When I talk to people about my participation in the Czech Language Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I like to refer to it not as a University program, but as a family. Our program’s size may be small, but I believe it is this distinct characteristic that has allowed me to be successful in all my studies at the University. I transferred to the University after my freshmen year of studies at Doane College. My motive for transferring was because I wanted to study the Czech language. My great-grandfather, who spoke the old world language well, had passed away in a house fire. This brought me closer to my great aunt and great uncle, who could remember some the Czech language they were exposed to as a child. Through them I was introduced to the Nebraska Czech Club community and its festivals. I also became aware of its aging population, and the lack of younger leadership involved.
Upon arriving at the University I switched my major from History to Sociology. I had been doing research on community organizations such as main line protestant churches, and service organization (Rotary, Masons, Lions, etc.) All of which have experienced a decline in membership by young adults. Little did I know at the time of transferring that the local Nebraska Czechs clubs were experiencing the same trends.
Because of my combined interest in community organizations and the Czech language, quickly reinforced my success in the subjects I had begun studying. I felt that in order for me to assist and to study the declining Nebraska Czech community, not only would I need to learn the language of our ancestors, but involve myself in leadership capacity. Komensky Club elections came quickly at the University, and I decided to run for president. This in itself has been a challenging experience, but I have learned so much about running an organization. I knew that Komensky was a unique resource because of the college-age participants who were interested in Czech language and culture. Another leadership opportunity came, as there was an opening on the board of directors for the Nebraska Czechs of Lincoln. I knew that serving in both capacities I could potentially bridge the gap and act as a liaison between young adults, and the aging membership of Nebraska Czech clubs. However, without the support of my Czech program classmates, and professors, I would not have been able to accomplish this.
As I said before, the Czech Language Program is much more of a family than just a series language classes. It is small enough that the students and professors celebrate in each other’s successes, and encourage one another in our difficult times. The Czech Language Program makes the University experience more meaningful to students, then just a four-year workload for a college degree. Lasting and influencing friendships are developed because you are able to have the same classmates, and professors, throughout the program. In the larger scheme of things, this helps with the retention of students in the program, despite the challenging Czech language that is being taught. Classmates also come from diverse backgrounds. Some students are University faculty, staff, or from other regions of the United States. This enhances the classroom environment, and allows for new ideas and concepts to be shared. As a student in the Czech Language Program, I feel that I have become more educationally wholesome as an individual, which is a feeling I wouldn’t have obtained without it.
When I initially enrolled in Czech 101 it was my priority to complete the classes to just fulfill my foreign language requirements for my Master’s program but get as much knowledge out of it as I possibly could along the way. But here I am, now in Czech 301, fully committed to understanding this beautiful language and culture. I was quite inspired, though, by a previous trip to the Czech Lands in 2011, to choose this language out of my ever abundant curiosity about everything and the need to enhance what I’d experienced in previous years. I didn’t know how involved I would become and didn’t realize the extent into which I’d become submerged in and enthralled/in love with the Czech culture here or how much I’d miss the Czech Lands. As every minute of every day passes, I realize, though, that this is growing more pertinent and important in my everyday life and not just my school life. I’m, as they’d say, “eating, sleeping, breathing, and bleeding Czech”.
In my life, outside of school, I’m impacted by not even the content of the Czech Language Classes alone, but by the shear need to be able to balance a full-time job, a part-time job, and my social life and other adult responsibilities with the homework and time it takes to do well in the class. I’ve always loved a good challenge and have always thought myself a hard worker and this class is pushing my hardworking spectrum to new boundaries. This is very important in personal and societal growth because I’m pushing myself to do the best I can to become the most knowledgeable and most learned that I’m able. If I can do that, even just a little, it means I can conduct myself as a fully functional member of society working to preserve a culture so far away from the United States but also ingrained in the very communities I am a part of. And, since I’m well aware of the slow homogenization of Czech Culture here in Nebraska into the “American” culture and happen to be an idealistic Historian, I’ve added more goals to my list of things I have to do.
Czech has now become a culture that I’m actively trying to preserve or, rather, preparing myself to preserve better. I hope to study abroad in the Czech Republic, if I’m able, to learn the language further and perhaps use my language skills in conjunction with my ‘historical abilities’ to record, preserve, understand, and keep the culture flowing here in the states. If I can’t do that, I’d like to at least understand it to its fullest in order for me to record what I can to leave a legacy of Czechs from another perspective. I have hopes to work in a museum/or archives either in the Czech Republic or here in the U.S. and having a grasp on the language will/has given me a leg up on being able to portray the past as correctly as possible. I think it would be spectacular to be able to use this language ability to do research in conjunction to what I’d need for research purposes with my Master’s requirements.
Not only have the Czech Language Courses impacted my current life and future goals, it has given me a different appreciation for a culture that was, at one point, not part of my life at all but just a passing glimpse out of a history book. I appreciate the time I spent in the Czech Republic far more than I had, and I had already appreciated it to the point of tears and disbelief that I’d been there in the first place. I’ve learned that the Czechs aren’t just “people across the pond, stuck in the middle of a bunch of previously aggressive countries with a rough past”. They aren’t just “them” anymore, they have become “we”. I’ve learned the language isn’t actually ugly and broken or harsh and as course as all the stereotypes propagate. It’s a language that, once mastered, actually flows quite nicely. The list of things that I’ve learned could go on for more pages, but I digress.
The simple fact here is that the Czech Language courses has taken a mildly interested scholar-type and has turned her into a full-fledged Czech Addict who craves to learn more and share it with others. I could not have done so without these classes and every part the class has shared me with. There’s only so much a bookworm can teach herself!
Joy McCown is a junior Psychology and Gender Studies double-major at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. She will be researching the history of Czech women in Nebraska for her UCARE research. She is very excited to collect these histories and work with all the amazing women that made these histories.
Riley Good is a sophomore Music and Psychology double-major at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. She will be researching Czech music in Nebraska for her UCARE project. She is very excited to research the history of Czech music in Nebraska and how it plays a role in Czech-American communities today. Czech music plays a major role in the lives of Nebraskans so it is very important that we preserve these histories by studying them.