Welcoming Foreigners with Open Arms and a Full Glass

International Student Club Member Gets a Big Buzz from Volunteering

By Alyssa Yurasits

Photo courtesy of ISC

The student club, or ISC as it is known, is devoted to helping the thousands of international students who come to the university each year feel more at home through language programs, social opportunities and unadulterated fun. Photo courtesy of ISC

Devoting herself to the International Student Club at Charles Technical University, Tereza Vlasakova’s life is an entanglement of international communities and volunteerism.

The student club, or ISC as it is known, is devoted to helping the thousands of international students who come to the university each year feel more at home through language programs, social opportunities and unadulterated fun.

There’s no look-at-me-I’m-devoting-my-life-to-service esteem to be found in Vlasakova’s blue-green eyes. Rather, they gaze back with laughter, filled with memories of nights spent drunk-dancing with foreign exchange students and days splashing around with inexperienced rowers on the Vltava River.

Doubling as a student of civil engineering and architecture studies at Charles Technical University in Prague and a program coordinator for ISC, Tereza has managed to create a real cultural experience on her own turf – something she has been craving since her return to the Czech Republic.

“I studied abroad for high school in the U.S. – Montana – in 2007,” Tereza recalls, describing her year-long exchange experience as one filled with road trips down the West Coast, across the countryside, and through the major must-see cities, like  Washington D.C., Los Angeles and New York.

But, it wasn’t the travel or the incomparable sunsets at the Grand Canyon that sparked her interest in international student life – it was the people. There’s something about cultural differences that drew her in and kept her searching for more. And that search for an international community led her to ISC.

Photo courtesy of ISC

For Tereza, nothing compares to the community she has waiting for her in Prague. Photo courtesy of ISC

“Just walk into the ISC lounge any day,” Tereza says.  It’s bound to be filled with students lounging on the signature makeshift couch-futon, eating biscuits and drinking tea.

“The door says the hours are like 2:00-18:00, but people are there until after midnight,” she says with a smile, confessing that she has broken this rule on many occasions.

What could everyone possibly be doing?

“There’s something for everyone,” she continues, describing the students-teaching-students language courses and weekly events that she organizes to help get the international community together.

Pretty typical, right? Not when you have Tereza in charge of it.

Earlier in the semester, Tereza held a workshop for all of the teaching volunteers. After spending a mere hour discussing teaching methods, she led the group down a couple flights of stairs into the university pub, giggling the entire way. Music blasting and beers in hand, she made her way over to the makeshift dance floor. With a motion for another student to take her drink, she dragged one of the Korean teachers into the center. Hands forming a circle, they swiveled their hips to the music, letting a few hearty laughs slip out from between the teeth of their I-may-or-may-not-be-intoxicated smiles.

It’s typical for training workshops to turn into dance parties, for meetings to take place in pubs, and for everyone to forget that this is all considered “volunteering.”

And Tereza justifies it perfectly: “There’s no one telling us what to do. It’s what we like.”

From drunken bowling competitions, multilingual karaoke nights, live international bands, paintballing, camping trips, and cultural cooking lessons, Tereza gets everyone involved.

“It’s this kind of involvement – this sharing of culture and personal joys – that truly defines the type of community that Tereza has tried to create for everyone involved in her ISC programs.”

“Wednesdays are culture parties,” she continues, describing the nationality theme-nights dedicated to ISC members and their countries of origin. These nights are filled with music, foreign languages, and, of course, food.

“I always miss the food part,” Tereza laughs, though photographs of these events suggest that the food is just a small part of the night-long event filled with patriotic body paint, cultural performances, and shots.

At the most recent culture night, Bulgarian night, students lined up, shoulder to shoulder, tilted their chins up 45-degrees, and tossed back some Rakia, getting a taste of the national Bulgarian drink. With flags painted on their faces, the group then listened to speeches given by their native peers – a celebration of pride, cultural immersion, and community acceptance.

Photo courtesy of ISC

It’s typical for ISC training workshops to turn into dance parties, for meetings to take place in pubs, and for everyone to forget that this is all considered “volunteering.” Photo courtesy of ISC

It’s this kind of involvement – this sharing of culture and personal joys – that truly defines the type of community that Tereza has tried to create for everyone involved in her ISC programs.

“I prefer this,” she admits, making it obvious that her time spent volunteering has been the root of some of her closest friendships.

She has embraced the hustle and bustle of New York. She has soaked up the sun in Bangkok, Thailand. But nothing compares to the community she has waiting for her back in Prague.

In a single afternoon, she finds herself surrounded by Francophones teaching their native tongues to a classroom full of multilingual students; she snacks on wafers with a Russian, who tellers her about his latest engineering software; she learns how to bake traditional Italian bread; and she sits with me, an American, recapping her paradoxical homegrown international journey.

Alyssa Yurasits is in the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study Class of 2016. Her hometown is Massapequa, New York.

This article was adapted from an assignment for the travel writing class at New York University in Prague.

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Categories: Culture, Spring 2014 Issue Number 3, Travel

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

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