American teacher in Ostrava
Thomas Healy is a teacher of Language and Literature at the Ostrava International School He hails
from USA but has been living here for about 14 years already. Here is what he has to say about his
Where are you from exactly, how are the people of
that area, do you perhaps have any special memories growing up in the area?
Well, I was born and raised in Silver City, New
Mexico, about two hours from Nowhere and thirty
minutes from Nothing. It’s a really beautiful place,
but growing up I didn’t appreciate it much -- it’s pretty
unique, because, if you leave town on the north,
you will find mountains, forest, rivers and creeks, or
what’s left of that anyway, and if you leave town on
the south you find yourself in an alkali desert, with
practically nothing to offer at first sight. It was crazy
to see snow in the mountains and then drive an hour
south and have 25 degree heat. But it felt normal
growing up. It wasn’t until I left that I discovered that
is not what most people experience growing up.
It’s a strange area, there’s a lot of ethnicity there,
50% white people, 50% Mexicans pretty much, and
maybe some left over Native Americans from when
the Apaches lived in the place. People tend to divide
down these lines. They try to maintain the outlaw
feel of the city’s history -- Billy the Kid lived there for
a while, it was once Wild West. I didn’t really like
the culture, I didn’t understand it a whole lot. It’s
a very small town mentality -- you had to divide into
identity groups, and I didn’t like that, so first chance
I got, I left.
Why did you decide to go to the Czech Republic,
what is your story?
Ah, well I just kinda fell here. I lived in California
for six years, I went to university there. Over there
I did an exchange program, spending a semester in
Finland. That was the first time I had been ‘across
the pond.’ While in Finland I did a lot of traveling,
I went to Russia, the UK, Ireland, all around Europe,
but I didn’t make it to the Czech Republic at that
point. I fell in love with Europe, for the first time
I felt comfortable, the mentality here just suited me
When the exchanged ended, I couldn’t wait to
come back, so after college I saved my money and
went to Prague, because I hadn’t seen it yet, and
I could afford to live there for a while. I got my TEFL
certificate (Teaching English as a Foreign Language).
My goal was to get that and then travel around the
world getting to know different cultures. I didn’t just
want to be a tourist, I wanted to actually get to know
places, like I had in Finland. It worked for a minute;
I taught in China for a few months, and I had a job
lined up in Russia, but bureaucracy got in the way
there, so I stayed here. I didn’t mean to, but after
I got the TEFL certificate I had a job in Český Těšín,
and I had lots of friends there, so I didn’t mind
staying really. Then I hopped around for a bit in the
region, and now I have a wife, two crazy kids and
a pretty permanent job, and it kinda looks like I’m
gonna stay now. I can’t imagine going back to the
States, at any rate.
Can you tell us what you think about your life in
Ostrava, what is it that you like about this place?
Well, I think that my life is the same as it would be
anywhere else where I would have a 9-5 job. I wake
up in the morning, trying not to wake up my one-yearold son, usually unsuccessfully -- actually, more often
than not anymore he wakes me --, then I go to work.
I commute to work, I take a bus, you can actually do
that in Europe, unlike in the States.
This is a really unique place, man, there’s a mindset in
this city that I’m not quite sure exists anywhere else
-- you’ve got the mining and the steelworks history,
roughneck, hardcore, working-class attitude, which
usually would have an anti-intellectual leaning, but
here, the miners are proud of the high culture, and the
artists are proud of their miners. There seems to also
be a love for culture here, some of the best theatres
in the country are based in this city -- and that’s not
my opinion, they have been given awards. And there
is a huge music scene. I mean, Colours of Ostrava,
I cannot think of another place that would look at this
old derelict steel mill, and say: ‘Let’s put a music festival
here, let’s put an art gallery there and a cafe there, let’s
not abandon this part of our culture.’
People here are wonderful, and I don’t care what
Ostravians say about themselves, that they are grumpy
and unfriendly, all that is balderdash, Czechs are some
of the friendliest and most loyal people I have ever met.
There is an honesty here for who we are, and
optimism of who we can be.
What do you think about the Ostrava International
School’s attitude towards learning?
I wish I had had a schooling environment like this.
I hated high school, it wasn’t too far off from what
you see in American movies -- there didn’t seem
to be a purpose to the learning, but at our school
(TOIS) we have to think a lot more about what we
are doing. We are not just a mill to get people in and
out, so they can get another degree, so they can go
be bored for the rest of their life. I think we are trying
to engage students with the learning experience,
a global understanding, and a deeper exploration of
who they can be as people, not just as students. It’s
not about getting all the answers on the test right; it’s
about learning how to think.
Hobbies and interests:
Reading, learning new things,
listening to music,
Horní Bečva and
Favorite Czech Food:
Student of The
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