The Good, The Bad, The City: Brno Through The Eyes of Expat Women
Brno Daily’s Melis Karabulut has been speaking to expat women in Brno to find out how they are dealing with life in a new city away from home, and the challenges that come with it. Credit: KK / BD.
I recently wrote a short story, published on Brno Daily, named “Women Who Dance with Šalinas” that storified Brno’s expat women’s search for genuine connections as they live their daily life in the city. Before writing that story, I had been carefully observing Brno-based social media and noticed that so many women were looking for female friends over a cup of coffee, for Saturday shopping, Sunday hiking, to exchange languages, or to simply connect. I have noticed Brno events and groups for only women spreading around on my feed – and the turnout was huge to those. That inspired me to dive in and imagine the context, and write the story. Then, the story inspired expat women in Brno to come and talk to me about how much they had related to the story!
This helped me connect with like-minded women; sharing their perspectives and empathy with the problems of building lasting friendships with other women, being a foreigner in the city, almost always suffering from language barriers and immigration policies, and their own journeys of making a life here. Their stories sparked even more curiosity in me. I wanted to find out whether the majority of women shared the same feelings and suffered from the same problems. To find out, I talked to twenty different women from different countries who somehow crossed paths in Brno.
I discovered that most of them like the city for being safe, and for being able to live freely as a woman here. And I discovered that regardless of their challenges to make connections and roots, they have found their ways to make the best of living in Brno, to shoulder responsibilities and adulthood unapologetically even from very young ages, trying to make their stay a good one with positive mindsets.
In this piece, I quote some of those uplifting stories with the intention to inspire oldies and newbies in the city to hold on tight to their journeys, to feel a sense of empathy and togetherness in life, to seize the good in Brno on long winter nights – because let’s all agree, it has been a long ride living behind closed doors and making best friends with Netflix!
- People, The City, Inclusion, Belonging
“Sometimes you sit on public transport, and people make it so obvious that they don’t want to sit next to you. Apart from these, I met some super awesome people who are just excited to meet you, like I am.”
“People seemed arrogant and rude. But when I learned some basic Czech – people started smiling and life gained some joyful colors. I love the Czech ‘selsky rozum’, but also Czechs are very closed people. Not cosmopolitans at all. Also, I learned Czechs do not care what other people think of them. They live their lives and try not to bother others. Which I find an amazing mentality.”
“The vibe made me fall in love with the city.”
“Not nice and bland without emotions.”
“The immigration bureaucracy gives me chills and fever. It is my least favorite place to go. It is an almost traumatic experience where I feel small, unseen, and unheard.”
“As a Middle Eastern, I get the judgy eyes here a lot. I get tons of questions about my religion, my background, my home, my country, and sometimes they disturb me. People are more interested in these, rather than who I really am. It is just really sad to me.”
“At first I was very uncomfortable living here because I didn’t know what Czech people were saying and I felt that they were saying things that weren’t too nice about me. Although that hasn’t changed too much regarding the language barrier, I have encountered some amazing Czech people here, so it’s better now. Is it welcoming here? It’s so-so, I would say.”
“In my first couple of days when I couldn’t communicate in Czech, I encountered rudeness and I felt quite sad about it, but then I tried not to take it personally and I motivated myself to learn Czech. I think even if you are not speaking 100%, when you try people are nicer in contrast to when you directly start speaking English. Day by day I felt more comfortable and my sympathy towards Czech people increased gradually.”
“I love that the city is very young as the culture is inviting. But I still feel like it is hard to meet people.”
“I miss the “everyday” things like connecting with people over a brief shared experience.”
“Most of the time, I have to go out of my comfort zone to seek opportunities here due to the language barrier. I find myself missing so much from life because of that. I miss on arts, sports, and social life.”
“Czechs in Brno are more judgemental in comparison to Prague. They can get really aggressive over something small. I feel more welcome in Prague. Sometimes I feel that people in Brno have very little tolerance to the otherness.”
“I don’t miss anything about home except having the ability to do everyday things easily. Here, just mailing a letter or using an oven is a challenge because it is different than what I am used to. Sometimes I feel more helpless here.”
“What is foreign to me are the feeling of being ashamed if you make a mistake, the expectation of living with your boyfriend from the first month of the relationship, the lack of imagination when you are trying to speak in their language.”
“Some traditions and company cultures are sexist. I think this is due to the old mentality of some people, especially men.”
- Giving It Time
“When I first came to the city for work, I didn’t know anybody or anything about this place. I was staying in a hotel in Cejl. I went to a small, behind-the-counter shop to buy some basic food. I had to somehow explain to the cashier what I wanted to buy. I remember being very confused about her constantly saying “no” and “ano”. I was telling her back, “not no, yes!”. I couldn’t manage to buy what I wanted, and I left feeling frustrated. Now I find it funny though. After a year, I started falling in love with Brno and it is my eighth year here now. The city is big, but still not too big, and you can still meet people on the streets and bars. It makes it homier even when you are a foreigner.”
“I’m from Iceland, a 26-year-old, and I have been living here since October 2019. I moved here to be with my boyfriend. I experienced culture shock when I first got here, especially with food and drinks. But now I cannot go without Svařák in winter, and Polička in summer. I haven’t been able to experience much due to the pandemic, but I still find people and the city nice and welcoming. I feel lucky and honored that my workplace trusts me even though I am a foreigner.”
“It was and still is boring for me most times, especially when COVID-19 started. As an English-speaking person from a vibrant country like Ghana, it was and still is difficult, but I have learnt to adjust. The city is beautiful, I love it. But there are times when nobody can help you, for example, when asking for directions, because they don’t speak English. It is not their fault.”
“I moved here in August 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. I found it very challenging to meet people at first due to the lockdown, and I haven’t been able to experience much. During the lockdown, I went for lots of walks in Brno, Adamov and Blansko, and I completely fell in love with the nature around here. Since the lockdown lifted, I have had a great summer exploring, and making new friends. Czechs’ sense of humor and slightly more reserved nature fits perfectly with mine as a British person.”
- Safe, or Not Safe?
“I feel safe here. I wear whatever I want, and nobody would look at you in a weird way or comment on it. I never experienced any harassment or negativity for being a foreigner, or a woman.”
“I have had a few bad experiences with harassment. I have been followed home by a stranger once and been approached on the street several times. I sometimes feel uncomfortable walking at night alone.”
“I feel safer anywhere in the Czech Republic than in my own country’s capital.”
“I have faced physical molestation on public transport. That made me feel unsafe.”
“I feel generally safe here even at night, in my first year I bought a pepper spray just in case because I was not sure about the situation. I carried it with me for a long time and I never had to use it luckily. I am a bit scared of drunk people, sometimes they approach and yell at you so I think this is the downside of this city. Also, I feel that pick-pocketing is very common here, so this scares me too. I try not to carry important stuff in my backpack in the small pocket.”
- The Good in Brno – The Nature, Food, Public Transport
“I really enjoy how the city intertwines with nature, I love that summers are not as hot, I love the fact there are numerous opportunities to meet other people with shared interests.”
“I love nature and travel opportunities, its weird for me that neighbors are actually nice to one another (in my homeland neighbors don’t speak to one another, it’s suspicious). The public transport is amazing!”
“I really enjoy that I meet people from all over; I love the architecture and history and walking everywhere.”
“There are more and more foreigners here now, so it takes away the loneliness.”
“The interculturality of the cuisine here is great, you can find good food from many different cultures. That helps me deal with homesickness.”
“I’m from the States and the public transport system was so foreign to me when I first came here. It is great though, and eco-friendly.”
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