Behind the Smile: Getting to know Vera Sidlova '11

By Kristin Riegel

TMW: What brought you to Macalester?
VS: Well, I applied here in my gap year and what brought me is that in spirit, I thought that Mac was the school that would make me feel most comfortable as a person. I didn’t know a lot of about it but I also didn’t know too little either.TMW: What did you do in your gap year?
VS: I spent my gap year in Finland volunteering i antiracism program for adults and children. I was in charge of the regional program for students in western Finland.

TMW: What were the best and worst parts of your job?
VS: I really enjoyed what I was doing in terms of the work and I really enjoyed Finland and the people . . . but I had a lot of trouble with the organization and the projects surrounding the European Union. I learned a lot about bureaucracy and about people not always being willing to help you or work with you. Overall, it was really heart warming to do the actual work and really hard to deal with the bureaucracy.

TMW: Would you do it again?
VS: I really, really liked my gap year and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

TMW: Did you have any expectations about the United States or Americans before you came here?
VS: I tried not to have many ideas but of course that’s not the way it works. I expected everything to be in a huge rush and that everything and everyone would be really busy and productive; that was my main stereotype. I also expected people to smile a lot. I don’t know why, but I thought people would always be smiling.

TMW: When you arrived at Macalester you were 20 years old. Was it hard being older than the other first year students?
VS: In the beginning it was because it was just another difference on top of other differences. But now I’ve found my place and I don’t see it.

TMW: What were some of the other differences that you faced? How have you dealt with those differences?
VS: I think a lot of the differences had to do with growing up in a different environment and just having less access to the world because I didn’t grow up with a lot of knowledge about what was going on. When English is your first language you have a lot more media sources. There were a lot of differences connected to growing up in those different environments but I think but I overcame those by listening to different people’s experiences and having them listen to mine.

TMW: In your time here, have you been able to engage with the Macalester and larger Twin Cities community since you’ve arrived? If so, how?
VS: The LOC (Lives of Commitment) program-both the large group meetings and the weekly volunteering at Neighborhood House. I am really invested in this . . . I think it adds another sphere to how I think about Macalester and the United States.

I’ve also been involved in exco (Experimental College). I’ve been teaching a class on Czech culture with Dominika Seblova. I’ve had to explain my culture to people before but never to a large national crowd that doesn’t know so much, which is explainable because Czech Republic is so small. It’s made me think about my own culture in ways that I never had to before. It adds a whole other angle.

TMW: Do you still have a lot of friends in the Czech Republic? Do you talk to them often?
VS: I have a really tight environment at home because I grew up in a small place. I talk to a lot of people often. However, it’s hard because the university culture there isn’t as Internet based and therefore my friends aren’t on the Internet as often.

TMW: How would you describe Macalester to your friends or family at home?
VS: It is a challenge because the vast majority of people I know have not been outside of Europe. I spend a lot of time describing Mac as a community because at home universities are just open spaces. I also describe the whole political field, that there’s a mission and that it [Macalester] is about forming people. And of course, I describe the weather. I don’t think people at home would believe that it could get as cold as it does.

TMW: If you had to tell the Macalester student body just a few things about the Czech Republic what would they be?
VS: That Europe is a collection of distinct nations, and also that the Czech Republic is full of beautiful places, not just Prague, which is the capital.