They travelled to Poděbrady from 22 countries to learn or improve their Czech. After four weeks of intensive classes, all of the 71 participants of the Summer School for Czech Expatriates, organized by the Institute for Language and Preparatory Studies Charles University, received their certificates at the closing ceremony of the course held at the grounds of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Ministry, together with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and the House of Foreign Cooperation, participates in organizing the summer school.
The Mexican Ambassador Rosaura Leonora Rueda Gutierrez came to the Czernin Palace to greet a large group of Mexican students. In her speech, she recalled two important historical moments when her country firmly supported the Czechs - the first in 1938, when Mexico opposed the Munich Agreement, and the second after the tragedy in Lidice, when the village of San Jerónimo de Aculco, now part of the capital, was renamed San Jerónimo Lídice in memory of the victims.
In this part of town, 76-year-old Mexican Edna Gómez Ruiz, a regular participant in the courses, teaches music. The winner of the 2007 Gratias Agit Award, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs grants for promoting the Czech Republic's good name abroad, is also the president of the T. G. Masaryk Association.
"I met Edna in Mexico in 2003, and although she has no Czech roots, she has managed to transform her love for Czech culture and music into passion and action," said Jiří Krátký, Special Envoy for Czechs Living Abroad, praising Edna's efforts. "When you come to the Mexican town of Lidice, you will hear children singing the Czech anthem and Czech songs, because Edna is using music to pass on her knowledge of Czech to children who may get to see the Czech Republic eventually, just as she managed to organise this for them in 2011," he said before her piano performance.
The efforts of Edna, an honorary citizen of Lidice, and all the participants of the course to improve their Czech were highly appreciated by Veronika Kellerová, the mayor of Lidice. "Edna is a dynamo, Edna is energy, the whole village prepares for her visit two months in advance. Edna brings ten musicians and there is dancing and singing. No wonder one of the seventeen survivors, Marie Šuplíková, called Edna her adopted mother," Kellerová said, thanking her for representing the village abroad.
The Institute for Language and Preparatory Studies has been organising summer courses for Czechs living abroad at Poděbrady Castle since 2000 and the number of graduates has reached hundreds of participants from all over the world. This year, compatriots from Argentina, Chile, Latvia, Georgia and Syria visited the training centre. "Needless to say, this course is unique," said Dana Hůlková Nývltová, the director. "We teach you who have Czech roots and love Czech culture. Language is a treasure that no one can take away from you even in tragic moments, and as you can see in Edna's example, it can even be found."
"Our priority is to introduce the country, language and culture to our compatriots so that they feel a stronger desire to learn Czech and to get to know Czech customs, traditions and roots even after the summer course is over," said Marika Constable, the course coordinator. In addition to the language lessons, Poděbrady also offers a cultural programme and the popular practice of Czech traditions, during which the students dye Easter eggs and have a traditional Christmas dinner.
Photo: René Volfík
Text: Petra Köppl