This is a contribution by Tyler Durdan, a man who’s been posting thoughtful comments on the site for quite some time now. In this wonderfully candid article he presents how he experiences Slovakia. A country that is still mostly unknown to the outside world, often confused with Slovenia or Czechoslovakia (a country that doesn’t exist anymore) and internationally almost exclusively known as a place where they have droves of beautiful women.
1. How do you like Slovakia?
The Slovak Republic is the second most different country I have ever lived, visited, explored and worked.
I appreciate the fact of having a castle readily accessible to view or visit, beautiful nature, landmarks, and historical sites and there are always activities to keep one busy in any season, indoor or outdoor with friends, family or alone.
I especially like the geographically central location of being in the center of Europe with easy access to neighboring countries and cities.
I have done some extensive touring of the different parts of Slovakia to get a feel. Among the places I have visited are Vlkolinec, Trebisov, Copok, Bardejov, Cicmany, of course the Tatras, Tatranska Polianka and many other villages and cities. I have had the honorable pleasure of being hosted by families for traditional occasions, holidays and even for simple Sunday lunch.
Living here has sparked more self assessment than critique/criticism. I realize what an invaluable experience this has been to live, work and try to integrate within a post-Socialist country.
So, maybe I tend to like it because I have become addicted to adversity. I like seeing what my fortitude is. I have spent many years living in fear of anything new and different, trying to remain untouched and unaffected. I welcome the daily challenges I face.
2. What are some challenges that you have encountered/faced while living here?
I would mention the governmental and educational system; the customs, traditions and mentality are of course the ones that will always be up front when residing abroad. The obvious challenge is the language.
Secondly, for me, your national dish, Bryndzovy Halusky:I simply find it unappetizing. All of the ica’s, slivovica, malino, etc, the third legs of drinking and let’s play get the foreigner drunk. I am not an alcohol enthusiast.
But! The most important challenges and most significant ones have been the challenges of self. Myself!
Many of my challenges have been internal and intangible. For example;
Self-reflection: I have had to evaluate and reassess myself and my values and how I would integrate not by nit-picking-looking for and focusing on negative things and aspects to support my FEAR and hesitation to change. It is easier to blame fear for things that are new and different. I’ve learned that I do not learn anything from easy. Easy, there is no real effort. Something of a challenge forces a different thought process. I had to adapt and adjust so as not to be intentionally offensive without compromising my originality and my mentality, which is blatantly unconventional and non-traditional.
Adjustment and adaptation are not the same as changing my originality. In other words, I’ll never be Slovak or any other naturalized culture. If I lived here more than 50 years I would have to keep myself original. There may be characteristics that are more agreeable, but no one should be required to change themselves personality-wise to attract friends, popularity or cultural approval. I cannot make myself over to be more appealing to anyone. Be careful of anyone in your life who requires you to change for them to like you.
I do refuse to adjust some areas; my smile. I am a happily, single man in his fifties with a freedom I had never thought of achieving. I am grateful for this stage of life and confidence I hold at this time. At times I have looked upon another person’s life and viewed it through my eyes only and made a judgment as to if they were happy or unhappy but it was really a comparison based on my life. Unless I walk in someone’s shoes for a day I really do not know anything of their life. If I pay too much attention to another person’s life then my own life goes unattended.
I quickly remembered the experience from my days being in the Middle East in the early nineties; that was the most different country that I had ever visited but I was not there for a visit as a tourist but I was there rather as an unwelcomed-protector.
I had been very well prepared about the culture and the laws of the land of the Middle East prior to arriving in the country. I had no such preparation before arriving here in the Slovak Republic.
I didn’t come here to disrespect, offend, critique or judge. Therefore in order not to be disrespectful, offensive, critical or judgmental then I needed to re-adjust myself. I decided to look at the qualities that I have and the qualities I needed to study and develop quickly. So, remaining myself and finding a way to fit in as best as possible was my initial challenge.
3. What are some comparable differences between the USA and the Slovak Republic?
As I mentioned previously the government, language, educational system, the customs and traditions and yes the mentality, but I do not want to waste time on the difference of specifics and petty frivolities. People expect me to say things that they could easily disapprove of or challenge me about.
No matter where I have been I have learned the same things. There are all kinds of people all over the world. Nice, smart, educated, happy, unhappy, rich, poor, satisfied, unsatisfied, will never be satisfied, narrow minds, open minds, brave, whiners, go-getters, lazy, complainers who talk and do nothing and people who show action. Those differences are neither bad, good, better, the best or worst but simply different.
How offensive and ignorant it would be for a person to always be vocally critical of a place they do not have to be. That type behavior would have a reflection on me not others.
The importance here is for me to remember that I am not in my home country. I am a guest here. Slovakia is my host country. Much like the host of the homes I have visited; I wanted to be on my best behavior, display the highest level of manners and etiquette, being as polite as possible. Saying, “thank you, and “please”.
There are many sayings which refer to this content, ‘It’s your behavior that shows if you are dignified and educated not your educational degree.
There are some differences that I appreciate or rather notice more because I am in a different country. The importance of being supportive of family members during special occasions such as birthdays, name’s days is a big delight for me. I am happy about the fact that my name actually appears in the name’s day calendar as well.
I have addressed my top three most commonly asked questions during my time here. The responses have changed and have become more reflective over time of everyday life and experience. Perhaps, you didn’t hear the answers you wanted to hear. Perhaps you yourself have never thought of yourself in a light as I do of myself. It has been a journey and I look forward to the journey continuing.
In 2005 I arrived in Bratislava without any expectation other than I would be working here. I feel that no Slovak guidebook could have prepared me for my experience. Now, 13 years later there has not been anything better than my own experience. I am now happy that I did not arrive with lots of preconceived ideas, with my mind flooded with false ideas and inaccurate comments from angry tourists who traveled here and had an unpleasant experience and any other misinformation to basically just ignite fear.
Fear is extremely powerful, convincing and obedient. Fear is bold. Fear is strong..Fear is lonely. Fear needs a host to feed on (oh yes, fear will eat all of the fear you feed it). Fear tells you everything you want to hear. Fear is comforting. Fear is dependable. Fear will be there for you every time you need it as an excuse.
My fear was like a trusted friend whispering in my ear. When I say I am scared or afraid my body, mind and soul listens. Every time I feed fear it lets me know that it is greedy and wants more FEAR.
Here is something maybe you didn’t realize about fear. Fear is within you. Fear will ONLY go away; when you are not fearful anymore. Then fear is like I mentioned before, it is comforting so, when you no longer have fear, it will come back to check on you.
Some of the most negative aspects of my life have been deeply rooted in fear. The only thing fear has ever given me is more fear. My fears unchecked become my limitations, my restrictions, my hindrances.
I do not place any restrictions on the boundaries of how I live my life nor will I allow anyone else to place their restrictions on me. In other words, if someone places you in a box, they need to categorize you. This is why knowing oneself is such an essential element to being your most authentic self.
I am still learning to make my fears my motivation, my encouragement I have even sometimes openly stated how afraid I am in life to try and do new things. My life used to be continuous fear, blame and a myriad of excuses. I asked myself why I wasn’t as good at doing as I was at making excuses not to do something. Moving my lips is easy. Idle talk is very cheap. Words can easily flow from our mouths but we have to consider the cost of those words we say. Putting my money where my mouth is and showing my capability is more substantial. To show myself as worthy and deserving of the things I want in my life is constant and consistent hard work. So, I do not have time to be jealous nor do I have time to look at another person’s life in comparison to mine. My father’s words to me on jealousy were these; “Son, becoming jealous and showing your jealousy reflects very negatively on who you are. It means son that you do not think you are good enough or as good as someone you are comparing yourself to. It means you think that if you possessed what they have, or that if you achieve what they have achieved that you will appear as they do. Jealousy is about an individual’s personal insecurity.”
My life began with changes, right after high school, my father posed a question; “Son, what are you going to do?” The question made me think, I can’t live here anymore? I am responsible for myself?
My dad is throwing me out? NO! He was pushing me out.
Sometimes, we as people we won’t move unless or until we are pushed. Pushed is used colloquially as a bit of encouragement with some serious force.
Life has taught me that change is the one constant in life. Change is coming, will always keep coming. Change goes smoothly for me if I follow the flow of change. It goes roughly when I attempt to swim against the current flow of change. Change will win every time. Nothing stays the same nor should I stay the same.
Whether you have made a small or large physical change, people will let you know. “Oh, you look differently. “Oh you seem differently than before.” It can make others change because now they have to get to know a new you. It either motivates or frightens them away. They too now have to learn to be different around you.
My life has been about self-reflection, self-awareness and change. There is a Serenity Prayer about change. Accepting what one cannot change, having the power to change what we can and the wisdom to know the difference. That is a beautiful prayer that means nothing if I don’t act. I cannot be dormant and think it and hope it happens. I also have to be willing to allow and welcome that change. At some point in life my mottos should be in the forefront. In other words if I say I’m a hard worker, you should see that and never have to ask. If I say I love teaching, you should see and feel that. If you say you want to learn to do something, I should see that full effort. Remember. I haven’t learn anything from easy.
So, the shock of culture made me question who I am. What I am made of? What are my own strengths? What are my weaknesses that need to become strengths?
What I have shared with you today has been my journey of constant change so far in my life. This is in no way, me trying to influence you to be like anyone other than whom you are, originally.
Written by Tyler Durdan and published here with the permission of the author.