On Monday of the second week, we interviewed Zuzana, a Slovak librarian at SSEES. She lived in both Prague and Bratislava before moving to London, and has been here for about 8 years. Talking to her, we learned a great deal about what it means to be Slovak in London and what it is like to come here from such a different place.
Throughout our conversation, Zuzana showed a great deal of appreciation for the concepts of global citizenship and intercultural interaction, which both impressed and surprised us as we made no direct attempt to bring them up at the time. She told us the story of when she first moved to London – originally for just a short stay visiting a friend on her way to Barcelona – and has never been able to truly leave since. She says that the charm and ‘blend of cultures’ in London keep bringing her back. Just a few days before we had been discussing this quality of London as a cultural mixing pot, and it was quite warming to see that people from place outside the UK – the people that are after all responsible for it being that way – love it for the same reason.
Zuzana did not always enjoy London so much – when she first moved here she struggled to find an enjoyable job and was quite overwhelmed. Arriving around the time of the 6/6 bombings, she got the first impression of London as quite a threatening and unwelcoming place, a harsh contrast to the warmth with which she talks about it today.
We asked Zuzana about meeting and interacting with other Slovaks in London – apparently it is both more and less difficult than one might think. She says that often Czechs in London invite the Slovaks to their events (they apparently are ‘more organised’ with holding them) and nowadays she frequently hears Slovak in passing in the streets. However, that is often from tourists, and outside of SSEES Zuzana estimates she knows only between 10-20 other Slovak people. That said, she knows there are significant Slovak communities in North London (she thinks Slovaks like the large amount of green spaces there) and in Stratford, where she lives now.
When asked how London compares to Bratislava, Zuzana responded that Bratislava felt ‘like a village’ in comparison (with a population of just 420,000, its is sometimes known as the ‘Little Big City’ and Slovakia as a whole has fewer inhabitants than Greater London). Zuzana says that she does not miss the Slovak food but that she did miss the openness and warmth of people back home. This is a common complaint of non-Britons visiting the country and perhaps shows that there is still room for improvement in our approach to global citizenship as a whole – after all, if we can’t even open up to our ‘own people’ properly, how can we truly connect with those from further away?