1/ A short description: (Who are you? Where are you from? How long have you been in the Czech Republic? How long will you stay here?)
Matti: My name is Matti Syiem, and I come from a small town (by Indian, not Czech standards) called Shillong in India. I've been staying in the Czech Republic for two and a half years, and I plan to stay here for another year and a half.
Philip: My name is Philip Strammer and I am from Stuttgart, Germany. I have been living in the Czech Republic for one year and four months and I will probably stay here for another two years.
2/Could you tell us more about your field and your research at the Centre for Ethics?
Philip: I am doing my PhD in philosophy, more precisely in moral philosophy, although aesthetics also plays an important role in it. I am interested in experiences through which our understandings of morality undergo transformations. To put it in simpler terms: I am interested in how moral idols can inspire us to become better persons. The Centre for Ethics is a good place to work on such questions because it focusses on the ethics of ordinary life and because many of its researchers are interested in moral change.
Matti: I am halfway through my PhD at the Centre for Ethics, and my work is focussed on the connection between emotions and moral development. I am especially interested in shame and guilt. Since these have been portrayed as dark and negative emotions, I instead try to bring out their positive side and how they can positively impact our moral lives. It's been quite inspiring working at the Centre since we are a close-knit group and we are all closely engaged with each other's work, which is very helpful.
3/ What is your favourite ethical quote? Motto?
Matti: Haha! I’ve never been one to remember quotes so, unfortunately, I will not be able to answer this one.
Philip: I think at the moment it would be Hegel’s beautiful dictum: “Der Schein ist dem Wesen wesentlich”. It is not really translatable into English due to its complex meaning and poetic quality but it would be something like “The shine is essential to the essence”.
4/ I was told that during the summer semester you offered a course in English about “Love and friendship”. How do you feel about it? Why did you pick this topic? Who was your target group?
Philip: How do I feel about love and friendship or how do I feel about giving a course on it? ;) Well, actually, I feel very well about both – it is a positive topic, both in life as well as in theory. I wanted to give a course on it because it is notoriously neglected in contemporary ethics although I think it is of the greatest importance. It is hard to say anything determinate about love and friendship and that is why I think philosophers tend to shy away from it, but if we look at our lives, we will immediately see that both play tantamount roles in most. This is why I had no specific target group in mind when devising the course – we all have something to say about it.
Matti: So, while we were brainstorming, it was Philip who came up with this topic, and I went along with it because I thought it was a great topic, and as Philip has mentioned, it has been overlooked in contemporary ethics. Even though we had to shift our teaching to Zoom sessions (because of the lockdown) and there were technical problems here and there, the topic was interesting and important enough to keep us engaged from the start to the end of the course. It was a great experience for me – to be discussing love and friendship from very different angles. And in addition to the bachelor students for whom the course was designed, some PhD colleagues also joined us.
5/ Is it the first time you have lived abroad? Why did you decide to live in the Czech Republic, in Pardubice?
Matti: Yes, this is my first time living abroad. Well, the Centre for Ethics was the main reason I moved to Pardubice. When I saw the PhD offer in an email circulated by a friend, I just knew I had to apply for it. The Centre specialises in research topics that I am very interested in, and there was little opportunity for me to explore those topics in India.
Philip: No, I have lived abroad in various countries in the last ten years. I decided to come to the Czech Republic mainly because I was offered a decently paid position at the University for writing my PhD and among scholars most of whom are interested in the same topics as me – that sounded like a pretty good deal to me.
6/ Do you remember what your first thoughts were when you discovered that you were going to the Czech Republic?
Philip: I think something along the lines of “Well, let’s give it a try”. I have to admit that I was not super euphoric to come because I knew almost nothing about the Czech Republic, I had no friends here, and I would leave my friends and family in Stuttgart behind. But at the same time, I was also excited what this so close but yet so unknown country would have in store for me.
Matti: It was the BIGGEST surprise of my life! I had applied for the PhD programme last minute, and I wasn't sure if I would get in. It was hard for me to imagine starting my life over in a new country. I had absolutely no idea what to expect but I was also looking forward to new changes in my life - making new friends, learning about a new culture, exploring new places.
7/How is life in Pardubice and the Czech Republic? Is it hard to live here?
Matti: Initially, it was quite hard because I had to adjust to a new language and a new way of life. Also, although I come from a small town, I had been living in big cities in India for almost a decade, so it took time to re-adjust to a slower pace of life. But these days (despite the occasional unfriendly glances and remarks), I don't feel like a stranger anymore. I am beginning to enjoy the pace of life here. I feel like the city and its inhabitants are opening up to me in ways that would've been impossible before. I've also met a great bunch of people here. But on a practical level, it still is difficult for me in Pardubice with my limited knowledge of Czech.
Philip: I actually do not live in Pardubice but in Prague. I am very lucky because I got a big room in a beautiful flat in a great part of Prague, so it is definitely not hard in this respect. What can be a little saddening sometimes is that the Czech people I’ve met so far usually tend to be rather reserved, even if they speak English. I don’t know if that is so because I am a foreigner or whether it is part of the Czech mentality but, of course, it would be nice to make friends with some Czechs. Luckily for me, this is not a big problem because I have great colleagues at the Centre
8/ Philip, why did you make the choice to live in Prague?
The first reason is that through some lucky circumstances, I had the chance to move into a great flat in a great part of town. The second reason is that I just like the liveliness of the big city. Doing philosophy is often a rather solitary enterprise, so having the chance to have a bustling environment feels good. I love Prague, especially from spring to autumn.
9/ Do you both have a favourite place in Pardubice/Prague/Czech Republic or a place where you go to get away?
Matti: My favourite getaway in Pardubice would be the walking/jogging paths beside the Elbe river – great spots to unwind after a long day and they are especially beautiful during Summer and Autumn evenings.
In Prague, I love visiting its cafés, and I have fallen in love with the coffee culture in Europe. We have a similarly strong culture of tea in India. Once in a while, I also like to go to Prague just to get lost in its historical and cultural sites.
I would definitely love to get away from Pardubice more often to visit the Czech countryside, which I think is beautiful and picturesque.
Philip: In Pardubice, it would probably be the picturesque canal next to the automatic mill with its cafés and its ‘stranded’ boat restaurant. In Prague, I really like Jiřího z Poděbrad, a square between Vinohrady and Žižkov. It is a bit snobby but its lively farmer’s market and its many cafés give it an almost Mediterranean flair. In the Czech Republic overall…I don’t know but I want to go hiking in the Krkonoše mountains this spring and I feel like they could become my overall favourite.
10/ How do you find the Czech culture? The food, the way the people are, their sense of humour? What is the main difference between Czech culture and yours?
Matti: What I find fascinating about the Czech culture is its different traditions and how they are still deeply rooted in the Czech way of life – from Easter to Christmas and all other kinds of traditions (especially the Czech Easter tradition of pomlázka). Although I also come from a country steeped in traditions, it's another thing to encounter and understand very different traditions in another culture.
Regarding the food, I would say I do enjoy a heavy Czech meal from time to time, but not on a daily basis. I was intrigued the first time I had tatarák because I had never eaten anything like it before. And I have to admit that it's difficult to keep up with the Czech habit of drinking beer (I tried but failed miserably!).
It's hard to generalise what the Czechs are like. While most of them seem to have a reserved exterior, I think this dissolves once you get to know them – they can be very warm and helpful people. I say this from my own experience of getting to know Czechs. Nevertheless, I do admit that this reserved exterior can sometimes create problems for foreigners like me in formal settings like offices and shops, especially when there's a language barrier. Their sense of humour is awesome and makes me laugh: it’s dry, cynical and quite self-defeating.
Philip: From what I have experienced so far, I feel, to a certain extent, at home. This is because my grandmother was from the Czech Republic and, although she was German and cast out after World War II, she inherited much of the Czech culture. I am, for instance, acquainted with the cuisine, which I like a lot if prepared well – although it can sometimes be a bit too heavy and meat-oriented for my taste. What I find quite odd is the Czech tendency to have lunch at 11.00 or even earlier. 11:00 is the time for a light brunch, not for a goulash and a big beer!
As regards the people, I could say many things but I will restrict myself to one positive and one negative point: What I do not like is the way in which people interact in the scope of institutional hierarchies. When you have to go to the doctor or to an administrative office or to receive some kind of ‘service’ somewhere, you will likely be treated unkindly by those ‘in power’. I take this to be a leftover from the regime that I hope will be driven out of the Czech society soon. What I do like a lot about the Czechs, however, is that they are never obtrusive and overall calm and peaceful people. And that is worth a lot.
Czech culture has, unsurprisingly, quite a few similarities with German culture – heavy meals, serious people, beer, a fondness for rules and order. (Although this is actually hard to say because German culture is, for historical reasons, much more heterogeneous than Czech culture.) Also, there are definitely some differences. For, example, Germans love travelling. Every corner of the world is full of German tourists. This seems to be decidedly different with the Czechs who, as far as I can tell, tend to be much more content spending the summer holidays in their own country. Also, the Germans seem to complain much more than the Czechs which, I think, is again tied to the recent history. And while people who complain all the time are obviously annoying, I also believe that a healthy culture of public criticism is a good thing, especially in a society which still feels the reverberations of a communist regime.
11/ At what point did you find out about the EURAXESS contact point at the University of Pardubice? Could you tell us how the EURAXESS contact point at the University assisted you? How often do you use their services?
Philip: I found out about it through you, dear Caroline! Now, because I live in Prague and because I do not really need a lot of help in order to get by in the Czech Republic, I do not often make use of the EURAXESS offers. However, it certainly did help me with some administrative formalities and from what I have seen and heard, they offer great help to those who need it. Apart from that, the EURAXESS parties are a great opportunity to meet other people from around the world.
Matti: Like Philip, it was you, Caroline, as the EURAXESS co-ordinator, who introduced me to EURAXESS. I would say I depend upon EURAXESS and more specifically on you, Caroline, for almost everything – from my visa application and extension to getting help with doctors and even plumbers. I have also attended some of the events organised by EURAXESS, including the Pardubice city tour, the Christmas parties and the seminar "Work with Czech."
12/ Besides your studies, what do you do in the Czech Republic (hobbies, job, projects…)?
Matti: Besides research, I have started teaching English at a language school, and I'm hoping I get more such teaching offers in the near future. And a few physical activities that I have recently taken up are jogging and playing squash.
Philip: Most of my time is spent on reading and writing, which is probably quite unsurprising. But as I already mentioned, I prefer to do that in a lively environment which is why I often work in the cafés of Prague. Apart from that, I simply like to meet up with friends for a few beers and good discussions. In the spring and summer, however, I will definitely explore more of the beautiful Czech countryside – hiking in the mountains, a trip to Kunětická Hora, a visit to Olomouc, and so on.
13/ Have you been able to make some friends and contacts here?
Matti: Yes, quite a lot actually. Apart from my colleagues, I made a lot of friends through the Beer embassy meetings.
Philip: As I already said, my friends here are mostly my colleagues. This is nice because they are great – but, of course, it would make me feel more at home to become friends with some locals, too.
14/ If someone was coming from India and Germany to the Czech Republic/to Pardubice, to UPa what advice would you give them?
Philip: I would advise them to learn Czech, especially if they will live in Pardubice (in Prague, many people speak English). I would also tell them to try to find accommodation somewhere else than the dorms because I have heard that they are not a great place to stay, especially for internationals. Lastly, I would tell them - especially if they come from a more outgoing and extroverted culture - to check out the international groups and meetings where it is easy to get to know nice people.
Matti: I think Philip has given very good advice but just to add to that, I would advise the person in question to mentally prepare himself/herself for the visa process which can be quite disheartening and discouraging and also to get in touch with you, Caroline, from the very start.
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