She taught "Sociology of Work in the Czech Republic and in the United States" at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University in Prague. Together with her Czech students, Dawn examined how national history, structure and culture impact trends and experiences on the job market. In addition, she conducted research on the meaning of work and unemployment to people living in and around Prague.
Departure: Fear and Excitement
I didn’t tell anyone that I was scared. For months, all I had talked about was Prague, Prague, Prague. I was excited, but also terrified. Almost six months in the Czech Republic as a Fulbrighter? What an opportunity! So I didn’t tell anyone that I almost passed out from nerves right before I left for my flight. I was on my way…
Arrival: Confusion and Apartment Drama
Arriving in glorious Prague, my first two weeks were a mixture of excitement, jet lag, and…surprises. Navigating the streets of Prague was harder than I thought. Where exactly was that grocery store that Mapy.cz showed? Where in the world could I find a blow dryer? Oh, at DATART. (Whispers: What is DATART?) I was living with only a mini-fridge and no kitchen or laundry facilities. I had to improvise, and every little “simple” thing took several hours to accomplish.
Me with jet lag, January 2023, Old Town.
And then came the apartment drama. I had a place to stay for the first few days, but the apartment I had hoped to live in long-term was, well, let’s just say “not as advertised.” When you don’t know where you’ll live in a few days and you are halfway around the world from everyone you know, a unique sense of panic occurs. I still had not even recovered from jet lag. I felt completely out of my depth. But a few days later I found what would be my beloved new home for the next five months – a small loft apartment in the Karlín neighborhood. Everything I needed – including high ceilings and a view of cats in the window of the apartment across the street – was contained in my newfound 30 square meters.
On move-in day, my landlord took me on a neighborhood tour. It was then that I saw something that would ultimately represent my entire time in the Czech Republic. As we approached the pedestrian tunnel between the Karlín and Žižkov neighborhoods, he pointed at the word painted above the tunnel. He asked if I knew what it meant. I replied, “Neboj. It means don’t be afraid.” He smiled and said in surprise “Yes!” “Neboj” became a philosophy I learned to live by.
Entrance to the Karlín-Žižkov tunnel, May 2023.
Research Time: “You Can’t Recruit That Way!”
After settling into my apartment, attending the Fulbright mid-year meeting/orientation, and starting the teaching portion of my Fulbright, I finally felt like I was getting my sea legs. I was making friends, exploring Prague, and working with a talented interpreter who would help me with my upcoming research interviews. I was so excited to begin my research project on unemployed Czechs’ views about what work and unemployment meant to them.
I felt confident and ready to start. But then I tried to recruit research participants. I tried to use the same techniques I had used in my US research on this topic. I visited the unemployment office (Úřad Práce), contacted temporary agencies, and so on. But I was quickly informed that EU privacy laws did not allow me to recruit this way, nor would these laws allow these agencies to pass along my information, even through social media.
Úřad práce bulletin board, Feburary 2023.
Hitting Bottom and Turning It Around
Okay, this was a real problem. Eighty percent of my Fulbright time was to be spent on research, but I still only knew a few Czechs, and none of them were unemployed. You can’t just walk up to people on Na Příkopě and ask if they had ever lost a job. I felt so dejected. I worried that I would “fail” my Fulbright. (Note to reader: For the record, “failing one’s Fulbright” does not exist.) I chastised myself for not being prepared enough.
Then I remembered the tunnel. Neboj. Don’t be afraid. Part of the Fulbright experience is learning to adapt. This would be my major test. I told myself there was a way. I (involuntarily) thought of nothing else for several days. I talked to my colleagues and students. They told me about the participant recruitment agencies that are typically used by social science researchers. I got excited, but then realized their cost was prohibitive. Once again, I brainstormed solutions and back-up solutions. An idea! I contacted my home institution to explore small grants. And another crash: being on an “unpaid leave of absence” from my US home institution made me ineligible for institutional grants. Other grants would take too much time to get because I needed to collect my data in the next four months. Okay, back to work figuring this out. More brainstorming and putting my head together with others. I would have to cover the cost myself, but if I slightly modified my research and applied for one of my home institution’s data analysis grants upon my return it would be workable. I had gone through the tunnel. Neboj. Problem solved.
I moved forward. Participants came and talked…and talked…and talked. There was so much to learn from what they shared. But the most important thing I learned was that I can always figure out a solution, imperfect as it might be. If I went step-by-step, allowed myself to be creative, and asked for help it would work out. I felt proud of myself for persevering, and very grateful for other people’s support in this process.
The Turn: Am I Really Living? Friends, Work, and Life
With the research project under way I finally had a stable schedule. This meant I had more time to connect with Czechs and expats, and to explore the Czech Republic. My research participants described their views on work as “only a part of life,” unlike in the US where it is often one’s entire identity. As I thought about this I began to slow down and find new and valuable parts of my own identity. At the end of the research interviews, participants often had questions about the US. They asked about work, politics, and the differences between the 50 states. I thoroughly enjoyed these exchanges. It felt like the Fulbright mission of cultural exchange was occurring before my eyes in the simplest, yet most effective manner possible. We were having conversations, and through these conversations I realized that I had focused too much on work at the expense of other parts of my identity.
Words on the wall helped me reflect, Spring 2023 (“Are you living or only existing?”).
But after these discussions I had a new perspective. I began to think differently about work, and balanced work with other parts of my life in a healthier, happier way. This is the greatest gift I received during my stay. It has changed my life and I am eternally thankful.
So I now had time and energy to fully embrace this new world I was living in. An accidental wrong turn during a walk led me to a Masopust (Czech Mardi Gras) parade.
Start of Masopust Festival, Karlín, Feburary 2023.
I bought a painted egg at a Velikonoce (Easter) market. (Note: This fragile work of art made it all the way to the US. Within two days my cat Goffman knocked it to the floor and it shattered.)
Painted egg from the Old Town Velikonoce market, March 2023.
I had great conversations and debates with my students at Charles University (CU).
Every day connecting with Czech culture brought new adventures and happiness. I had coffee with Czech friends and CU colleagues. Several of my friends from Fulbright hosted a birthday dinner for me (dumplings!) that I will never forget. I visited Brno, Chotěboř, Turnov, and Zlín. Two of my CU colleagues even invited me to hike the Karlštejn area with them and their families. I felt included in this wonderful culture.
With a friend in front of Vinohrady’s Basilica of St. Ludmila, March 2023.
Oh No! I’m Leaving in One Month!
I had graded my students’ final exams. I had completed my research interviews. I had been saying my goodbyes to many of my fellow Fulbrighters who had already left. Suddenly, I realized that soon it would be me. It was almost time to return to the US. As the final days approached, I realized how much the Czech Republic had become a part of me. I would be leaving my apartment, my friends, my job, and my neighborhood – all of which had become a part of my identity. I reflected on how to hold on to the many new parts of myself when I returned to my home culture, which now seemed foreign to me. I chose to bring home a healthier work-life balance, a greater sense of adventure, excitement, and curiosity, and the sense of peace and contentment I had found in the Czech Republic.
Leaving and Learning
Looking back now, three months since my return, I have brought back so much with me – a fuller sense of self, lifelong friends, greater resilience, and stronger connection to the Czech culture. Neboj. With perspective, connection, and a little thought, there is always a solution, and there is always joy.
Saying goodbye to CU colleagues/friends and students, Karlín Barracks, June 2023.
Window sign, Prague, June 2023.
Sunset over St. Vitus Cathedral and the Vltava River, June 2023.
Zdroj: Komise J. Williama Fulbright
Článek vyšel v září 2023 na blogu Fulbrightovy komise.