Alexandra Zhereb, course lecturer

Alexandra Zhereb, who is now a PhD student at Charles University, came to the Czech Republic from Russia as a student. She has spent eight years in the Czech Republic, and she lives in a Russian-Greek marriage. Here is what she says about her arrival to the Czech Republic: “If I had had the chance to take Welcome to the Czech Republic integration course, I would have definitely not spent so much money, and would have been under less stress”. She emphasized to all newcomer students how extremely important it is to realize that school bears no responsibility for them, and that they have to take care of their affairs themselves.

Could you describe early days of your life in the Czech Republic?

I came to the Czech Republic in early 2009 to study, and, like other students, I began with a language course. At this early stage, I knew very little about the Czech Republic, and I didn’t speak good Czech. Unfortunately, courses about the Czech Republic which we had as preparation course students were very basic, and we didn’t learn many details there. For example, we only knew very basic things about immigration law. And, like many other foreigners who moved to the Czech Republic recently, we were using services of intermediaries. For example, for finding a new flat, because we were not able to even read the rent contract in Czech. We also called everything “visa” because we didn’t know there is a difference between a visa and a long-term residence permit. We were told that every year this “visa” had to be extended, and to do that we had to have money in a bank account and a confirmation that we had accommodation.

Would it have been much easier if you could first take an integration course?

If I had had a chance to first take Welcome to the Czech Republic course, I wouldn’t have spent so much money and saved my nerves, too. We didn’t have any exact information back then. I had no idea what kind of papers I was required to carry around. I had my passport on me but I didn’t know that I had to have my health insurance card, too. Everything we learned we learned from our friends. In fact, we didn’t have any exact information. I also paid for some services a couple times. Six years ago, for example, I thought that I had to pay for the number in the line for Foreigner Police Service at Koněvova street in Prague. As students, we used to pay CZK 1,000 for it. In that line, we were also offered to have the form filled in for us for CZK 200 because we wouldn’t be able to fill it in ourselves, we were told. When I went to Koněvova office last time, people were being helped by intercultural workers of NGOs. That made a big difference. Before, we had no idea that such organizations providing assistance to foreigners exist in the Czech Republic. I come from Russia, and such organizations in Russia do not exist, or they work differently. There is serious mistrust towards such organizations in Russia. At the same time, such organizations can provide excellent useful information to foreigners during every stage of their lives in the Czech Republic, and their services are paid by the state.

What do you think is the most important for foreign students in the Czech Republic?

Students come to the Czech Republic when they are still very young. They do not feel any responsibility and have no idea that even a small mistake can be the reason they lose their residence permit in the Czech Republic. It is extremely important for students to realize that they need to think for themselves, and take responsibility for taking care of their affairs. Also, students pay no attention at all to observing deadlines, or they ignore basic rules. For example, they fail to put their name on their mailbox, and, as the result, they do not get served some important letter from the Department for Asylum and Migration Policy of the Ministry of the Interior. Students also do not realize what they will do after graduation. They simply study and do not think about what will happen next. Students must think about how they will continue their residence status in the Czech Republic after graduation. Whether they will get employed or start their own business.

At the same time, it is important that their residence doesn’t get interrupted, be it for a single day…

Yes, students do not seem to realize that already one day after their residence linked to their studies expires they need to connect with a different purpose of residence; otherwise their stay in the Czech Republic would be deemed illegal. Besides, if they wish to obtain permanent residence in the Czech Republic, their stay must be uninterrupted and continuous.

What would you recommend to students as an integration course lecturer?

It is important for students to realize that school as an institution is not responsible for students’ decisions. Besides, some schools have hundreds of students and they cannot take care of each student individually. Schools do not have the capacity to follow individual cases of their students. So, it must be students themselves who should take care of their affairs responsibly, especially, when it comes to legislation regulating residence and deadlines set by the Ministry of the Interior. Based on my own experience, I would recommend to every foreigner who recently moved to the Czech Republic to take Welcome to the Czech Republic course as soon as they can. The courses are free of charge, and they can definitely make any foreigner’s life easier.