Swapna Deak: Our school has a lot of untapped potential
Firstly, how long were you in India, when and why did you come here?
Well I was born in India. I came here in 2002, with my husband.
Is he Indian?
No, he’s Slovak. He did his doctorate in India at the same university where I was studying, that’s where we met, and then it was sort of natural for us to come here.
How do your first impressions of Slovakia differ from how you see it now?
When I first came here, the dominant emotion was disappointment. It was nothing like I imagined it. I remember feeling a bit trapped, geographically speaking. With my Indian passport, it was really complicated to travel around. And I didn’t know the language that made me feel isolated. Before coming here, in India I didn’t try to learn the language, I knew just a few Slovak words. And they were mostly bad words!
Luckily, I had my family – my husband and kid, and my husband’s family has been really nice. Now I have almost forgotten the initial shock and feel quite at home.
With my family.
In what ways is life in India different from life in Slovakia?
India is overpopulated; there are huge crowds, a lot of noise, a lot of colors and smells around, and a general chaos. When it comes to urban areas, all this offers you a fast and interactive life, there is a feeling of always something going on, some new crazy thing or idea comes up from time to time and just the novelty of it keeps you happy, of course if you are the kind of person who enjoys it. But at the same time, when you get out of the cities you can also see simple life where nothing has changed for hundreds of years. Life in Slovakia is a little slow and monotonous comparatively, but if offers you privacy and keeps you marginally satisfied.
Have you ever experienced any kind of discrimination from Slovaks?
People don’t usually believe me, when I say it has been really fine. There may have happened some unpleasant things, but I tend not to notice. It’s good for your mental health- just to ignore stuff. Well, the situation is a bit different now, but when my husband first came to India, he too faced some kind of discrimination. Discrimination is a part of moving to a new, alien environment, so shouldn’t be taken too personally.
Is it hard to practice your religion and traditions here?
Yes, it is when it comes to traditions. There isn’t a very big Indian community here and most of the Indian festivals or traditional celebrations are essentially community based. So let’s say, if I want to cook a special meal, it’s hard to get ingredients. Or the festivals don’t have that festive atmosphere around them.
But religion – I’m not a very religious person. I mean I am religious somewhere inside, but I don’t believe in any organized religion. 🙂 I wasn’t brought up in religious environment. We never actually did any kind of religious things at home, so I don’t really miss it.
This guy is wearing the traditional medieval costume from my state.
Is there any Indian food that you can’t live without?
There are lots of things. Mostly delicious fruits that are typical to India. If I had to say everything, it would be a huge list. But when you live somewhere for a while, you get used to new things, you acquire new tastes.
Okay then what is something Slovak that you like?
Should I say bryndzové halušky?
You don’t have to!
Well I like them, it is a taste that I have acquired. But I like a lot of other Slovak foods as well. I started liking kapustnica recently, even though I don’t eat meat much, I like the overall taste of that whole thing.
Would you come back to India one day? Why or why not?
Of course, I would, this moment if I could. ☺ When I go back during vacations, I do feel a little alienated from the life there, but I would like to go back to the quiet simple life, a lot of sun, nostalgic monsoons and my family. Is it Kipling who said it – when you have lived in India, you can’t really live anywhere else.
Classical Indian photo with Taj Mahal 🙂
You mentioned how you used to take advantage of low-cost travelling when you were a teenager. What was your best experience from these adventures? And what would you recommend us in this area?
I always like to travel low cost. I don’t think you can go too low with costs while travelling in Europe, but in general cheaper hotels, simplest mode of travelling and choosing not very popular destinations help. When I was a student in India, I found volunteer work like teaching adult illiterates in rural areas or nature trails as the best way to travel and experience great moments. You can find a lot of adventure and beauty in local areas too, there is no need to go for fancy destinations. ☺
Were you teaching in India as well?
No, I didn’t teach there at all. Soon after I finished my degree, I moved here.
Then why did you become a teacher here?
It was the only option, I guess. When I came here, I wanted to go into research, that was my only plan then. I did my Master’s in Plant Biotechnology. I found that the only Biotechnology center at the time was in Nitra. We had no plans to move to Nitra with a small kid. I in fact applied at the department of plant physiology in SAV, but dropped the idea when I had a look at the stipend and the laboratories. Things have improved a lot in recent years there, but at that time the research proposition didn’t look appealing.
If you had stayed in India, are the labs there better?
Yes! I worked for one year at National Chemical Laboratory that collaborates with the university I studied at. I also did my project for Master’s there and worked there in summers just to get some more experience. And it’s fabulous! It’s huge, really good.
Do you like teaching now?
Yes, I like teaching. I had never considered teaching profession, but once I got into that, I found teaching great. And later I found out that there is a lot of freedom and self-respect in teaching and of course there’s a certain satisfaction.
How do you like Bilgym students?
They’re perfect! I taught at a state school until 2006 when I took maternity leave. I seriously thought of changing profession later, but I thought, “ No- teaching is the best!” Especially with small kids, it is the perfect profession for any woman. And when I joined bilgym, I was like- wow! Finally normal people, normal students! You know, you say something, they understand, ask intelligent questions, and are well behaved…I was really surprised. It’s a great pleasure to teach bilgym students.
This is maybe what I miss the most. Tea att small roadside tea shops. The dirtier the shop, the more divine the taste.
So, I love how you know a lot of Biology fun facts- what is your favourite part of Biology?
I don’t think I know a lot more than an average biology teacher; it’s just about having good memory and recall the fun facts at right time. Talking about the favourite part, I like genetics, and I keep track of all the new research happening in that area too.
Would you maybe like to go into research in the future?
Once you drop out of that, it’s difficult to get in. I don’t have any real plans in that field now.
Are you happy with your life now?
That’s a difficult question! I try to be happy with everything. I would say yes, I am.
Is there anything about this school that you would want to change?
I like a lot of things about our school. As I already said, the students are great, I have great colleagues and there is a nice cozy atmosphere, which makes it a joy to be here. I think our school has a lot more potential, which is untapped. I see many of the students intelligent and motivated and think they have the potential to do even better.
What could we do to increase that potential?
I think there is some room to increase the overall output. We have really good teachers, good students and we can afford to set the goals higher, go a bit advanced. I think you guys will handle it easily.
Every school system has some issues – even CS Lewis. As you are part of science department, what you would change or propose to further develop CS Lewis’s support of science?
As I already said, we have very good teachers, but somehow we need a complete makeover in science education. It would be good to bring in more practical work, appropriate facilities for it, teachers training and it would be great to focus on modern scientific disciplines, so that students get more interested in careers in new cutting edge technologies. Of course the students’ role in this process is quite essential. They should not opt out of science subjects, just because they think them demanding.
Maruš Žilinčíková, Natália Bajnoková, Viki Barillová