Eva is a truly inspiring Czech lady who came to the UK at the age of 45, not knowing much English, leaving her family and successful job of a secondary school teacher behind. Instead of moaning she’s worked hard and now runs a busy complementary health practice and also gives private Czech lessons.
Can you tell us why you came to England and how long you’ve lived here now?
I moved to England in 2003. Why? Because I fell in love, totally foolishly like a teenager. Back home, I taught Czech language and history at a secondary school and loved it. I couldn’t imagine I could ever do anything else. Just before I decided to leave for England I’d even been offered a post at the Psychology department at the Technical University of Ostrava. But as the Czech saying goes – one can’t command one’s heart. And you know, when a woman falls in love a pair of oxen wouldn’t budge her. I was divorced, my two sons were grown up so I followed my heart.
How did you feel when you arrived?
I felt like Alice in Wonderland. I didn’t understand anyone and anything. My English skills were those of a school girl, practically non-existent. I studied French back in the Czech Republic and was interested in French culture and literature. I’d been planning a trip to Provence in the footsteps of my favourite author Marcel Pagnol and a visit to the Loire chateaux. I was never particularly interested in England. England for me meant images of the English industrial revolution from history and pictures from Dickens’ and Arthur Conan Doyles’ books. Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? Everything was new and different. I remember coming back home from the post office one day, where I’d just managed to sort out what I needed in my broken English, thinking that I’ve been given a second chance. And I decided not to waste it. I didn’t know anyone here apart from my now husband Tim and no one knew me. It was a completely fresh start and I kind of liked that.
Your English is excellent! How did you manage to learn it?
I realized pretty soon that I wasn’t going to learn English from Czech textbooks so I got rid of those and threw myself into reading English books. I read everything and anything with a dictionary in my hand, wrote lists of words and whole sentences that I didn’t know and then tried them on my husband, which helped me remember them. I also threw off my shyness and talked to everyone, me, a middle-aged woman would interrupt people’s conversation and ask them to explain words and phrases to me. At first, I was terrified but as my English got better my confidence grew and it got easier.
How easy was it to find work? Did you think you could maybe teach here when your English improved a bit?
I asked for my teaching qualifications to be recognized but was told I’d have to get a teaching degree here. So I decided I’d have to find something else. I started volunteering in a charity for deafblind people, then another for people with Down’s syndrome, then homeless people and drug addicts. I also taught English (!) in a centre for muslim women. In the meantime I discovered Exeter College and other further education courses for adults. It was between accountancy (my original profession) and massage. My mum was not well at the time, which kind of made my decision easier, because I hoped that thanks to my newly-acquired knowledge I might be able to help her get better. I enrolled on a year’s course and really loved it. I especially enjoyed anatomy and went on studying more alternative therapy courses, including Indian head massage and reflexology.
So that was when you started thinking about starting a business?
It was. I found a room to rent and started practicing. At first, it was just one day a week, then two and after a while I went full time. I’d never been self-employed in the Czech Republic so I didn’t quite know what to expect. Starting was simple enough – I just registered with HMRC, found a room, put up a few leaflets and that was it. Finding clients was relatively easy but keeping them was the hard bit. Competition in this field and this city (Exeter) is tough. I was lucky to find a room to rent in Age UK (then Age Concern), a charity for the over 50s. In time, I started to specialize in the elderly and did several more alternative and complementary therapy courses – Holistic approach to treating arthritis, Allergies and their treatment, Nutritional therapies, Lymphatic drainage, Massage for terminally ill and people with dementia and others. My most recent course was on sports massage. That one made me really understand how little we know about the human body and its functioning and how a well-performed massage can help in the treatment of not only physical problems but also various mental and psychosomatic disorders.
Tell us a little more about your business. What does your typical working look like?
When I started doing therapies I was full of energy and enthusiasm and could have worked 7 days a week. Gradually, I came to realize that my job was really physically as well as mentally demanding and that an exhausted therapist is no good to themselves, their business or their clients. So I reduced my working hours and now work 4 days a week, normally from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. I need an hour in the morning to get all my things ready – hot stones, shells, get honey and wax warmed up, oils, towels, client cards, a full kettle and a big mug of strong black coffee. But it’s not just about doing the job. I have try and keep on good terms with all the people that work in the charity – the receptionist who takes my appointments, the insurance clerk from the office next to mine, the many managers and even the cook. I normally say a few words to everyone first thing in the morning, ask about their health and their families, get the latest gossip, and before I know it my first client has arrived. I offer various therapies, from Swedish massage, stretching or ear candles to sports massage, and have a lot of clients so the day goes quickly. In the evening I go through my client records and if necessary look for more information in my clever books to see what other treatment would be advisable.
What else can you fit into you busy schedule and what are your business plans for the future?
I like teaching so apart from my usual work I also organize self-help reflexology courses and hand and foot massage for older couples. I also like learning – Italian, Czech for foreigners, new therapies. For about three years I wrote articles on various alternative therapies for a Czech magazine. I would like to write more, particularly about historically interesting places in England. But I have to find the right magazine for that. I have lots of plans but not as much energy. And I have dreams of opening a training and therapeutic centre with a small café and library. Maybe one day 🙂
Czechs living in the UK often say that the English look down on them and that a normal Czech person doesn’t have a chance to get anywhere here. What do you think about that?
People who look down on you are everywhere. I wouldn’t say it’s typically English trait. As I said, I work with the elderly, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s, and they don’t know much about the Czech culture or our country. All they know is what they used to hear from the radio or TV during the communist era. Most of that information was lies, of course, just like the Czechs were fed lies about the West. To return to your question, I think any haughtiness only reflects their fear of the unknown. On the other hand, I think Czech people are often seen as educated, hard-working, clever and honest people by the English. Everyone has a chance to achieve something but it’s always harder without an interesting degree or qualification, just like back home.
What would your message be to Czechs who would like to try starting a business but might not know how or are perhaps a bit scared?
Don’t be scared! Becoming self-employed is extremely simple in the UK and advice is available literally everywhere. Banks and even the tax office offer helpers and advisors for people who want to start their own business. All you need is an idea!