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 experience: 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 so well. 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.
Thomas Michael Healy Age:
United States Hobbies and interests:
Reading, learning new things, listening to music, modern tabletop gaming, mixology Moravian-Silesian region:
Horní Bečva and Ostrava Favorite Czech Food:
Text: Adam Koneval Student of The Ostrava International School, IB programme Foto: www.is-ostrava.cz
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