Romani student had to leave Czech schools for success
Romani student had to leave Czech schools for success News server Novinky.cz has published the following interview with Magdaléna Karvayová, a Romani woman who has made it to higher education despite enduring discrimination because of her skin color in the Czech Republic. From an early age she faced hatred, never had many friends at school, and was slighted by her teachers even though her grades showed she was a gifted pupil. She enrolled in an international academic high school in order to escape that unpleasant environment and enjoyed success there. For a long time no one believed she could do it, but in the end she has blazed a viable trail for her younger brothers to follow. News server Romea.cz publishes the interview in translation below (the original, in Czech only, is available at http://www.novinky.cz/veda-skoly/285216-romka-zazila-ostrou-sikanu-presto-se-dostala-na-gymnazium-a-ucitele-prekvapila.html).
Q: What did your father do for a living?
A: My father made his living through fortune-telling. He had a college degree, but after the revolution they wouldn't recognize it. My mother is a cleaner.
Q: Did you grow up in a large Romani community?
A: There were only about three Romani families in Jince u Příbrami back then, but our relatives were constantly visiting us, so I was in a Romani community from time to time.
Q: Did you all encounter intolerance and prejudice?
A: In the beginning, yes. I had conflicts with children who were a few years older than me, and not just in school. For example, once when I went to the store a guy was lying in wait and grabbed me around the throat. It's relaxed there now, though, everyone knows us.
Q: How much did your parents motivate you to study?
A: My parents supported me, but the motivation mainly came from me. I had two younger siblings I had to take care of and I got away from them by saying I had to study.
Q: What was it like in school?
A: It was a catastrophe. There were only two of us Romani girls in the entire school. I had no friends there, maybe one girl, and my schoolmates bullied me. All I had to do was walk down the hallway and some guy would push me and say "Get out of here you fat gypsy girl". They would shove my head in the toilet bowl. When I complained to my home room teacher, she patted my face and said "You're just making things up again". So my father had to come to school every day to complain, but the director would just nod and the next day would be the same.
Q: What kind of grades did you get?
A: I never got anything less than top marks. I did my best to fight, to show them - I can study even better than you, so why are you treating me like this? Then it escalated to the point where I started to become an aggressive person myself, which neither I nor my family liked. We decided I would study at the International High School (Mezinárodní gymnázium) in Hluboká, where only foreigners study. The multicultural environment attracted me. I went there at the age of 12 for academic high school.
Q: How did everyone around you respond when you were accepted there?
A: My primary school teachers had told me I shouldn't even try, so none of them wanted to believe it when I got in. When I got an award there for being the best student of the month, my father took it back to my primary school to show them. My siblings went to that same primary school later. They encountered problems there, but not as many problems as me.
Q: What was it like at the high school?
A: It was the other extreme. The staff gave me hugs and kisses the whole six years I went to school there. My English wasn't anywhere near as good as I needed to study there, but the teachers helped me. I integrated into the school in just a few months. There was no reason for any of the foreigners to discriminate against me, on the contrary, I was something special for them. They had foreigners from all over there, but I was the first Romani girl.
Q: Why did you decide to study at the Anglo-American College?
A: When I applied to Charles University, the first question I heard when I handed them my id card was: "You're not a Czech, right?" That approach turned me off, I was afraid I would encounter that stuff all over again. Since individualized instruction also works better for me, I decided to attend Anglo-American.
Q: How are you affording the rather high tuition?
A: There is a scholarship for Romani students there - if you maintain a certain grade average, they cover your tuition 100 %. I've not had to pay tuition so far.
Q: Why are you studying comparative law?
A: Because of my own past experiences, I have decided to help others, because I certainly am not the only one who has faced this. I was choosing between law and psychology, and law seemed more effective to me in the end. I want to dedicate myself to education, human rights, and mainly to the Romani minority.
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