I Got Used to the Local Weather for Three Years
We are Slavs, so we understand each other
Why did you choose the Czech Republic to live with?
It’s been six and a half years since I decided where to go to college. I originally wanted to be a journalist and I chose between Greece and the Czech Republic, which offered the same studies.
In the end, I chose the Czechia. Firstly, because the Czech language is closer to Serbian, it is also Slavic. And even in character, the Czechs are closer to me. It’s just that we are Slavs, so we understand. And I heard that Prague is the center of Europe and that it is a beautiful city.
But to some foreigners, we Czechs come across as “cold snouts”, simply as inaccessible, withdrawn people.
Yes, but only until you get to know them better. The first impression is that the Czechs are quite closed. But then you find that they are quite different.
How did you find out about the pilot project “Selection of Qualified Foreign Workers”, which aims to bring foreign experts to the Czech Republic?
Before the end of my studies, I received a leaflet from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, from which I learned about the project. I found out that I could get into the program, but provided that I finished school and that I had a job in the Czech Republic. That’s when I graduated and had no job. So I signed up for the project only when I got my first job. Fortunately, I got a lot of points, so since April 2004 I have been involved in the project.
What motivated you to join the project?
At that time, the Czech Republic was expected to be granted permanent residence for ten years, and the project offered to reduce that period by a quarter.
Under current rules, you have a chance to get a permanent residence in as little as 2.5 years, while the normal waiting period today is five years. Is obtaining permanent residence really such a big advantage? Yes, because if you do not have a permanent residence, for example, you have to apply for a work permit or a work visa, and this will take you a lot of time. When you have a permanent residence, everything is much easier. For those who want to stay here, it is advantageous. If they want, they can invest, they can buy a house or an apartment, even on a mortgage, which you will not get without permanent residence. They can buy a car for leasing …
What is your job?
Purchasing in an international company.
How do you live here? Do you ever regret your decision to choose the Czechia instead of Greece?
Just because of the weather. I got used to the local weather for about three years. But no, I don’t regret coming here instead of Greece.
Was it hard to find a job after your studies?
It wasn’t too hard. At first, I wrote for The Prague Post at school. Then because I know Serbian, I got my first job.
What complicated my life was that I didn’t speak Czech because my studies were in English. And my friends were either English or Czech who could speak English. So I didn’t need to speak Czech at first. It wasn’t until my fourth year of studies that I realized that I had lived here for a long time and I didn’t know the language.
So I started watching TV, movies, I found a Czech teacher. But I think my first job helped me the most with Czech. Although it was a company with international operations, there were a lot of Czechs who did not speak English, so I was forced to speak Czech with them.
I think it is normal for employers to require a person from a foreign country to speak Czech in the Czech Republic.
Is Czech difficult for Serbs?
Yes and no. Do you know what is the most insidious? Just the kinship of languages. Then it happens to you that you put some Serbian word in the Czech fall and, conversely, that you choose similar Serbian words instead of Czech ones.
It’s not that hard to learn to communicate, to come to an agreement. But learning standard Czech is, in my opinion, quite difficult.
How long does it take to learn Czech to speak?
Two, three months. But only if he really wants to. It took me two to three months when I really started learning and really tried to talk.
How did you manage to get housing in Prague?
When I came to Prague, I lived in a college for about four months. Then I agreed with three other friends that it would be more advantageous for us to rent an apartment together, and we did.
Now I also live in a sublease, but with my Czech friend. The longer you live here, the more acquaintances you have and thanks to them you will learn a lot of interesting offers. I have never looked for a living in Prague for a long time.
What about the Czechs? Don’t they let you know that you are a foreigner and that you are taking their place, for example? Are they not xenophobic?
Not really. Maybe because I work in an international company where there are both Czechs and foreigners. But I don’t have that impression.
And in everyday life, do you encounter hostility just because you are a foreigner?
No. And when I started speaking Czech in the grocery store, people treated me even better than when I spoke English to them. They were more pleasant, acknowledging that I was trying to speak their language. I personally have not encountered xenophobia.
Do you also have Czech friends here?
I have, it wasn’t a problem to make a lot of friends over time. In addition, my friend is Czech, so his friends are mine today.
Compared to developed Europe, we still work in the Czech Republic for relatively low wages. Aren’t you tempted to go further west?
No, it doesn’t. Of course, there are lower wages here, but the cost of living is also lower here. I was in England, I have a friend there, and he confirmed to me that there are quite high salaries. But on the other hand, one needs at least a hundred pounds to rent a room a week somewhere on the outskirts of London. Yes, there are higher salaries, but life is also more expensive there. Here, the salaries are quite OK. And above all, everyone will benefit from them – both those who have an above-average income and those who receive an average or below-average salary.
What do you plan for the future – to return home, go to a completely different country or settle permanently in the Czech Republic?
I don’t know. I reckon that in five years I could start deciding what to do next. For me, it would be best to find a solution on the axis Belgrade – Prague. I don’t want to say goodbye to Belgrade, but neither to Prague.
By the way, do you miss Serbian gourmet specialties? I remember one of your young compatriots who drives a real Serbian prosciutto to Prague, because the one they have there, he just can’t find elsewhere.
I got a cookbook of Serbian specialties from my mother, so sometimes I cook something. My favorite is moussaka, I work here once a week.
(We had her three times last week. So I can confirm with absolute certainty that we don’t miss Serbian specialties here, added Milica’s friend with a smile).
Would you recommend your compatriots to try their luck in the Czech Republic?
Yes. First of all, it is not far from Belgrade – less than a thousand kilometers. It’s important to me not to be far from my family. I have to keep in touch with them.
Secondly, a number of international companies come to Prague, so there are plenty of vacancies for everyone. Everyone can find a job that suits them.
In your opinion, should a Serbian citizen who does not know anyone in the Czech Republic also apply for the project, and the only way to establish contact with the Czech Republic is a computer for him? Should he try his luck here?
Definitely try yes. Because if you don’t try something, you don’t know it and over time you can blame yourself for the missed chance.
Today, the huge advantage is that he can find everything on the Internet – work, housing, just about everything. And at first he can only come and see if he likes it.
What would you warn potential applicants against?
Before the weather (laughs). I have advice rather than a warning. When they come here, they have to try first and foremost.
They must be tolerant and patient. He must give him a chance to really get to know the Czechs. They should not be discouraged by the first failure, by rejection.
And I also recommend that they start learning Czech right away, because it will be important for them. They should not get into a situation where in the Czech Republic they meet a number of other foreigners with whom they speak English and come to the conclusion that they do not need Czech. This will get them into a closed society of foreigners and deprive them of the opportunity to get to know the Czech Republic and the Czech Republic.
What is the most difficult thing when coming to a new country?
Definitely papers, but it is in almost every country.
Don’t you miss home?
I go there quite often and my mom and I call every hour for a day. Plus, she encouraged me to do what I wanted.