Student Tomáš Titěra: Open Gate is not a snobby school

Student Tomáš Titěra: Open Gate is not a snobby school
He was often bored at his desk in elementary school, even though it was a selective Prague language school. He believed that Open Gate, which was recommended by his teachers, was a boarding school for the rich only. Then he changed his opinion and spent eight years there with support from The Kellner Family Foundation. He spent his last year at Open Gate preparing for the International Baccalaureate and continued studies in the Netherlands. Read all his thoughts here.

Tomáš Titěra attended a selective Prague elementary school with extended foreign language classes. Still, he was often bored there. Tomáš’s mom therefore started to search for a place where they could develop his talents further. She was initially concerned about Open Gate. The school allegedly had a reputation as a prep school for rich kids who were a bit out of touch with reality. But then they took their teachers’ advice. Tomáš himself says that ignoring irrational prejudices opened up an opportunity for him to go abroad to study – his dream.

Classes being taught in English was one of the reasons why you hesitated at first to think Open Gate would be a good choice. Did you have to brush up on your language skills?
Before I came to Open Gate, I was able to say just a few sentences in English and tell the English words for a few professions and some animals. At elementary school, I only learned German. At Open Gate, all the teaching is in English in higher years, so I had four years to prepare myself. Almost all our English teachers were native speakers, and I was therefore in close contact with the language. We use English virtually all the time in our school. We write e-­mails in English, we discuss organizational matters; at school-wide meetings, or perhaps when communicating with the principal, a foreign language is used.

Can’t this result in Czech students unlearning their mother tongue?
We still speak a lot of Czech here. And instruction in a foreign language is a matter of course – and a benefit – at all international and bilingual schools in the Czech Republic. So why should it be strange at Open Gate? True, terminology in, say, biology or math can usually be difficult; other than that, it was not difficult for me at all to manage the language switchover.

Is Open Gate a place where the muses flourish, or is its primary focus on producing future business leaders?
The school allows us to choose our own path. The selection of subjects for the last two years is almost totally at our discretion. The only limitation is that the subjects are categorized as required for the IB certificate program, and we have to pick at least one subject from each category. Thus we can specialize with respect to our dream careers. Statistics say that more students want to go into economics than want to go into art, but the starting positions are more or less the same for all. A future bank CEO and a future artist can graduate from this school. The school certainly did not exert any pressure on me, in terms of making me prefer one subject over another when I was selecting them.

How would you characterize your schoolmates?
Since my schoolmates come not only from all corners of our country but from all over the world, it is a very diverse group. For example, one of the girls is from Moldova, and there is a boy from Somalia living on the same dorm floor as I am. We have different views, customs, upbringing and character, but we are able to get along well with one another because we really spend a lot of time together. There are occasional disagreements or it’s too close for comfort and we get sick of each other, but I think we will remember each other fondly once we each go our own way after the school leaving examination.

What is Open Gate’s greatest competitive advantage?
What I appreciate the most in Open Gate is the individualized approach to students. There are four of us attending history classes, and only two who take German. Under such conditions, the teaching process is much more intensive and the quality is much better, as it can be tailored to each student’s pace. I don’t think there are many schools that can offer that kind of luxury to their students. And it is not a problem to arrange individual consultations with the teacher at any time during the week. The teachers are committed to their work for us and are ready to help us if we have any problem understanding what they are teaching. In return, of course, they expect us to be active and committed to learning.

What was the main reason why you wanted to study at Open Gate?

Until I was in fifth grade, I went to a Prague 2 elementary school with a heavy emphasis on language teaching. I was bored there, however. My parents as well as teachers thought I should seek opportunities to develop my potential better and to make more of it. I visited Open Gate on the Open Day. I thought I would see students there who were just focused on performance. In simple words, classrooms full of heads immersed in textbooks. But I met a lot of friendly and helpful people, and it was clear that they really enjoyed studying there. A healthy enthusiasm for self-education was what I lacked at the elementary school. After several hours on the campus I therefore realized clearly that this was exactly what Open Gate could offer me.

You are involved in many volunteer activities, teaching outside the school and assisting the elderly. Do you do this because the school expects you to? Or do you also have another motivation?
Although the school perhaps expects volunteering from us, being expected to do something is not my motivation. Rather, I make use of the opportunities offered to me in this respect. I mainly do volunteer work because I enjoy being helpful. All the activities I am involved in are opportunities for me to do good things and gain experience that might be useful in practical life. In addition, seeing tangible results of my efforts is rewarding for me; it is something other than studying for tests and getting good grades.

Do Open Gate students know which of them has obtained a grant from the Foundation and who have, say, their parents paying their school fees? Does it show in the way that friendships are formed at the school?
Grantees are very hard to tell from paying students. With some schoolmates, I only found years later that their parents paid their full fees, and think I will never know about some other students because they just don’t show it off. In other cases, you can tell at a glance because we don’t wear uniforms, which erase the difference, all day, yet we almost never talk about the financing of our studies with each other. I don’t know anyone who thinks it is important. I have observed that, in many cases, the firmest friendships form between students with completely different socio-economic backgrounds.

How do you remember your first months in the dorms?
Although leaving family at the age of eleven or twelve is not common amongst children in the Czech Republic, I think I coped well with the separation. There was a lot of new and interesting stuff at school and so there was no time to be homesick, really. I guess this was much harder for my mom than for me, as she was left home alone.

What is your goal in life?
I am cautious when it comes to big goals, and I don’t feel mature enough to define the objective for my life. Looking into the near future, though, I would like to be happy with my choice of university in the coming years. Then I’ll see what direction my life takes further on. The future is still too distant for me. I can’t tell if I’ll stay abroad or come back to the Czech Republic. All I am sure about is that I made a good decision in the past. Open Gate was a great choice, and so I want to tell everybody who hesitates as I did to not worry, go ahead and try it. This school isn’t snobby, really.