We Have One Attempt at an Exam, Says a Czech Studying in Scotland

Attending a university outside the Czech Republic does not have to only be a dream. For students who have talent but not enough money, The Kellner Family Foundation has set up the Universities project. Under the project, it provides financial grants to students at prestigious universities both outside and in the Czech Republic.

In the 2017/2018 academic year, 60 students will enjoy support under the Universities project run by the family foundation of Mrs. Renáta Kellnerová and Mr. Petr Kellner: 23 new students who have won a grant for the current academic year and have started their first year, while another 37 grantees will continue their studies, with the Foundation’s support, begun in past years. Every year, The Kellner Family Foundation distributes approximately CZK 10 million in grants. Since 2009, when the Universities project was launched, 149 students have won grants. Among the grantees, the most popular universities include those in the UK, in the Czech Republic, and in the US. This year, the 60 grantees include students from Prague, from the Vysočina Region, and also from the Ústí nad Labem Region. One of the new grantees is also a student named Daniel Andrle from Děčín.

What are all the places where you have studied to date?
Taking “studying” in the broader sense of the word (i.e., not only as purely university education), I can tell you this: After spending nine long years at elementary school, I first went to the grammar school in Děčín to go through a four-year program; however, I only spent one quickly elapsed year there and started my second year (i.e., the sexta [the sixth year]) in an eight-year program, already at the Open Gate Grammar School. In fact, I only applied for the Děčín grammar school because I needed to be accepted to a grammar school in order to be eligible for applying for transfer to Open Gate. There, I spent three years that were so extremely busy, and yet easygoing and happy, that it seems they passed even faster than the single year before. Open Gate was followed by a long vacation, and then Edinburgh.

Why have you decided to go to a college abroad?
The opportunity to pass the International Baccalaureate (IB) examination, and hence stand a good chance of getting admitted to one of the traditional universities in the United Kingdom, was the key aspect that attracted me to Open Gate when I learned of the existence of this school. I’m not going to repeat what I very often see in blog posts or contributions written by other Czech students enrolled at schools all over the world (i.e., that “studying abroad was always my dream”); yes, it’s a nice cliché, but it wouldn’t be entirely true in my case. The fact that in the Czech Republic, there are schools that make it possible for their students to expand their academic ambitions in this way (i.e., expand beyond the national borders of their home country) appeared to me surreal per se…

And so you seized the opportunity.
It was simply an opportunity that I couldn’t let go by just like that. At Open Gate, for the last two years most students are primarily geared towards achieving the IB diploma, which is the key to European colleges. Not all Open Gate students vanish to other countries after the last eighth year, but studying for IB is meant to be the springboard for exactly this path; otherwise, it’s an extra exertion that is quite unnecessary. And so, when we already went through this strenuous IB exercise – and we had good results – there was no reason for not leveraging this privilege for studying in Britain. Enjoying the support kindly provided by The Kellner Family Foundation, which had earlier made it possible for me and a host of other students to attend Open Gate, it was a completely realistic proposition for us.

What are you feelings about studying in Edinburgh?
Definitely good. The University of Edinburgh is one of the oldest in the United Kingdom. It has a strong historical tradition, and, as far as its academic prestige is concerned, it has long been among the world’s best, together with some other illustrious names across all the various disciplines and subjects. Another important factor for students is the environment in which they live during the years they spend at a college. Edinburgh is really a gorgeous city with a rich history and many beautiful landmarks; on the other hand, it is also a modern, dynamic local center bustling with life. In terms of the population size, it is a sort of half-Prague. That is, neither small nor large. Just right.

What are the pluses and minuses of attending a school there?
Studying there definitely entails a large number of advantages. You explore a different language environment. You meet a lot of new people from various nationalities. (A large percentage of the student community is made up of international students, not only from Europe but truly from all over the world.) A clear disadvantage is being torn away from home, family, and close friends; that is always an issue, of course. I personally am also suffering from, say, separation from the omnipresence of my mother tongue. The sequestration periods are long. In September, the goodbyes and the outbound flight—and returning home only for Christmas. Three weeks at home, frequent get-togethers here and there, and then leaving again. And the following semester is somewhat longer again… But the three-month summer vacation is good compensation for this.

What are the greatest differences compared with the Czech school system that you have come across?
I don’t have much against which I could make the comparison. I’ve never moved around the environment of Czech colleges. I think that a major difference from studying in the Czech Republic can be the local effort for a most individualized approach to students. I have many more seminars and what they call tutorials, for which students are split up into small groups of about ten, than conventional lectures that are usually attended by audiences numbering up to hundreds of students. Tutors are usually experienced doctoral students who are very helpful to us with just about anything. But my assessment of this is not directly as a pure, 100 percent plus. Sure, such interaction has its advantages, but sometimes I feel in such classes as if I am still at high school. (And when I recall that even “activity” in some such lessons is also factored into the final grade, albeit carrying only a negligible weighting in percentage terms, I feel a bit like in the very first years of elementary school.) A major technical difference is that we don’t take any tests for credit and we only have one attempt at every exam, which have been written only to date; those who flunk the exam have to “buy” (for about 100 pounds) a second attempt in summer. And nobody really wants that. Fortunately, the exams themselves do not determine the entire final grade; during the course of the two semesters, we have various deadlines for handing in various essays and independently prepared papers, the total weight of which can contribute to up to one half of the overall grade. There are even courses where the assessment is mostly done this way, without exams, such as various visual arts courses. The credits that we ultimately receive for all of this perfectly mismatch the Czech credits. A beautifully simple conversion formula must surely exist for this. But how to find it…

What exactly are your academic goals?
Such goals don’t have any firm contours in my mind. Upcoming circumstances in my life may play with my intentions. One of the options is to stay in academia and try to climb up the rungs to high-level academic degrees; however, such a career would be very fettering, while highly specialized studying would be purely studying per se without allowing a broader range of alternatives for putting the acquired knowledge to use. And so now, at least for the time being, my first goal is to achieve an education at the master’s level.

Languages are your favorite hobbies. Do you already have a track record of your own creative works in linguistic or literary production?
Definitely so. I am guilty of committing a couple of modest literary feats, both in prose and in verse, in my life, and I continue to commit additional feats quite merrily when I have time and energy. After all, one and the other go hand in hand. In fact, I had found my captivation with languages as a subject matter for studying through my initial passion for belles-lettres. Still at elementary school, I managed to develop a certain feeling for language, mainly through devouring classic authors (thanks to their diverse styles and original approaches to the Czech language). In addition, I have always had the good luck of having excellent teachers; in this respect, I must highlight the role of my amazing Czech Language teacher at the second level of elementary school, Ms. Petra Lančová, whose classes triggered my enthusiasm for language and literature and thanks to whom I started my own writing back then. I also like to experiment with writing in my second languages, English and German. But all of this is still only in private, sort of “stored in a drawer.” I’m very self-critical and it is very rare that I’m 100 percent happy with any of my emanations. I keep a vast array of various notes, remarks, and outlines, and jottings and observations, and ideas in progress; if I didn’t have anything else to do and could fine-tune everything to my satisfaction and into the final “perfect” form, perhaps something viable could emerge from all of that—but that is just pure speculation.

What do you want to do for living one day?
I wish I knew. With my field of study, the opportunities are quite broad-ranging: teaching (at the second or third level), journalism, state administration … I still don’t know what I actually prefer from all of this.

Do you continue to improve your English, or have you achieved the level of a native speaker?
The two things are not exclusive of each other. Having a perfect command of English is, naturally, a conditio sine qua non that every foreigner must meet to be able to attend school in an English-speaking country and, primarily, for their own good in fact. In particular for writing essays, you need more than just a passable knowledge of the language. On the other hand, in everyday conversations you can, of course, do without the “big” nice-sounding words; here, people in general will not tend to pop up posh aristocratic parlance as if from the Victorian era at you; the real enemy is, primarily, the strong dialects. You can be as self-assured as you wish as regards your abilities (acquired through learning pure Cantabrigian English), but it’s enough when a native from, say, somewhere deep in Scotland or a corner of Ireland starts to speak to you, and you are completely lost. This is difficult to learn; this simply has to be absorbed by listening. And so, exaggerating a bit, it all depends on which specific native speaker I would want to compare myself with… In any case, I am improving my command of English on a day-to-day basis, through seeking to expand my vocabulary continuously. English has the largest number of words of all languages in the world; it’s not possible to learn all of them in a lifetime.

What about free time? Do you have more of it than in the Czech Republic? And how do you spend it?
I definitely had much more of it last year during my first year at school—and still continue to have it this academic year—than during my last year at Open Gate. Partly because most of the bachelor’s courses that are normally three-year courses in the Czech Republic and even in England are extended to four years here in Scotland, and so the first two years are (it is said) relatively unchallenging compared to the other two. And, mainly, there are all indications that what you hear from perhaps nine out of ten people who have passed through the martyrdom called the International Baccalaureate is actually true: If you survive IB, you can survive anything… It has been so thus far; we’ll see whether it will also be so tomorrow (hopefully yes). Here, the aspect of free time is probably the same as at any other college—seemingly, there’s lots of it, but then there’s also lots of self-study. University societies play an important role in leisure time, and there are countless ones here; for example, I serve in the management of the Slovak and Czech Society, which organizes various events and get-togethers. (Its very name clearly suggests that, lamentably, Slovaks significantly outnumber Czechs here.) Regarding the remaining time, occasionally it’s advisable to refrain from scheduling it in any manner whatsoever and simply engage in nothing. This is also agreeable. And every student is perfectly proficient in this.

How would you compare Edinburgh with Czech towns and cities, for example, Děčín?
They lack a river here! It may sound basically like a trifle at first sight, but I can’t help myself. In short, this city lacks a river. At home in Děčín, the massive Elbe is crawling under the chateau. And in general, every proper city should have a proper river. What would Prague be without the Vltava? London has its Thames, Paris its Seine, Berlin its Spree, and as many as four capitals share the Danube. And except for a couple of minor brooks, Edinburgh has nothing. Only this cold North Sea. But for sure, this can be excused, as otherwise it’s really a beautiful city. When Karel Čapek visited the city almost a hundred years ago, in his Anglické listy [Letters from England], he wrote that Edinburgh was “nice, stonily grey, and weird”—and he was right on all three counts. This omnipresent stony grey is inherent to the Scottish capital and together with rainfall forms the classical local atmosphere. But if you have been here for several dreary months of damp and cold weather in a row, this grey can become a bit depressing. Back at home, our towns and cities are more colorful and thanks god for that. Edinburgh is strange in that it sprawls over hilltops, which its builders and developers have happily tackled throughout the ages, using various bridges and underpasses, and so, when walking down a street, a different street can appear right above you all of a sudden. In our country, towns and cities are usually situated in valleys, so we don’t have such architectural pranks.

Author | Kristián Šujan
Source | https://ustecky.denik.cz/zpravy_region/na-zkousku-mame-jeden-pokus-rika-cech-studujici-ve-skotsku-20171114.html

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