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Czech Courses Students: #LockdownStories with John Paul

May 24, 2021     

You don't get to know that many people who would be so interested in Czechoslovakia history that it would make them come over from Ireland and start to learn Czech. But if you are lucky, you will meet John Paul Newman, our long-term and dedicated student. 

My name is John Paul Newman, I am a historian of the Balkans and Central Europe, and I work at Maynooth University in Ireland. I am interested in Czech and Czechoslovak history, so I decided to study the Czech language. I started in a summer school in Olomouc. But I will not let you know how long ago, because it is embarrassing. Since then, I have been returning to Prague quite frequently, working in a library and trying to improve my Czech.

I first visited Prague in 1999, but I started to come back here regularly six years ago. I didn't like tourists here, although I was probably one of them. One of the biggest differences, when I compare now and 20 years ago, is that people here speak much more English. You have to force them to speak Czech. There are not that many people I can talk to in Czech.

I spent a few weeks in Olomouc, and I have to admit that people in Moravia are more friendly than here in Prague. I don't feel there would be a big cultural difference between life in the Czech Republic and Ireland or England. People talk about similar things, about their work, travelling or watching Netflix. The difference is maybe more pronounced in other parts of Europe.

In 2020 I took a sabbatical, and I spent one semester in Sofia and another at the University of Hradec Králové. I lived in Prague and commuted once a week to Hradec. Then the second wave of Covid hit. I used to travel a lot, I don´t miss going on the plane! I haven't seen my family for a long time, my niece has a new baby, and I haven't had a chance to see them yet. On the other hand, I can now stay here in Prague and work remotely. I also have time to study and read books.

One of the advantages of staying here is that it is much cheaper to live here than in Dublin. So that´s been quite lucky. The lockdown has been terribly difficult for the little shops and cafes in my neighbourhood around Vršovice. It has been extremely difficult for my students, adapting to online teaching. I hope to see them again in September. My job is in Ireland, but I have enjoyed staying here.

I need to buy a home, so the big question is whether to settle down here in Prague or Dublin. I love that Prague is connected and you can walk everywhere, as a matter of fact, I walked here from home this morning. And it rains less than in Dublin. :)

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