Hélène Robert-Boisivon:

I was ready for the move

Helene_Robert_Boisivon

What made you decide to move to the Czech Republic?

I was already working for a Czech researcher, while I was in Belgium, and he wanted to build a proper group here at CEITEC, so three of us agreed to move over here. For me, it was time to move again, so I was ready for the move!

What about your family, how did they feel about moving?

They were ok with it! The children were still quite small, and of course they were sad to leave their friends there, but both excited to be going to a new place and they are getting along fine here.

What is the project you’re working on here?

I’m working on seed development. In the seed there is an embryo, and the embryo will become a small plant, a seedling, which has two leaves and one root. In the same way we are born with a head and limbs, the same is true for the plant – the two leaves and a root are formed already in the embryo. That’s the result of a hormone, and we are studying how that hormone works on the embryo.

And is that project funded by a grant?

Yes - I’m funded by SOMOPRO (the South Moravian Programme for Distinguished Researchers), and we are also running part of the project on money from a GAČR grant. Soon we will need to start writing some new grant applications!

How is the research environment here, and CEITEC?

We have a very good environment here and excellent equipment, it’s quite impressive actually. It’s quite similar to what we had in Belgium, I would say. It is a very good place and has plenty of potential.

Do you teach, as well as doing research?

Not yet, but maybe in future. There are some students in our group, two PhDs and since the summer some Masters students too. It took some time to attract them but it’s great that they have joined us.

How easy has it been to settle in here?

We had some help – CEITEC has a special department for foreigners’ services, which helped a lot with finding a school, and with the paperwork, and EURAXESS also helped us. As for finding a place to live, my friends were already here, so I came over for a week, and looked at some flats by myself. We found a good place.

What do you think the best things have been about life in the Czech Republic so far?

We like Brno, it is a very green city, a nice area, it’s nice to walk around. We like the food, and people are very helpful in general, when they are not afraid to speak English – when you get past that barrier, they are really helpful in a lot of ways.

Do you find a lot of Czechs are scared of speaking English?

Yes, but that’s normal. In Belgium, we spoke French, and in the Netherlands, everyone speaks English, even if you try to speak Dutch! Here it’s different, because most people outside the scientific environment don’t speak much English.

Have you been learning a bit of Czech?

A little bit, but it takes too much time, I’m too busy. It’s a pity, I would like to improve a bit. It was different when I learned English, because I was in England alone, and everyone around spoke English. Here, I speak English in the lab, and when I go home, I speak French. I need to spend time with my family, so there is not so much opportunity to learn Czech.

Have you travelled a bit in the area?

Yes, we’ve been on a few trips around Brno and in the summer we went to Cesky Krumlov, it was very beautiful. In Brno we often go to museums, and we’ve been to a couple of exhibitions in the castle, which were great for the children. We enjoy walking in the surrounding countryside too.

Do you miss France?

I don’t think so. I have been away so long, I would feel like a bit of a foreigner in France now I think! My daughter always claims she’s French, but in fact she spends less than a month a year there, and when we do go it’s to see family, so she doesn’t know about school there, or anything. She speaks French, but she has never lived there, doesn’t really know the culture, and so on. It’s strange when you think about it, because she doesn’t really belong anywhere. It’s similar for us – although we are older, we don’t really have roots anymore. We could say we are European! For now, we have decided to settle down a bit, so we have just bought a house – we feel like we have done enough moving for a while!

Tell me more about your family, and how they are getting on here in Brno.

I have a son, 5 years old, and a daughter who is 9. My son goes to a private pre-school, where there is an English/Czech class and a Czech class. He’s in the Czech class now and it’s a very nice school, they are very helpful there and do a lot of good things. Yesterday his teacher told me that he understands 90%, and has started speaking a bit, so that’s great – he’s a bit lazy sometimes, and one of the teachers speaks French so he used to have a tendency to go to her, but he’s getting on well now with the Czech. My daughter goes to a state primary school and she is nearly fluent, so it’s going very well for her.

My husband is at home, taking care of everything. He’s not very comfortable with learning languages, but he is trying, and I think he’s making more progress on it than me! It’s very difficult doing it from scratch and keeping up with the children.

Have you found a French community here at all?

I do know a couple of French people who work on the campus here, and we go for coffee occasionally, but to be honest we haven’t been actively looking for French friends.

And in your lab, are your colleagues Czechs?

Yes, some are foreigners (Polish, Slovak, Lebanese, Indian, Egyptian, Argentian), and most people are Czech. We have a couple of Czech friends with whom we sometimes go away for the weekend, which is great!

Have you had any experience with doctors here?

I’ve been once, but I’m nearly never sick. We have a doctor who speaks English for the children, so that’s easy, though she is a bit far from home, and I’ve been to the children’s hospital a couple of times and we had no difficulties there either.

What advice would you give to someone who was planning to move to the Czech Republic?

I would say: “Please, do not hesitate. Come!” In France and Belgium, when I said I was going to move here, they looked at me like I was crazy, and I think they have this idea that it’s very backward here, that you need to queue at the shops, and so on. They don’t realise that living here or in Belgium is not very different. They say, oh it’s far away, but it’s not that far, in fact – and the culture shock is not as big as they think. Just communication might be a bit problematic at times, but you can usually find someone to help you if you need it.

Do you think there’s anything EURAXESS could do, which they don’t do already?

Not really – I felt like each time I needed something, they were always willing to help. Even now, they are very helpful if I ever ask anything. There’s also the Brno expats centre (BEC), and the CEITEC welcome service, so there is always somewhere to find the information you need, and the BEC organizes seminars on certain issues, for example tax, so those can be handy too. We also went on a EURAXESS trip to Pernstejn, and to some caves, which was good fun!

Do you like the weather here?

Yes it’s nice, it’s drier than it was over in Belgium and the Netherlands, the housing is also much better than what we had – better building quality.

And do you miss the sea?

A bit, from time to time. The children always go to see their grandparents for two weeks in the summer, so they get to play at the seaside then. I’m not such a beach girl, so I’m OK if I can see it from time to time.

And have you been to the Czech or Slovak mountains at all?

We have been to Radhošť, and we are going to the Slovak Tatry this summer.

Do you find you can get the food you would want here, the ingredients for making your favourite dishes?

There are always things you can’t get, but I think the food is closer here to what we have in France, than it was in the Netherlands. There are differences in the kind of vegetables and so on, but you just deal with that. The children are happy – my son sometimes says that the food he gets at the canteen is better than his dinner at home! The soup especially, he loves the soups.

And what do you think the worst thing about moving here was?

The moving itself! When we moved, we travelled overnight with the truck, it was very long. At the beginning it can be a bit stressful to get all the paperwork organized, you don’t know what’s what, and it’s never clear exactly what you need – but when you know how it works you can stop stressing about it, and it’s fine.