The Na Slovensku Aj Po Anglicky podcast, with support from Fjuzn, is continuing its series on the migrant experience with a new episode. This time we are exploring the shared spaces, online and offline, where foreigners feel at home.
Loneliness and isolation are unfortunate and common features of the migrant experience. To combat this, foreigners in Slovakia often turn to communities to find support and companionship. For most, nowadays, the first place to search is online, but this is a relatively recent phenomenon.
In the digital space
When John Boyd, a well-known musician, teacher, and translator, arrived in Slovakia in 1989, he discovered that finding other foreigners was next to impossible. “That is why I learned Slovak, because there wasn’t an option, really,” Boyd stated. Even in the early 2000s, foreigners were loosely organised online.
“I realised there was a gap in information here,” he noted. Therefore, the Scottish native took it upon himself to offer something to foreigners that didn’t exist when he arrived. In 2009 Boyd launched the Foreigners in Bratislava Facebook group.
The group offers foreigners, mostly in the Bratislava Region, a place where they can share information about life in Slovakia. There, one can find real estate listings, post local events, organise foreigner meet-ups, exchange ideas and engage in lively debates. While Boyd admits that the rapidly growing group, with nearly 50k members, can be contentious at times, he also believes that is has become more civil over the years.
Let’s meet offline
Once foreigners become more acquainted with Slovakia, they feel the need to connect with others in the real world. Meet-ups with foreigners and locals in pubs have always existed, but some prefer shared activities that involve less carbonation. For Lovie Moneva from the Philippines, that required lots of sweat and quick feet.
She first joined a Capoeira group. This was a sport she knew well from home, but practicing it with Slovaks in Slovak-language only classes was a new challenge. There, she could hone her leg sweeps while observing her Slovak classmates. “It’s an interesting anthropological experience for me,” she joked.
Moneva observed, it was after these classes where she could really get to know her classmates. Over “plural” beers, she discovered Slovaks were just as curious about her and her home as she was about Slovakia and Slovaks. In the end, she credits her willingness to get out and join groups with locals and foreigners for her overall positive experience in Slovakia.
For those that made Slovakia home
While communities offer more than just short-term help for newly arrived migrants, second generation migrants find organising equally important. Children of migrants can struggle with social stigmas while being culturally Slovak. As well, they are acutely aware of the challenges their foreign parents face.
This has led some to organise, to help bridge the gap between first generation migrants and their descendents, while educating the Slovak public about their culture. (Eva) Ha Than Thi Thu, and Quynh Anh La Thi from Vietnamske Korene (Vietnamese Roots) believe that by helping Slovaks understand Vietnamese culture, they can help to eliminate the stereotypes that have plagued their people for generations.
Through online organising and hosting in-person events like Deň Vietnamu (Vietnam Day), they can also connect young Vietnamese who may feel a cultural disconnect from their parent’s home country. With them, they can share their common experiences of living in Slovakia as second generation migrants. “When we meet and talk about family and daily stuff, we connect to each other without saying it out loud,” Eva noted.