Culture shock?! - the view of our president

Published at 2015-12-13
Our volunteers interviewed president of our NGO - Tomáš Botlík, who is now studying in the US (University of St. Thomas, Twin Cities, Minnesota). They focused on his cultural experiences (maybe even shock), differences between Europe and U.S. He spent also time with Muslim community and we asked he, which feelings does he have.

Red: What are you actually doing in the U.S. and how did you come there?
Tom: " I am here as an exchange student for one year. I got the opportunity to get scholarship here (because as you probably know - to study in the U.S. is really expensive, it's not like in Europe, that you can study for free."

Red: What do you study there?
Tom: "I choose classes from educational leadership, adult education and organizational development and also class for teachers, who teach foreigners."

Red: Are they any differences between our and American school system?
Tom: "For sure, classes here are really small (ca. between 7 - 25 students - when we talk about graduate (master) classes). Because not everybody is going to do his/her master - it's to expensive, or you need work experiences to apply for your master. here is the education based more on practical sides. The students write journals, makes weekly homework, write test during the semester. The system is more like our high school (sometimes you receive smaller grades during the semester and from that is made your final grade). All classes are also based on discussion, you have to present something, share your opinion, it also means you have to be prepared for each class.I have learned thanks to this way of learning a lot , but it's true that you focus just on your any specific skills and areas (that means if you don't study history and geography you know almost nothing about it."

Red.: Are there differences between our and American culture?
Tom: "Of course, there are many differences. For the first look you wouldn't see them. But if you live here, then you see them. For me are the people more polite, they are smiling all the time. Instead of hello you have to say: Hello, how are you, even in the shop. For me the hardest thing is the food - you can see burgers, really fat pizza and the food is mostly really like fast food. If you want to eat something organic (not genetic modified food), you have to pay more. F.e. salad cost 15 dollars and burger with fries just between 4-8 dollars. But i really love their sweet things. If you eat that and you don't want to sit on 2 seats, you have to go to the gym or run. It means you can see here more people running, they also try to live more healthy (that also means that almost nobody is smoking - it's also prohibited almost everywhere. Yes food is expensive, health care is expensive, actually all living costs. But planes, buses (we paid for bus from LA to San Francisco 5 dollars and it takes more than 7 hours), clothes (sometimes 2 or 4 times cheaper than in CZ), petrol (1l just between 10-15 CZK) etc. are cheaper than in Europe. I could speak about it for hours, but here are many disadvantages but also advantages (nature is cleaner)."

Red: We have seen on FB that you have also classes with people from many countries, how is it?
Tom: "Yes, here live people from many countries and cultures, people from Asia, Latin America, India, many Muslims etc. For me most empowering was to have class with 6 women from Saudi Arabia and Libya and one priest from Ghana. I have learned a lot about Muslims (they were so polite, so funny, we have been laughing all the time and making jokes even about religion). Even our priest spoke about prostitution, death penalty. It helps me to break stereotypes about Muslims. And some of them are really good friends of me. I also went with them to any festivals of Muslims culture and it was amazing to try their food, to see their national dances etc. Really funny was when I wanted to get henna tattoo and one American girl (who convert to Islam few years ago told me, that she cannot do it for me because of religious reason, because I am more than 12 years old man. It was so funny because if they live here for a long time they don't follow all rules, because many of the rules are not in Quran, they came just from their culture."

Red: If you are speaking about Muslims, how do the American see our refugee crisis, and what about racism?
Tom: " Racism is really huge difference, because the Americans see racism somewhere else than we. For example I have seen in television advertisement for dating portal called- and it's completely OK for them. If you have to fill in any questionnaires they are asking you if you are white, Latino, Hispanic, native American, or Afro-American (black). The Americans say that racism is strictly prohibited, but for me if you are still mentioning that you support people with another color - it' s racism but here they try to show them we accept you. You can here about many stereotypes, that if you shot someone, who is black then it's not so bad, like to kill white person. Because these people could be more dangerous etc, but I cannot say that' s true or false. And about refugees - they speak a lot about it. They also asked me to describe the situation in Europe - but it's up to the people, someone wants to support them (some states are taking them and some not). We can talk about it for ages, if you want we can organize any discussion to speak more about my experiences."

Red: Thank you so much for your time and sharing your experiences with us It was pleasure to learn something new.
Tom: "Pleasure is on my side."