I had the opportunity to work as an FSL India youth worker in Ostrava, Czech Republic during my job shadowing experience. Rather I call it a life altering chance that provided me an understanding and exposure of different cultures. A first hand learning experience in all its aspects that allowed me to immerse myself in not just Czech society but also bring with me a bit of Portugal and Philippines traditions back to home in India.

On the first day, we visited the Risks of Internet office and the Sunflower Centre at VSB-Technical University of Ostrava. We also had the chance to visit the New City Hall Observation Tower and the Ostravice River front. The following day, we planned our schedule for the week, and in the afternoon, we visited the Avion Shopping Park and rode the Ostrava Tram. Day three was lowkey, but we visited a session conducted by a life coach and psychotherapist, Carl Davies, to understand how to deal with change and Czech society’s culture. We also had a special potato salad for lunch, which is usually only available during Christmas. On day four, we witnessed our first-ever snowfall, and we visited the library in Trinec city to interact with the local youth and conduct a workshop. Day five began on a sedate note, but we went to see one of the most famous mines and factories in Ostrava, Dolni Vitkovice. In the evening, we visited the firefighters’ ball in the Kaslovice village, which was filled with live music, dancing, fun competitions, and a lucky dip contest. Finally, Sunday was a free day with no official engagements. Overall, my experience in Ostrava was immersive and provided me with insights into Czech society, culture, and heritage.

Through this job shadowing program, I got hands-on experience in tackling the challenges faced by Youth. More importantly, how with the right communication, teamwork, and problem-solving, we can come up with solutions together and make the world a happier and more supportive place to live in.

Although I cherish every single day spent in Czech with the amazing company I was around with. It did come with its own challenges like language barrier. Czech is the official language of the Czech Republic, and not many people speak English. This can make it challenging to communicate with locals and understand important information like if we were in the right tram? But, Martin, our host made sure we were guided well, to travel around the city when we were on our own.

No doubt but there are cultural differences that are significant between India and the Czech Republic. For example, the concept of personal space is different. Understanding these differences and adapting to them can be challenging, they may not understand eating from hands is very normal in India and is a part of our culture. During the nights in the apartment we had conversation about how different Indian marriage setup is, they were blown away by the concept of arranged marriage and all of us had a great laugh. Similarly we were surprised to see how important certain people were to them and their country. Like our fellow colleague from Portugal was a big time Ronaldo fan and would often greet us with ‘Suiii’ (a spanish tradition) that the footballer does to celebrate his goal. Similarly when we all went for the Ball Night, I had no idea how to dance in that formal setup, but we all smiled and made some great memories as we learnt. When we were at the training center in the mountains I was having a conversation with Christina who had accompanied us to go skiing, she said, “ India to me is about Spiritual Meditation.” (sic) She told me she does love to come to India to learn meditation, Since I have also done meditation courses back in India, I told her lets just stop here and meditate. So we sat on a snow pile and felt we were in the moment, and how grateful we were to this beautiful gift of life.

I had never seen it snowing live. I remember the first day it was snowing. I had to stop my fellow colleague Sai, from running into the street as we had just woken up and weren’t wearing enough layers to sustain the cold. I could see the child inside him getting his wish list checked off.

The climate in the Czech Republic is much colder and harsher than in India. Initial few days coming from India we found it difficult to adjust to the cold weather and the shorter days during the winter months. The room temperature was consistently maintained but when we stepped outdoors, I don’t remember the time I was wearing less than 4 layers.

Czech cuisine is quite different from Indian cuisine. In the very beginning we found it difficult to adjust to the food in the Czech Republic, as it was not as spicy or flavorful as Indian food. Although it was a delight when they noticed we were Indians, whenever we went for lunch they kept spice on the table and I realized how welcoming they were. One day when we came back to the apartment after lunch, we saw the cleaning lady had left a bowl filled with chocolates and candies for us. These small gestures took away the homesick feeling we had in the first few days itself.

The highlight of this intercultural learning experience was the day we prepared dinner for each other, THAT WAS IT. The food was different for everyone but the fact that it was made with so much love for our own countries and culture, it tasted like heaven.

Overall, the experience of learning from different cultures while traveling for a Job Shadowing definitely broadened my perspective, expanded my understanding of the world, and helped me grow as an individual.

By Niharika Bajaj (Youth worker, FSL India)

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