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Not So Different, After All

Story ID:537
Written by:Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Manhattan Kansas USA
Year:2002
Person:Jana Vojtova
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Not So Different, After All

Not So Different, After All
By
Nancy Julien Kopp

My husband and I scanned the faces of the passengers as they moved through the exit ramp after deplaning. Tall and blonde…that was the description we had received from Jana in an e-mail sent from Prague only days before. It’s amazing how many tall, blonde women were on that plane. I held a sign saying… JANA VOJTOVA, and, finally, one of the passengers filing through the doorway recognized the name. The fatigue that masked her pretty face lifted when she made her way through the crowd to us, hand outstretched in greeting and perhaps relief.

“Those international students are so different,” a friend had said earlier that week. The only difference I noticed in this young woman standing before us was her stylish European clothes.

On the long journey from Prague in the Czech Republic, Jana passed through airports in Frankfurt, Germany and Chicago before arriving in Kansas City. She traveled this great distance to find strangers waiting for her. We were to transport her two hours west to begin a semester of study at Kansas State University, another unknown. She’ll claim us as her "family" while she studies in America. She will live in a dorm but spend some time in our home, call on us when she has questions or feels lonely.

We'd already met another Czech student on an earlier flight. Now, Eliska greeted Jana warmly, speaking sometimes in English, sometimes in Czech
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Each girl lived in America once before. Eliska had been a high school exchange student a few years earlier, and Jana spent eight months in New Jersey working as a nanny, so they were prepared for a different culture.

Jana’s luggage had not arrived with her, much to her dismay. After making arrangements to have it delivered to us the next day, we took the girls to The Cracker Barrel restaurant for dinner. Young and healthy appetites did justice to the meals ordered, and they both chattered gaily throughout the meal. They had so many questions about the university and the town where it was located. Happily, we had the answers. We assured them they would come to know and love purple, the Kansas State University color.

The two hour drive to Manhattan afforded time to get to know one another, learn about families, what the girls would be studying and more.

Jana and Eliska spent the night in our home, and the next morning, after breakfast, I drove them to the campus where they were to attend a meeting for International Students.

As we approached the appointed campus building, dozens of large flags fluttered in the breeze along a sidewalk by the International Student Union. Flags of all the countries that had sent students were represented. Both girls were excited to see the flags and quickly spied the one from the Czech Republic.

Their eagerness was suddenly replaced by silence as they spotted the dozens and dozens of students milling around the doorway of Weber Hall. Together they chorused, “I’m so scared!” After a few words of encouragement from me, they set out with both eagerness and anxiety to begin their new adventure as International students
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As I drove home, I thought about how much they were like my own American daughter and son. Raised in a completely different culture on another continent did not seem to make a difference. Until you heard their accented English, you would never know they were not born and raised right here in America. I smiled as I remembered Jana making a phone call to her mother as soon as she arrived at our home the previous night. Czech mothers want to know their child arrived safely as American mothers would in a reverse situation. They have the same hopes and fears for their children as we do, I think. And the girls? They had those first-day-of-school jitters like any American girl. We’re not so different, after all.

Author's Note: This story took place four years ago. Jana has gone back to Prague, finished at a university there, and works for a real estate development company. I had the great pleasure of spending an afternoon with her in Prague recently.