From Iowa to the Czech Republic and Beyond

Waters Headshot1This is week three in my guest posts series and I am so excited to share a post from my friend Janna. She is eccentric, a great listener, and works like the energizer bunny! For her talent at nationals, Janna gave a puppet show completely in Czech! It was definitely one of the coolest talents I have ever seen! I hope you enjoy hearing about all the cool things she is doing!

I was so honored and excited when Danielle asked me to write a guest post for “My Czech List”. As we here in Iowa get ready for Houby Days, and the 15th Annual Miss Czech-Slovak Iowa Pageant this weekend, it seems like the perfect time to reach out to all of you. I care to wager that most of you, the readers, are probably unfamiliar with who I am – so without further ado, please allow me to introduce myself.

My name is Janna Waters. I was the Miss Czech-Slovak Iowa Queen of 2014-2015. I am originally from Marshalltown, Iowa, and graduated with my Bachelor’s in International Studies: Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies from the University of Iowa in 2013. During my time at Iowa, I participated in 4 study abroad programs that spanned 5 countries: Russia (twice), Italy, Estonia, Ukraine and the Czech Republic. I was a student of Czech language, literature and culture for 3 years, and also founded The Czech Connection – a university student organization.

Ever since I was a little girl, my dream has been to earn my PhD and teach History at the university level (ballerina and professional basketball player also topped the list, but this seemed to be the most plausible). After my graduation in 2013, it took me a couple of years to find the right program for me. In the meantime, I became a non-degree seeking graduate student at the University of Iowa and a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Asian and Slavic Languages and Literatures Department. I also worked full-time as an assistant store manager at a retail store; all while keeping up with my queenly duties and events (If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I have 2 speeds: “0” and “100,” and not much in between!).

To say that my year as Iowa’s Queen was nothing but magical would be a complete understatement. It changed my life, pure and simple. The people I met, the Midwestern communities that welcomed me in as one of their own, and the sisterhood that I formed with past, present and future queens will remain with me for the rest of my life. Our Czech and Slovak culture is truly special and completely unique; it is our privilege and duty to preserve it for future generations.

During my last few months as Iowa Queen, I was admitted into Russian and East European Studies Master’s programs at three universities: The University of Michigan, The Ohio State University, and The University of Texas at Austin. After many hours of research and campus visits, I decided to make Ann Arbor my new home. Michigan’s Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies (CREES) is one of the best, most respected programs of its kind in the US, and I knew it was where I was meant to be. On my very first visit to Ann Arbor, the program director asked, “Aren’t you Janna, the Czech Queen of Iowa?!” and that has been my identifier ever since…even when I meet important scholars! My focus in the program is on Imperial Russian History, and History of the Czech lands under the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I am the only Czech and Slovak specialist in my cohort; something that I take a lot of pride in. The University of Michigan has been very good to me, and I have loved my time in Ann Arbor so far. In Fall 2015, I was hired as a Graduate Student Instructor in the Slavic Languages and Literatures Department for the upper-level undergraduate course “The Czech New Wave and Its Legacy.” Fate always has a funny way of working out, and as luck would have it, my course supervisor was also the supervisor of my mentor from Iowa during her time at UMich in the early 1980s. During the Winter term (which is the equivalent of a “Spring” term at almost any other college/university) I was hired to work with the course “Central European Cinema,” and we watched a number of films from the previous semester. As a terminal Master’s student, our funding is not guaranteed, and GSIships are not promised to us. I have been exorbitantly fortunate for the opportunities that have been presented to me, and the amazing faculty that I get to work with every day. In Fall 2016, I will start another GSIship with the Screen Arts & Cultures Department teaching a mid-level “What is Film?” course. My teaching resume is becoming ridiculous!

Our program highly encourages us to work on our language skills and/or research for our thesis over the summer break. At U-M, we begin classes the day after Labor Day, we only get a 2 week winter break, our Winter exams are over by the end of April, which frees up 4 months of summer for us! As I have noted above, I rarely take the “easy” way out in any situation, and my summer plans are no different this year. After spending many hours on funding applications and research proposals, the academic gods smiled on me. I am the recipient of a Foreign Language/Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship through the federal government; I will be spending 7 weeks in Prague (beginning in June) studying Czech language at Charles University once again. When my time is up in the City of A Thousand Spires, I am off to Bratislava to begin my internship with the Bratislava City Gallery. I will spend 2 weeks there, and in mid-August I will travel to Náměšť nad Oslavou (near Brno) for a Moravian Folk Music Master Class. During the Winter term I took a course called “Czech Poetry Through Song”. As the only non-vocal performing student, I worked on researching lesser known composers and poets, as well as folklore, language and history; my time at the Master Class will be spent similarly. We’ll be living and working in a 17th century castle, so life could be a lot worse. When that week is up, I will travel back to Bratislava and resume working at the Gallery for another 2 weeks before flying back to Detroit on September 1st – Fall term begins on Sept. 6th.

In addition to my FLAS fellowship, I also received 4 other forms of research funding from various institutes and centers at the University of Michigan, such as the International Institute, the Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia, Rackham Graduate School, CREES and the Slavic Dept. I am completely humbled, yet proud, to announce that I am FULLY FUNDED for my 3 months of work in Europe!! I received the most summer funding out of anyone in my cohort (but, I am also doing more work in comparison). My research project is entitled, “Folklore through Sculpture, Print and Song in Moravia and Slovakia,” and I will be working on small parts of it in Prague, with the majority being conducted at the Gallery and Master Class. I plan to dedicate a section of my thesis to this project; as of right now, my Master’s thesis will look at folklore representations during the Czech and Slovak national revivals.

So, I guess the big question is, did my reign as Queen influence my future scholarship and career? I would say “yes” and “no”. Before my coronation, I had planned on studying Russian and Czech history in graduate school, and making that my life’s work. I will say that my time as Queen heavily influenced my thesis topic, and preliminary research trips for it.

I wish I had been given some glimpse into just how drastically my life would change as the Iowa Queen before I was crowned. This opportunity was an important stepping stone on my life path; while I cannot compete again due to my age, I still stay very active in the Cedar Rapids Czech community and with the Miss Czech-Slovak Iowa Pageant. My intuition tells me that I have not yet ridden out all of the ripples that the Miss Czech-Slovak Organization created in my life, and it makes me excited about the future of our culture.

 

As always, if you have questions, comments, thoughts of any kind, please leave them below or on the facebook page! If you want to read either of the previous guest posts, you can meet Michaela here and Meagan here!

The Secret Struggles of a Czech Queen

imageOne of the first concerns I hear when I’m talking to someone about becoming a Czech Queen is time commitment. My response is “how much time do you want to commit?” Some chapters here in Nebraska ask for you to go to a certain amount of festivals or events. Some ask you to come to their festival and anything else is up to you.

For me, once I started going to festivals and got involved, I was hooked. I spent more time as a state queen traveling then as a national queen, because as a state queen the events were local and for nationals I tried to visit other states and different types of Czech communities. The amount of time you spend is really up to you, but the the more things you go to, the more you will experience and learn.

The concern of time was followed closely by insecurity and the uncertainty of being able to succeed at each category that the contestants compete in. This is hard because you will show your skills in speaking and charisma, talent, knowledge of Czech history, culture, and traditions, and folk costumes. This is a lot to absorb at first and can be intimidating, but even with minimal previous knowledge, everything can be learned and anyone who puts in the effort can succeed.

I want to share a secret with you: during my three years as a reigning Czech queen I went through many seasons of change. In each of these seasons I struggled with something new on top of learning the ins and outs of being a Czech queen.

1. SPRING: I was crowned chapter queen in March during student teaching. It was really hard for me to even carve out time to make it to my own coronation while I was student teaching. I had very demanding teachers and I was co-directing the musical. There was no time for sleep, let alone time to start something new, but I just felt I needed to do it.

2. SPRING: I prepared for state while student teaching. The Nebraska pageant is the second week of June and school didn’t get out until the last week of May. Oh, and I planned my graduation party during this time 😉

3. SUMMER: I spent the entire summer traveling. Every weekend I went to a new festival or parade. It was a blast to meet all the interesting people and experience how the culture and traditions are different from place to place. It was also eye opening because I never knew that these events and culture existed in the small areas around eastern Nebraska or that there were communities in the surrounding states.

4. FALL: I spent the Fall of my state reign in studying abroad in Brno, Czech Republic. This was the best decision I ever made. It was hard to be away from home for family events, but I had so many incredible experiences. I made friends from around the world. I learned more about the culture and myself in my six months abroad than I did in the entirety of my college experience.

5. WINTER: My return home the week of Christmas was a rough transition. I was thrilled to see my family and spend the holidays with them, but once I had to settle back into life here I was incredibly unhappy. I missed everything about living in Europe from my friends, to my classes, to the atmosphere of Brno, the ability to travel, and the culture I was immersed in. It hurt how much I missed living in the Czech Republic and when I returned it felt like a part of me was missing.

6. SPRING: My fiancé of six years and I broke up and I decided to return to the Czech Republic. I spent most of May and a week of June back in Brno. I couch surfed and met with all my friends. I stayed with a friend who was living in southern Bohemia for a week while I started research on a Fulbright program and returned just in time to pass on my crown to the next Nebraska queen.

7. SUMMER: In August I was crowned 1st runner up at nationals. It was really hard for me to get everything after I came home from the Czech Republic. I spent most of the spring making my costume and the summer practicing facts and my talent, but I did it almost completely on my own. I was working full time, and the frustration of handling all this alone is something I don’t want to see anyone else go through.

8. FALL: I started dating my now husband at Nationals. We started seeing each other over the summer, but nationals weekend we made it official.

9. WINTER- SPRING: I really struggled raising funds to travel during my reign. There is not a lot of funds for the queens to travel and the year I was crowned the pageant had a crisis and almost didn’t make the crowning gifts. So, I wanted to travel around the Midwest to experience the other pageants and festivals and it took almost all of my savings to do so. It was worth it. Everyone was really helpful in offering their homes and meals to help make it happen, but it was hard.

10. SUMMER: My last summer as a reigning queen I started helping on the Nebraska pageant committee and gave my crown away in August. It was an odd transition from being a queen to being a “has been.” I have a passion to help other queens get started and to experience all the cool things I did without having to struggle with the same things, so I started mentoring. Three months later I started planning my wedding.

I know it may seem daunting at first to become a Czech queen. Over the seasons of your reign you may go through some of the same struggles. There will be a time commitment and you may feel insecure at times, but know that there will be others who are going through the same struggles and many people who want to help you, including me!

When I was first asked to apply I had very little knowledge of the Czech community and had never been to a festival, but just three months later I was crowned Miss Czech-Slovak Nebraska, so it’s possible!
I hope you found this article helpful! I would love to hear about the seasons of your reign or any of your concerns starting out! Comment below or go to the MyCzechList Facebook page and tell me your thoughts.