Did you always want to be a scientist?
Not really, but when I was at school, I participated in an Olympiad, and that was what made me decide to study Chemistry. After I finished my first degree, it was difficult on the job market, so I decided to continue with PhD studies. I started a family, too, so I had a bit of a break in my career, and after that one of the possibilities I had was to come to Prague.
What were the other options, and what made you decide to choose Prague?
Well, the final decision I made was between Brazil and the Czech Republic! I know that if I had been single I would have gone to Brazil, but Prague was the better option for the whole family. I knew Prague, and in fact it had been my dream since I first visited Prague zoo that someday I would go there with my children! But it wasn’t only the zoo that persuaded me to come to Prague – during my PhD I had had the opportunity to spend two months here, with the same team I work in now, so I knew the place and the team. The team is what I like best about working here, because I feel very comfortable with the people, so that was important when I was making the decision. I also knew I would be able to combine work and family life here well, and that Prague was a safer destination – you can walk here at night and not worry – so Prague was the more sensible choice.
How long have you been in the Czech Republic now?
Three years. My son has just started school. He went to kindergarten before, and already speaks perfect Czech. I really envy him because you can hardly tell that he’s a foreigner. It’s so easy at his age!
How is school going? Did you find it easy to find the kindergarten, and now the school?
Very well! Yes, I must say that it was easier than in Poland. In Krakow, where I studied, the moment women discover they are pregnant, they already sign up for kindergarten. Here, you apply for kindergarten in the area where you live and luckily in Prague 8 there were places, even though he was born in the baby boom. Also, we were able to use the childcare facility Mazanek at the start, which was very helpful – it is very cheap compared with a babysitter, and close to a lot of the Academy’s workplaces, so he went there for a month when he first arrived. About three weeks in, we already had a kindergarten place, and he settled in pretty well, I was really pleased it was so simple.
What about finding a place to live, was that difficult?
I stayed at Hotel Mazanka before the family came over, while I looked for a flat, which I found with the help of an estate agency. I was pleased with the flat, but we had a few issues with the landlord. Now we have been lucky enough to move to an Academy flat – they offer a few flats, close to work in Prague 8, but there is high demand for them. We couldn’t afford this flat before, but now we have moved and we are happy to have more space – now that my son is going to school I wanted him to be able to have his own space where he can keep his things and feel a bit more grown up.
When did you first find out about EURAXESS?
It was after I had arrived, when I was in the middle of doing all the paperwork, that someone at the institute told me to contact EURAXESS. I must admit that without that help, I probably wouldn’t have managed all the visa and residence paperwork. I didn’t speak Czech at all, I had been trying to communicate in Polish, which probably wasn’t very polite, and no one understood me. It was such a pleasant surprise to find out that EURAXESS exists to take care of foreign researchers! It was incredible.
Do you think the Academy is a good environment to do research in?
Yes I do. The environment is not very pressured, not very competitive – there are advantages and disadvantages to that. It’s nice, because I don’t feel stressed, but sometimes, it’s a bit too comfortable! Still, we have been getting good results, I have a lot of things published and I’m working on interesting projects. Recently we had a big project with an international corporation, which was a great opportunity.
Do you feel like it has been a culture shock coming to the Czech Republic?
Not really a shock, because I’m very tolerant too, so I just accept how others are. What I like about Czech people is that they accept you as you are. No one judges you or tries to influence you to be like them. Maybe that’s because I’m still a foreigner to them, but so far, it seems they are willing to accept me however I am.
Compared with other nations I’m used to, it seems they are more Western in this attitude: it doesn’t matter if you are a believer or a non-believer, what political views you have, what music you listen to, if you have tattoos, piercings, dreadlocks. If you do your job right and behave politely in public, you are a normal citizen.
Did you find Czech easier, or more difficult than you had expected?
More difficult. I speak Polish very well, and I have done some translation work between Polish and Russian, sometimes Ukrainian, so I didn’t expect picking up Czech to be too hard. But my standards are quite high, probably too high – I can’t start speaking with mistakes, I always think that people will laugh at me, so I don’t speak until I’m really sure I know the grammar and can say the right thing. My husband started to speak really fast – he just listened and repeated! He has had more chance to speak too, so he already speaks quite well – more than me, because I only started speaking Czech at work about half a year ago. Before that, no one was pushing me, and everyone there speaks English.
How do you like Czech food?
It depends… there are a lot of things in common with the other cuisines I know, like potatoes and beer, which I like – and when the weather is cold, heavy food is the best. I was a bit surprised when I went to the canteen, and the soup was nice and tasty, but it was drstková (tripe soup), but that is also eaten traditionally in Ukraine and Poland too, so it wasn’t really a cultural shock!
Do you miss your home country a lot, and do you go back much?
I do. I miss the countryside, mostly. The countryside in the Czech Republic is beautiful, I must admit, and we have also travelled a lot and explored a lot of places here, both on our own and with the EURAXESS trips, but still I have some homesickness, despite the fact I moved away a long time ago. We get back when we can – in the summer we went home to visit my husband’s parents, which was good.
And do your family and friends visit you here?
Yes, my mother visited us, and she liked it here. At first, she was a bit afraid – it was her first trip abroad since the break-up of the soviet union, so it was a long time since she had travelled anywhere! But she managed it really well, I’m very proud of her, I hope that at her age I’ll manage as well as she does! She has been here twice now, and we hope she will come again.
It seems you quite like it here in the Czech Republic – are you planning to stay for a while?
Yes that’s true. It’s difficult to move countries every two or three years with the whole family, so we feel like staying here – at least for several years. I’m pleased with my workplace and hopefully they are also pleased with me.
The other reason we don’t want to move again at the moment is that my husband is about to start his own business as a hairdresser, which was always his dream. So it wasn’t only my dreams that came true here!
What would you say the best things are about life here, and the worst?
The best things are the opportunities for spending leisure time with the family. It’s really great. It is a very child-friendly country. For example, I have visited a lot of European cities, and I have to say that Prague has the most children’s playgrounds I’ve seen, they are everywhere! Also, we like visiting castles and small historic towns, and there are so many small festivals and events organised around the country for all the family.
I don’t like the winter weather, we are usually sick all autumn. But that is not just about the country, it is also just because we live in a big city where there is not so much fresh air!
If someone was coming from the Ukraine to do research in the Czech Republic, what advice would you give them?
Not to be nervous! Try to meet people… the first time I was living in Mazanka as a young PhD student, I was able to make friends with other young scientists there – and when we returned, many of those friends were still in Prague – so that was a great way of getting to know people. Now that we have our son, it works a bit differently - your child makes friends, and after that, you make friends with their parents! But finding friends somehow is important.