Czech Talent Goes International

They are enrolled at the world’s most prestigious universities: Oxford, Yale, Cambridge, etc. But these young Czechs cannot rely on any major financial help from their families. What has helped them is their extraordinary talent, a clear-cut vision of their future, and appetite to help the needy. The Kellner Family Foundation takes care of the practical part of student life to a large extent, i.e. the funds needed for learning and living in a foreign country. KFF has already dispatched more than 120 promising young people abroad who had felt a desire to acquire diplomas from the best schools in medical, economic, art and other sciences and fields.

Graduates from any secondary school in the country who can document their excellent academic results and interesting extracurricular activities and impress the selection panel by their visions of how to make the world better have a chance to receive grants every year. Volunteering for charitable organisations, or even their own philanthropic projects are usually also appreciated.

Anybody can visit The Kellner Family Foundation’s website to see how students are faring at universities and whether or not they are coping with living at the other end of the world, far away from their families and friends, without difficulties. Tereza, a particle physics student at Oxford, and Aleš, a future artist currently living in Rotterdam, also have their blogs there.

The circus university
A magician, juggler, Contemporary Circus performer, winner of many awards, currently the country’s champion in modern magic, and member of a French charitable organisation. This is only a brief outline of the interests and achievements of Aleš Hrdlička, who is only 20 and who actually started his career before he first went to school. Today, he attends Codarts, a Contemporary Circus school, thanks to The Kellner Family Foundation.

“The moment I was admitted I started to look around for options how to finance my studies. Although I do not come from a socially disadvantaged family, as our family owns a small footwear workshop, they do not have so much money,” admits the promising artist, who believes that one of the reasons why a grant was approved for him was his dedication to philanthropy. He has been working with a French charitable organisation, Magiciens du Monde, for six years. He has performed during missions in France and Africa and focused on the disabled before that as part of the Pomozte dětem [Help the Children] events. “I definitely want to continue with this, to go to Africa more to appear on stages there and to visit children in hospitals and children’s homes in our country more frequently. People should help each other,” Aleš is convinced. In Holland, he is in the first year of the circus school’s four-year programme concluded by a bachelor’s degree performance and a written thesis. “Our syllabus mostly includes practical subjects such as dance, ground acrobatics, object manipulation, theatre, improvisation, hand-to-hand and group acrobatics... But we also have several theoretical subjects such as the circus history, music, and anatomy,” the student enumerates.
He says that he primarily has to have a good night’s sleep to be fit and full of strength for every day. “It is not easy; in addition to staying in shape I also have to focus on books because several theoretical papers must be written every semester,” notes Aleš, who often stays at school after classes to train or create on his own. He says that he cannot switch off from thinking about art and his head is continuously buzzing with new tricks. Logically, he has no energy left for any other entertainment. And so most frequently, he relaxes in the dorms or goes out to walk around Rotterdam. “I fell in love with the city last year during the admission tests. It is a modern city, although, at present, I am fighting its bureaucracy quite fiercely,” he admits. The reason is that he now mainly wants to get some contacts and is arranging for his own performances.

“But after school, I want to live in Prague again and from there I want to travel abroad to perform and represent the Czech Contemporary Circus and, in general, art,” the young man dreams. For the long term, he would like to organise juggling and illusionist festivals, to support Czech young people engaged in Contemporary Circus in their preparations for the circus school and to fly over to Africa on a regular basis to perform in poor areas there. He is now the proudest of the performance that catapulted him to the World Championships of Magic. He is also happy about the Ringistry project, which combines juggling and modern magic. “My main juggling object is rings. I have invented special magnetic rings that open up entirely new ways in object manipulation,” adds Aleš, emphasising, however, that he would never be where he is but for his parents. Although not artists themselves, they have accompanied Aleš to magicians’ congresses and jugglers’ festivals since he was five. “They are in it with me,” the likeable magician laughs and only hopes that they will all be seeing each other more frequently.

Science only for the chosen
She grew up in the family of an architect and a painter. “I was a completely ordinary little girl who played with anything that she could get her hands on,” recalls Tereza Kroupová (23), whose ambition is to become a recognised particle physics researcher.

She was learning languages until age 14, but then came a turning point. Mathematics enchanted her so much that she decided to transfer to a mathematics and physics grammar school. “There, I also went through various physics competitions and started to read popular science books,” Tereza, who is now at university in Oxford, England, describes her recent past. It is not feasible to explain to laymen in more detail and in simple terms what the young student is currently preoccupied with, despite the fact that Tereza patiently tried to explain the gist to us several times. The reason is that she studies ‘elementary particles’, which do not have any electromagnetic or colour charge, and therefore cannot interact through either electromagnetic or strong interaction … “The studying is demanding but this is why I have opted for it. I did expect a high academic standard at Oxford but I was surprised by the facilities available to students here. The university is even able to arrange for things like bike repair so that young people can focus only on school,” says enthusiastically a physicist who is so busy learning, and also working on her own project, that sometimes she has difficulties striking the right balance between duties and fun. Indeed, her current doctoral programme differs very much from her preceding master’s programme. “I have a lot of lectures and some of them are not easy. Mainly a subject called electroweak interaction, where the teacher expects a deeper insight into general relativity than I have, is most difficult for me,” says a sad Tereza. But she enjoys her own project all the more for it. “I should spend eight hours a day working on it but I am usually immersed in it for a longer time.”

When she actually does save a few free hours she tries to go jogging, mountain hiking, and to visit art galleries and theatres; with her schoolmates – there aren’t any Czechs currently taking ‘her’ subject at Oxford – she plays desk games. “Before I left for England, I also did a lot of dancing – hip hop, modern, salsa, dance competitions, dance teaching, but now I am only doing it for myself,” laughs the young lady of many talents. And she does not hesitate to admit that she is able to find a few minutes for social networks between the hours spent over textbooks and that earlier, she had even played truant from school sometimes… “But at the university, I guess this no longer matters, does it,” jokes Tereza, who also clears her head by occasional work at the school bar.

Talent had to ripen
Although she sometimes hears talk that physics learning will not help her to achieve success in life, she has the opposite opinion. Her parents also believe in her plans. “I have always had enormous support from them and they have never discouraged me from studying. It was the same in the case of my going abroad – they let me find all the information and then decide myself following consultation with them,” she glows. She has taken out a student loan for school fees in England. “But I also had to tackle the cost of living, which is high in particular in London. And this is what I approached the family foundation of Mrs Renáta Kellnerová and Mr Petr Kellner with. I had references about KFF’s operation from a schoolmate in a higher year. But I was only successful at the second attempt,” emphasises Tereza. She recommends this approach to all who are considering a step like this. “You never know what will attract the selection panel.” But she does not think that she had been showing an extraordinary talent since her birth. At the elementary school, she did not excel in either maths or reading, and she also had to cope with ‘a five’ [= fail] in chemistry at the end of one half-year. Tereza also did not attend an international school and she graduated from the secondary school with ‘a two’ [= mediocre] in English. “A physics competition held in English helped me with my technical English at secondary school. Paradoxically, my initial greatest problem was leisure time, for I had great difficulties understanding group conversations packed with slang,” she confides. She is missing her home country but travels to be with her family for a few days every two months. Although an academic career is her dream, she has not waived the option of having a family later. “Earlier, I was really afraid of it. I was planning when exactly I should have children and imagined that it was almost impossible. But I have met a lot of excellent male and female researchers who have little and also grown up children while pursuing enormously successful careers,” says Tereza.

Help channelled into almost every school
The family foundation of Mrs Renáta Kellnerová and Mr Petr Kellner has been operating for eight years. KFF provides help to talented children and also to socially disadvantaged children for whom it makes it possible, through need-based grants, to attend the renowned Open Gate grammar school. The foundation also provides grants to graduates from Czech secondary and grammar schools, thereby helping them to continue their education at universities outside and in the Czech Republic; it defrays for them not only the school fees but also other costs such as travel expenses and subsistence costs abroad. Candidates have to submit written applications for financial grants under KFF’s Universities scheme by the end of May of the current year. The application must contain the reasons for the choice of the university, copies of language examination certificates and of documents proving the family’s financial standing, recommendation by a teacher, and the budget for studying prepared by the candidates. An essay on My Interests and Plans for the Future must also be appended. KFF also pays attention to public elementary schools. In 2010, the Helping Schools Succeed project was launched. The foundation of Mrs Renáta Kellnerová and Mr Petr Kellner provides funds to elementary schools to help their teachers and managements to continue their education, learn new methods, and dedicate their capabilities to their students in full.

Author | Kateřina Pokorná

Photo | The best. Every secondary school graduate can become a chosen grantee and win funding from The Kellner Family Foundation, provided they prove excellent academic results, a vision of their future, and an appetite to help the needy.
Photo | A weathered professional. Magician and juggler Aleš Hrdlička has been performing in the public since as early as 2003. At the moment, he is focusing on his education at the Contemporary Circus school in Rotterdam.
Photo | Aleš Hrdlička never underestimates training. He strives to perform the best at elite world competitions as well as benefit events in the poor parts of Africa.

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