improved but my stay in the U.K. did not help me at all to decide what field of study to pick. My application for admission therefore looked like an alphabetical list. I did not have the money for studying abroad, nor could my family help me financially. I searched the internet for “scholarships Czech Republic” as keywords and I came across The Kellner Family Foundation, whose criteria I met. I took the risk and applied for a grant. I hoped I could get some help but I received an e-mail message telling me that I had been awarded a full scholarship. This was beyond my expectation, as the scholarship covered all my expenses on university studies.

What criteria must be met by students to be admitted to a university in the U.K.?
They must be confident. They must not be afraid of change, because it really is a change – a different system of examinations and lectures, a different student life. Everything is different but the differences are sort of good. And you will see clearly whether it really is what you yourself want and not your parents’ or friends’ wish or dream. Nothing else but your own conviction will force you to work hard. The main point is not to give up when you see a problem, and to carry on.  

When you learned that you had been awarded the grant, was it a relief or did you feel the full weight of your decision?  
I live my life for now. I don’t look back much and I don’t look much into the future either. The only weight I felt was the weight of my baggage: 20 kilos in the suitcase. Does my life weigh 20 kilos now? We were of course happy with the grant and my parents were certainly a little nervous. I decided to make do with just the essential information and not to seek any more details about the university. I wanted to be surprised. The strongest moment for me was when a student in a yellow T-shirt opened the door to my room, saying “sorry to leave you, I have to collect some other freshers” and left me standing there. I sat down on the bed and waited, perhaps waiting to take everything in.  Then I began unpacking my suitcase and familiarizing myself with my surroundings. The moment lasted about two minutes.  

The criteria underlying the award of a grant from The Kellner Family Foundation include the applicant’s range of out-of-school activities, such as volunteering and community work...
While in the secondary school, I helped to organize various events, moderating them, working as a steward at dog shows, and I even prepared a mathematical postal seminar at our school. Charity culture is very popular at universities in Scotland and therefore if you have perhaps just one free hour a week and want to use it for a good cause, there will always be an opportunity. Take care of children in children’s homes, sell things in charity shops or organize various things for the university. I collaborate a lot with the Climate Change Project: I had four hours a week of workshops under this project, teaching students how to cook light seasonal meals, mostly from ingredients provided by local farmers. Later on this developed into something like Czech farmers’ markets. And I volunteered some ten hours a week working in the students’ second-hand bookshop, thus contributing to making this shop a place where people from various special-interest clubs at the school liked to meet.  

You spent a year studying in Hong Kong and now you are returning to your “home” university in Aberdeen, Scotland. How much did the Asian experience change you as a student?
It’s been a year of a profound change. First, I spent six weeks in Tanzania and Kenya, and then I went to Hong Kong and traveled a lot around Asia. The experience is absolutely priceless. I learned to see the world from a different angle and now I think I can understand any problem and look at it from a number of perspectives. I learned to be more thankful for the many opportunities we are offered every day. I now study for knowledge, not for a degree. And although it was a busy year, full of study, culture and fantastic experiences, I added to it three months of hands-on learning about life in Asia. Returning home from Hong Kong, I traveled mostly by hitchhiking. I went across China, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and I was also in Russian Siberia. It was an unforgettable experience. I learned the most from the people I met on the way. It is great to learn from books but for me, it is still about contacts with people. I myself am curious what Scotland will look like to me when I return there after my busy year.

You major subjects are sociology and international relations. Have you already decided which of the two to choose when you finish your studies? Are you going to move back home, or stay abroad?
I am interested in traditions and in understanding their role in the life of society – this is closely related to sociology; and I am also interested in international relations – they rely on international politics, and so do various international human rights foundations and organizations. In the future, I would like to help the people who do not have as many opportunities as we do. I’m talking about help that will influence future generations. For example, less advanced tribes have traditions that are not acceptable to everyone because they are dangerous and inhumane. I would like to live with those people for some time, learn to understand the cultural and historical importance of their traditions and then use diplomacy to contribute to the process of modifying or prohibiting them. I wouldn’t say, however, that I will not return to the Czech Republic at all; I only think and hope that it will yet take some time. My plans for the nearest future are related with my master’s program: I would like to complete it in Taiwan, improve my Chinese, of which I have only a basic knowledge, and add social management of projects to the list of my fields of study.

If you were to say a sentence of ten words to encourage talented students, their parents or teachers not to be afraid of studying abroad, what would it be?
The one who wants - seeks ways, who does not want - looks for a reason. Find a way!

(Author | Markéta Vojtíšková)

Source | Deník, Supplement Chováme se odpovědně [Behaving responsibly]

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