Russian speaking students (from Russia and Kazakhstan) in Czech Republic
Over the last years the Czech Republic has entered the market of global education and started to promote an education for foreign students more actively. This trend has been reflected in the number of foreign students in the Czech Republic. According to data from the Czech statistic office 38 942 foreign students were studying in the academic year 2011 at Czech high schools. Predominantly there were foreign students from Slovakia (24 568), but also students from Russia (2874), Ukraine (1647) and from Kazakhstan (962). Comparing these data with the number of foreign students in the academic year 2003/2004 (13 136 people), it’s obvious that the number increased nearly three times. Ten years back, only 432 students from Russia, 461 students from Ukraine and 77 students from Kazakhstan were studying in the Czech Republic.
The case of Russian speaking students in the Czech Republic
My study explores the way of life of Russian speaking students in the Czech Republic and in a frame of this article (on the base of the ethnographical research) I’d like to discuss different aspects of educational emigration from Russia and Kazakhstan and motivations of the students for coming to the Czech Republic.
The greatest pull factor for educational migration to the Czech Republic is the possibility to study for free, when the foreigner knows Czech language. This fact also determines the way of the most students is coming to the Czech Republic.
Students usually come to the Czech Republic through Czech language preparation course, during the year or half of the year students suppose to learn the language and than get to the universities. A Czech language course, which is supposed to prepare students for studying in Czech at public universities, costs from 4 000 Euros (for students from Kazakhstan sometimes more expensive) and more per academic year.
Nowadays European education is valued very high in Russia and Kazakhstan and families are willing to make quite serious investments in education abroad. Some of my informants declared that they had to take a loan to afford the education and the first the most expensive year in the Czech Republic. But as they claimed it would be still less expensive than to pay for higher education for example in Russia. Moreover the European diploma has greater prestige.
Also the Czech Republic is usually seen as culturally and linguistically close country for Russian speaking students. As claimed one of the respondents: “For me it was easier to learn Czech and study in it than for example in German or in Spanish”
The big role also plays the geographical position of the Czech Republic, as it’s situated in the heart of Europe and it’s a part of the Schengen Area, residing in the Czech Republic can be seen like a good opportunity for travelling or later residing to another European country. Another reason why people choose the Czech Republic for migration is relatively low costs for living, especially in comparison with Western European countries and in some cases with Russia.
Another important factor is historical connection between these countries. Many respondents were conscious of the Czech Republic before moving to it. Some of them have already visited it before or had the friends or relatives who lived here. Also transnational organizations which help with immigration to the Czech Republic play a great role in finale decision to move. There are plenty of different agencies, language schools, which make the educational migration (and other forms of migration) much easier than ever before. In different advertisement texts of these agencies we can see how they try to sell a “dream about better life” in the Czech Republic or in Europe.
“Want to get a secondary or higher education in Europe and live in a prosperous developed country? Now the dream has come closer! We’ll open the way to European civilized life! The Czech Republic is a modern dynamically developing state in the heart of Europe.”
Some students are still minors, usually in age of 16 or 17 years, they come for obtaining bachelor university degree. Some students come to the Czech Republic after finishing a university in Russia or Kazakhstan. They come to get a second higher education or to continue as a PhD students. The average age of students is from 16 to 30 years old, usually representing a middle or up-middle class.
Amongst my respondents were students who claimed, that their decisions to come to the Czech Republic was made independently from parents and family only supported them in their decision. In other cases, the decisions were made by their parents, sometimes regardless to their children’s wishes.
Many parents of students, who live in the Czech Republic, didn’t have such opportunities to travel and study abroad when they were young, so in some cases parents try to fulfill their own ambitions through their children. As claimed one of the respondents:”I think it was my mother’s dream to live abroad, to use foreign languages every day. But she couldn’t fulfill it when she was young.”
Of course students are not only passive actors. For some of them imigration to the Czech Republic (or emigration from Russia and Kazakhstan) was their personal long term project and the study at the Czech university was a part of the plan for better inclusion to the Czech labour market or alternatively to the international global market. Usually these students are not willing/don’t have intentions to come back to their countries of origin. The education is the first step for opening other doors and possibilities and maybe to permanent residence.
“Here are more opportunities for travelling, study and self realization than in Russia. I don’t want to come back to Russia and the reason isn’t money, but different possibilities which are in Europe”, quoting female respondent from Yekaterinburg.
There are also students who come to the Czech Republic on something as “a gap year” or “on trial”, to see how things go and not exclude the possibility of coming back to Russia or Kazakhstan after their study in the Czech Republic.
Also when we talk about students and their migration process, it’s important to bear in mind, that some of them are still in process of growing up and looking for their place in the world. From this aspect student’s migration strategies are closely connected with the life-cycle of the person.
No matter what kind of plans or intentions students have, there life in the Czech Republic is pretty much determined by immigration laws/aliens acts and everything is complicated by the bureaucratic point of view, as citizens of Russia and Kazakhstan belong to a group of foreigners from so called third national countries with visa requirement.
Some respondents have mentioned that they always feel instability because of their legal position in the country, nobody is sure if the visa or long term residence will be extended. Most of the students are afraid to loose the student status and the possibility to prolong their stay.
State Office (formerly the Foreign Police and now the Ministry of Interior) always has the last word, whether the foreigner may stay in the Czech Republic or not. Therefore, in the respondents statements frequently appear phrases as: “If my visa will be extended for next year…if they don’t throw me out of school…if I find a job” and so forth.
But even with some complications with visa, many of the respondents acknowledge positive sides of the migration. By moving to other country they have more possibility to work on their identity and the status of student in Europe country give the chance to be a part of European diverse and mobile generation.
Český statistický úřad, www.czso.cz/
Ministerstvo školství, mládeže a tělovýchovy, Zákon 111/1998 Sb., o vysokých školách, http://www.msmt.cz/vzdelavani/uplne-zneni-zakona
Bhandari, Rajika – Blumenthal, Peggy (2009): Global student mobility. In: Higher Education on the Move: New Developments in Global Mobility (Global Education Research Reports), New York, IIE, pp. 1-15.
The article has been written as part of the project Migration to the Centre supported by the by the Europe for Citizens Programme of the European Union and the International Visegrad Fund.
This article reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
Liudmila Kopecká is a PhD student of Anthropology at the Charles University in Prague. In her PhD thesis she focuses on migration of students from Russia to the Czech Republic. In her free time she likes travelling, reading and studying foreign languages.