Thursday, 28 March 2013

Lady Winter or an Evil Witch?

Each time a year she comes, leaving no space for the other three to express themselves thoroughly. Sometimes she arrives too early for us to rejoice, and sometimes we impatiently wait for her to knock on the door. She's being hated and she's being loved, she is annoying and sometimes she's beautiful, she causes us pain and she makes us play. We laugh and we get angry, we have antagonistic feelings towards the one, whose presence is an inevitable natural phenomenon once a year. Lady Winter. When coming to mountains, hills and picturesque villages, she is a beauty. She wears her white coat as if it were velvet clouds that descended from the sky. But beware! As soon as she enters city gates, her coat turns grey, her face wrinkles and her softly distant touch becomes a creepy scratching of frozen nails. Winter in the city is an unwelcomed guest.

Brno is no exception to this. Everything starts with an innocent snowflake lightly dancing in the winter breeze. Soon you realize there is hundreds, thousands, millions and trillions of these tiny dancers occupying the city air. The first few minutes – or sometimes hours – of heavy snowing are magical even within the city gates. The fairy tale in progress, the white lady gently caressing our cheeks with her white little treasures floating in the air. The most magical views are those when the light goes out and the only world you see is those few metres of air within the reach of lamp light in the street, where snowflakes engage in glamorous dancing. It is these few moments that save the inhabitants from sending the whole winter to damnation. The night is over, the magical moment is gone, and you wake up into a day full of heavy soaked greyish mass in the streets, icy plates on the pathways, and forever-wet boots on your feet and the perfect chaos in city transportation. Welcome winter! We hate her most of the time and only when we go to the country we realize how pretty her white coat really is. It is the city that makes winter look ugly, yet we feel it is the other way around.
Easter comes when winter leaves and if it's not like that, there is a mistake in the system of our nature. Nature is perfectly programmed to mess up any human plans dependant on weather. There used to be hundreds of people at Mendel square in Brno drinking green beer every last Thursday before Easter. There may be hundreds of them in the pubs, but the Mendel square stays occupied only by lady winter's dirty snowy whims this year. Even though she makes life in a city unbalanced, cooperating with the other three friends of her she keeps nature in balance.

I have seen the beauties of winter ugliness even on a dull, freezing, darkish winter day. I went to my lecture and somehow ended up in one of our university cafeterias. That was the moment when I realized where all the students from Mendel square are. Winter might have prevented us from enjoying the Sun, but it also made us meet indoors and enjoy warmth of friendship and, preferably, a very sweet hot drink. There is never a moment more precious than the one when your hands frozen from the deadly wind touch a cup of fresh hot chocolate, or when your numb cheeks start moving upwards as you laugh with your friends. It might be a pathetic excuse for all the mess outside, but it is enough to brighten one's day and give a reason to the weather as it is.

On another occasion when I entered our UNI ground, I found myself in the very heart of a snow battle. No matter which programme you study or which faculty you attend, you are welcome to partake in a fight! First it feels like a friendly fight for fun, then it transforms into the fight of two sides – the snowy and the snowier one – and then, when fighting for your life, you realize, you're actually fighting your way out of the battle in order to save some spare fingers and toes before they go deadly frozen. It may take five hours to dry your clothes, but those fifteen minutes of 'snowing' over your peers are so much worth it that you don't care anymore. It is as legal to become a child, as it is legal for winter to come. I take the advantage of the former to prosper from the latter – even if only for a few moments. My thanks go to all those who try to enjoy it the way I did during that snow fight. There must be something magic going on at our university, as whenever I feel blue, I come to school and things change. I may not know when this weather ends, and I may not know how to make people feel somehow positive about it, but one thing I know for sure is that winter in Brno is not the same as winter at Masaryk University.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

To Club or Not to Club

I went abroad as an exchange student and the experience opened my mind. Not only was it a school of life with daily lectures, but it also absolutely changed the angle upon which I was looking at the world, people, and the whole experience. Sometimes I stood in my own surprise at how different life at university may be when in a foreign country. Since the first day of my stay my mind has been processing information about how antagonistically things may work and how much attention is being (or sometimes should be) given to a single student visiting a strange land. After I came back, I devoted bits of my attention to how these things work at Masaryk University.

The first and the most important fact is that they actually work. Never have I been so surprised as when I realised how incredibly much attention is being given to the international students at MU. Most of that attention is produced by the International Student Club (ISC) at MU full of people of good will, time to volunteer and ability to cheer up whoever forgets to wear a smile. ISC is a non-profit and non-political student organisation that became part of the Erasmus Student Network in 2004. Its activities serve hundreds of international students with loads of fun and help each semester and I had a chance to be a part of it. I became a tutor. If a student from abroad comes alone without a friend, he may be sure of getting one at his arrival. Tutoring is about being awake when your student gets lost in the middle of the night, and also about reviewing your whole life at the police office during 4 hours of waiting for a single stamp. The official part of it is help, while the unofficial one soon turns out to be a friendship. Once a tutor takes care of a student, they undergo most of the amusements produced by ISC together. Whether attending board game sessions every week, whether doing sports, whether wanting to learn new language or know the diverse faces of Brno, whether wanting to go for a trip or an excursion, and finally, whether wanting to party hard every other day – you may. ISC provides extensive scale of activities and regular sessions including Country Presentations – the best fun one can have with exchange students.

Masaryk University has not, however, prepared ground only for short-term international students. My eyes opened wider than usual at the sight of a list of all the possible and impossible student clubs that exist here. I became a part of some of them and can tell that on top of the fresh new info for you curriculum vitae, you can get involved in what you love doing and spend your free time wisely, while still having fun. I love writing, so I went for the book club and ended up as an editor, illustrator, graphic designer and an author of several pieces for the departmental magazine. It's like preparing oneself for the 'real' life, while still sitting in a comfortable armchair for students who can back off whenever they feel like not doing it. But what if you don't want to work on a magazine? You don't have to! Maybe you'd like to perform in a drama club. Or you want to find a group of devoted hikers. Maybe your interest flows in the direction of singing in the choir, or you want to become a majorette? Do you want to watch movies and have it as a programme of your university club? For some it has been always their dream to work in a radio – well, there you go! All of such clubs are founded at the Masaryk University.

I have realized lately that some students are more grown-up than others. They don't want to watch movies in their club anymore, and they don't want to write poems for their magazine. They want to do the adult stuff, and they do it well. Mostly it is because they have the opportunity to do it – at their university. If you for example study psychology, you may join the psychologists association; if you study sociology, the easiest thing is becoming a part of the sociologists union. Then there are clubs which already offer a sort of working experience – you become a member of a club where you apply your juridical skills, you may as well join the other medical students and carry your research ideas through, or you may become a part of those large-scale whole-university clubs which cover a great deal of various social, cultural, as well as international activities.
It all may sound a bit exaggerated, or it may sound too nice to be true, but it is the way it is. You want to be in a club – you can be in a club. I joined some of them and I never want to get out. It's as if they paid you with precious experience and all you gave in return was a bit of your time and enthusiasm. My personal experience is getting a job actually thanks to participating in a university club. As everything in life works as a chain of actions and reactions – so does life at university. The only thing for you to do is care.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Why would you stay at school when you have no classes??

Or Just Another Story by Olie and Moe, this time at the Faculty of Arts and Social Studies

The Sun was shining high when Olie woke up. It was a good party yesterday, he thought to himself. If only Moe hadn't come so late from school… He missed the best part of it.
            Olie and Moe were friends from high school. They sometimes acted as one, but when it came to the decision what to do after high school, their opinions differed much. Moe chose university life, meeting new people, trying to figure out his professional path, and postponing the dull image of a working man's days. Olie's attitude towards it was negative. He despised all those book-carrying students who to him seemed to be too proud of being part of the university world. “I don't like them acting as if their brains have gathered all the knowledge of the world,” he was used to saying. Moe usually ignored his friend's remarks, knowing that it may have been only out of sheer jealousy that Olie couldn't get on with people who openly expressed their fondness towards university.
            When Olie woke up, he felt like meeting Moe for lunch, so that he could have fun provoking him when telling all about the party he had missed.
            Moe's phone rang straight after he got out of the class. It was Olie: “Hey man, what's up today? Wanna get lunch somewhere?”
            “Sure thing,” replied Moe, “meeting in front of the Faculty of Arts, you remember, right?”

          It was one of the first spring-like days after quite a moody winter time. Moe explained that he hadn't come to the party on time because he got satisfyingly stuck at the faculty with his friends.

“So you actually didn't have any class, just stayed at school for fun? Why would you stay at school when you have no classes??”

 “See, you ask why, instead of asking why not…  Because it's fine over there! You have lots of people all around with all of whom you have something in common, you have space for work, place for coffee, you can even party there! Just come with me, man, I'll show you around.”

          Olie hesitated for a while. He always felt insecure when being at the university ground – a place he did not belong to. Though not really delighted at the idea, he agreed since there was nothing better to do. Moe took him to the two faculties he attended – first the Faculty of Arts, then the one of Social Studies. He knew Olie would like it if being in his place. They were the same by nature, though deadly varied at attitudes towards things. As they entered the first faculty, they got through the outer building and ended up in the yard. Olie saw nothing of what Moe had in his mind – image of a bunch of students sitting on grass and laughing like crazy, or that group of weirdos who always played with a ball that looked like a ball but was not a ball at all. He tried to explain the atmosphere, but couldn't reach Olie's understanding.

“And come on, man, it's just the end of winter! Where do you think people go when the Sun comes up? There's plenty of grass, greenery, benches and trees… Do you know how beautiful the smell in the whole yard is when these flowers bloom?”

“Moe, you speak like a woman!”

“I speak like a man who likes his university and perceives that there is much more to it than only studying. It's never only studying here… never.”

One can hardly put another person in his place, even if endlessly talking and describing. Many things in life enter our minds through our emotional perception rather than our rationality. We may be rational in class, but stay fools when we get out. Olie's prejudice towards university students was unfair and unjust, and he secretly knew it, but would never admit that he could like going to university.
            The first stop was at Krmítko – a cafeteria with everything and anything, including good prices. “There are several like that. I like this one, 'cause it's cosy and the walls are crazy, look at the paintings… if you could put those pictures of yours together, you could exhibit them here. And hey, have a look at those two… the one in the white T-shirt is Veronica. I used to have classes with her…Her English is as good as the coffee she makes. And that coffee, Olie, is damn good, haha!”

Okay, so they have nice girls here, good and not expensive coffee, food, sofas and a big teddy bear. Oh, and table-football. And club rooms. And there is another place like this on the other faculty. And on those others probably too. I guess it's not that boring when you have to wait for the class, but still…

“Look, if you're really bored, we can go downtown,” Moe disturbed Olie's thoughts.
“Nope, it's okay. You wanna show me anything else?”

And so they went to the Faculty of Social Studies. Olie's eyes were not big enough to take in a wholesome picture of the main hall where some people were sitting at tables, definitely doing something non-scholar on their laptops, and some were even lying on those wide and high and wooden-like steps leading down to the other Krmítko. Moe sometimes mentioned some student's theatrical group that gave out ironic plays on how it works – or doesn't work – at uni. This must be the place then, quite perfect for a small performance. As they were about to leave the hall, Olie caught sight of some people sitting on sofas. Sofas in halls, tables in corridors, cafés at school… all a bit different from what he imagined.

 “Now, I know you're hungry as hell, so how about we grab something down here and eat it out?” asked Moe. Olie nodded with his stomach empty and his head full of unexpected thoughts. He didn't know at the moment that 'eating out' meant going nearly to the roof of the faculty building. Strange glass pyramids were scattered all over the place. Olie did not realize it in the hall, but those pyramids were actually the windows so that a bit of the sky could get inside. It was peaceful out there, with fresh spring air and lunch, finally.

“So this is why you stay at school when you have no classes, right?”

“Yeah, combined with people. They're not that big-headed as you think. They're normal people trying to get a degree and pursue what they want. Same as me, and possibly same as you.”

“I see. Same as you and same as the future me.”

“Are you joking?”

“Nope. I'm going for the degree! But only because you have those sofas…”

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

A Tiny Bee at MUNI

There once lived a tiny Bee
Who always asked what her life could be
If far away she flew alone
To study and learn what's unknown.

One day she met the MUNI fly
“Listen, Bee, I would never lie
When admitting that my life here
Means having fun and being near
All the beauties of a student life
And still studying without a strife!”

When hearing this, our little Bee
And since that day she's been trouble-free…

Friday, 1 March 2013

You Can't Take Brno from Me

Nature has gifted me with an incredible ability to find my way in new places with absolutely no sense of orientation at all. My grandma lives in a city slightly smaller than Brno and I have spent considerable amount of time there both as a child and as a grown-up. I can remember the cosy cinema club when standing on the right street, I can remember where the litterbin is when standing on the main square, I know where I am when I get out of the tram no. 9 and I even know where to look for bus stops (always hidden behind the corners). What I successfully fail to remember is all the ways between these places. It's as if you had pictures of places in your head, but could never draw the map between them. So it happens that I say “I know where I am!” and suddenly I realize it helps me but a little, as I do not have a slightest idea how to get some place else. Buildings? Okay. Parks? Okay. Streets? Okay. Building on a street I have been to before? Okay. Building near the park I have visited before? Sure. The way to get from building no. 1 to the building no. 2? Nope. 

With this curse upon me – my nonsense of orientation – I came to Brno. First, a three-day summer trip. Hitch-hiking through the country, sleeping in a hostel, and rambling night streets as if life could end in an instant. Second, my studies. Hitch-hiking through the libraries, lacking sleep in general, and still rambling night streets as if life could end in an instant. My delightful nonsense of orientation must have loved Brno from the first moment, because I haven't seen him since. It was like an illumination. Suddenly all streets made sense, buildings kept standing where I saw them last, even the places I saw for the first time felt familiar. I don't know what it was, but it made me feel like a first-rate champion, walking masterfully down the Brno pavements as if I have spent a lifetime here. Not only did I remember all those social institutions where they serve you a good pint of beer, but I also smartly got from the point A to the point B, both being truly desired (and reached without undesired going through C, D, E, F, G, and my other favourite spots)

My beloved orientational nonsense had thus disappeared and I regarded this cruel abandonment to be one of the great fortunes of my life. Although it came without calling, I did not believe it came without a reason. Thus, I decided to invent one, as I did not intend to seek for any. It took me but a few seconds to fully breathe in the breeze of absolute comprehension, and so the reason was born. I gave it the name 'Brno'. For the first time in my life I entered a city whose streets did not cross accidentally and differently each day as I walked past. Imagine that you stand in the middle of the city where you spent months of your childhood looking for the best sweetshop with your grandma, and you still faintly guess which way to go. Now imagine that you come to Brno and after a week you become the one, the advisor, who knows which direction things are and which way the trams go. A miracle! Champion! Master of the streets! With only one map (that always stayed forgotten in the room)! How could it be…

Well, the reason stays simple - I found my city. It must be it, as I do not feel like looking for anything else. My university offers everything I want; it even offers a lot of things I don't really want (you know, those exams and research papers, thesis and state exams, and many more luxurious time-consuming, but rightly required annoyments…). What is more, there is this park… It is a place where all the wonders of Brno and the world that came to live in Brno flourish. One day you come and play hackies with a bunch of students, another day you drink sweet wine while having philosophical debates with scholars who stopped by. Then it looks like a maternity peace garden, a dog park, or a place where the whole spectrum of circus performers show off, but only to themselves. It's my summer home – a home within my second home when I'm away from the original home. Just a small park in Brno. It is only one place amongst tens, hundreds, of others, which attract you but manage not to fail your expectations. Were I a sportswoman? I would be running satisfied all around Brno. Were I an artist? I would sentimentalize in the galleries and beyond the blue skies of the city. Were I a scientist? I would deliberately lock myself within the vast and freshly new laboratories of the uni campus. Were I a musician? I would spend nights at clubs performing and watching others perform what comes to their hearts. Were I a student? I would be overwhelmed with the crazy amount of courses offered at all the faculties of all the universities there are… I may be all of those people in a part, or I may be none, but I stay satisfied. 

There is life blooming in front of my eyes behind the city gates of this student's paradise. It may not be as big as London, New York, not even as Prague, but it is mine. And it is hers, his, theirs, and maybe yours as well. It is the place where I came wondering, swimming in tiny fears and colossal expectations, and after a while, with my hands shivery from excitement, I embraced the city singing quietly… you can't take Brno from me, 'cause there's no place I'd rather be…