Nepal community in Prague - Are Czechs able to embrace difference?

08-12-2003

A small Nepalese community living in Prague hosted an event last Thursday. Czech guests savored the spices of Nepalese food and enjoyed the spectacle and vibrant colours of Nepalese Dance. This informative gathering was intended as a starting point for a possible Czech - Nepalese friendship organization.

Purnima KayasthaPurnima Kayastha "My name is Purnima I am studying at Ceska Zemetelska Universita, agriculture."

"Hi I'm Abha I am studying medicine in Plzn."

"I'm Suraj studying at the Czech Technical University in the Faculty of Engineering."

"I'm Anila I study communications and media."

These students are studying in Prague and form a significant part of the Nepalese community in the city. They are here on scholarship and some of them have lived in Prague for three years. I asked them what were the main cultural differences that they had to adjust to in their new city.

Purnima: "First of all for me it's a language problem. Also, Nepali people are very friendly, open minded people, though there are also many disadvantages to this mentality."

Anyone else?

Abha: "I would also say it's a language problem and I would say that people are not as friendly here as back in Nepal."

How are they not as friendly?

Suraj: "In my opinion Czech people are more conservative than I thought they would be."

Anila: "They are reluctant to open up to new people or new culture."

Are Czechs reluctant to embrace difference? Perhaps Czech students simply are not aware of the gravity of uprooting to another continent. Of course it is an excellent opportunity for the Nepali students, but Purnima told me she hasn't been able to visit home in three years due to the cost of travel.

Later however, the students admitted that living here isn't always so glum. They were also able to laugh at how some Czechs reacted when they found out they came from Nepal.

Purnima: "As soon as I say Nepal they say oh Himalayas and that really makes me feel good because even though we are a small country at least we are known as Himalayan."

Anila: "Sometimes people ask us if we have climbed Mount Everest." (the students all laugh)

Sangita Shresthova was the main organizer of this event along with her mother, of Czech descent, and her father who came to Prague from Nepal in 1967. Like the students I spoke to before, he also originally came on a scholarship. I asked Sangita if Czechs were better at adjusting to different cultures since the revolution in 1989.

"Yes and no I would say. People are becoming more aware that there are other cultures and that oriental doesn't mean primitive. Oriental in itself is such a problematic term but that non-western doesn't mean primitive and it doesn't mean underdeveloped. Giving up that sort of evolutionary trajectory has been something that has been very helpful in that people can actually appreciate that Indian dance is a very developed dance form technically, conceptually, symbolically, and philosophically. That was something really hard for people to get at first. There is still a sort of suspicion of things that are not familiar and a distancing from them at the same time and it is still difficult."

Sangita brings her culture to the Czech Republic through dance, which she feels is "an international language". Through her experience in teaching dance in the Czech Republic she has had fairly large attendance. Often she finds that Czechs can be quite cerebral about the art form, which can take away from dance's ineffable experience. One of Sangita's personal solutions to cultural understanding is to make sure that she takes a dance class in every city she goes.

08-12-2003