Czech expats go back to their roots for four weeks

Czech language school for foreign students, photo: Libor Kukal

For about half a century, the little East Bohemian town of Dobruska has been home to Charles University's intensive Czech language school for foreign students. For the past fifteen years, every summer, the university's facilities are used for a different group of students - Czechs abroad, who would like to get back in touch with their roots and learn the language of their fathers, mothers, and grandparents.

Czech language school for foreign students,  photo: Libor Kukal
"My name is Amana Shakir and I'm from Syria."

What made you take part in this course?

"My mother is Czech."

And what do you do here in Dobruska?

"We study Czech for about six to eight hours a day, and do many other activities such as hike in the forest, sing, etc."

Vladimira Korenova is one of the Czech language teachers here at Dobruska. If you could give us an idea of what the four week course entails...

"We teach them the Czech language and Czech traditions. We also try to show them our countryside, so we do some sight-seeing. They meet ordinary Czechs and learn about Czech culture. We have 76 students from 36 countries and five continents and some of them are paying for the course themselves just because they are interested in our culture."

Mexico City
"My name is Marcello Hernandez-Kolar and I'm from Mexico City."

Part of your surname is Czech...

"Yes, because my mother is from Ostrava."

Are you in touch with the Czech community in Mexico?

"The Czech embassy there holds a lot of activities, similar to the ones here in Dobruska. They sing songs, hold meetings, have parties and other things like that."

How many Czechs do you know there?

"There are many but the Czech community that I know is the old one."

"My name is Nada Nohra and I'm from Beirut, in Lebanon. My mother is Czech so I speak Czech very well but I can't write Czech. So I came here just to learn Czech grammar."

Photo: Libor Kukal
Were you born in Lebanon?

"Yes, I was born there."

Do you see cultural differences? All of you have some Czech blood so do you feel you have something in common?

"There may be some differences. I'm from Lebanon, there are some from Egypt or Syria and there are people who are from Mexico or Germany, which is very far away from us. So, there may be some differences but we've only been here for a week and we're already planning to keep in touch and we're all going to visit Mexico, Egypt, or Germany."

The entire course is paid for by the Czech state and organised by the department for cultural relations and Czechs abroad at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Zdenek Lycka is the head of the department:

"Anybody can apply because we have the application on our website [], which you can fill out and send to your local Czech embassy. The embassy makes the first selection and sends it to our department at the ministry. Since the number of applications we get is usually three times the number we can accept, we make the final selection.

Photo: Libor Kukal
"One of the conditions that the students have agreed to meet is that the course is not only for their personal use. They will spread their knowledge to their neighbours and to other people of Czech origin abroad. So, when we make the decision, it is important that we know the person's background. If a student only wants to learn Czech because he or she likes the language, it's not enough."

It appears that the number of young Czechs interested in this course has increased. Ten years ago, when I lived abroad, I didn't think that the Czech language was important for me, I didn't think I would ever need it. It seems as though that attitude has changed completely.

"Yes and there may be two reasons. One is that Czech is one of the European Union languages and the other is that people are coming back to their roots. About a fifth of Czechs live abroad, most of them in the United States. There are some two million people of Czech and Czechoslovak origin abroad. They would like to know where they come from, where their parents came from. They start learning Czech and some of them get very good at it. The young generation is coming back more than the older generations. There is also more travelling to the Czech Republic and that gives them the incentive to learn Czech."

"My name is David and I'm from Johannesburg, South Africa. I was born in Brno. When I was seven years old our family moved in Germany, ironically at the end of October 1989, just a few weeks before the end of the revolution."

How old are you now?

Photo: Libor Kukal
"I'm 21."

And how big is the Czech community in South Africa?

"In Pretoria there are about two hundred Czechs. There is a reasonably large effort at the Czech culture being upheld and out of the two hundred people there is a solid group of Czechs, about fifty of us, who stick together and we get together for occasions and functions quite often. But we had an official community, which was started by my parents, and we held a couple of Czech balls, where we had a band put together, sung Czech songs, ate Czech food and danced the Czech dances and we had the whole shebang thing."

And how do you like Dobruska so far?

"Dobruska is awesome. It's fascinating because when you live away from the Czech Republic and you are 13,000 kilometres away, you think that your little world is the only Czech world that exists outside the country. It's like finding life on another planet - here's little earth and three gazillion miles away there is somebody else, who does the same thing that we do. So it's fun to know that there are people like you who are also struggling and are trying to keep it going, and that they're out there and that we have a chance to meet in places like Dobruska and just chill together."