“The Czech sections were created in 1920, two years after the birth of Czechoslovakia. They were created thanks to the partnership and friendship that linked France and Czechoslovakia at the time. France was one of the countries that helped a lot in the creation of Czechoslovakia. France supported a team of politicians and historians who, during the First World War, worked for the formation of Czechoslovakia. When this country was created, France wished to have strong special and bilateral relations and prepared a multi-part education system with Czechoslovakia, including the creation of Czechoslovakian sections at the time in France in three French cities, Nîmes, Dijon and Saint- Germain-en-Laye. But also the establishment of a French high school in Prague, the creation of the French Institute in Prague, at the time called the Ernest Denis Institute, and the creation of the chair of Slavic studies at the Sorbonne. All this represented a device that allowed talented and hardworking young Czechoslovakians to be trained in the French way and, for France, to have young Czech elites of French and Francophile language. “
How have they evolved since their creation?
“The sections were created as a means of bilateral diplomatic cooperation between France and Czechoslovakia 100 years ago. Today we find ourselves in a very different context which is that of multilateral Europe, an open world and the sections still exist. From this point of view it is the context that has evolved but the sections themselves have not changed much. What has changed is that these are no longer Czechoslovakian sections since Czechoslovakia ceased to exist, so we only have Czech sections and there are only two. Some details of daily life have changed with the evolution of the world, but the principle itself remains. This is a program for dynamic, open and motivated young people who are learning French and who are ready at the age of 15 to participate in a competition and leave the family cocoon by going abroad to a boarding school. Not only will they learn a new language but also a new way of working, they will discover the world and discover themselves. “
Who were these Czechs who wanted to study in France and what is their profile today?
“According to what we know about the first pupils and what we know about today’s pupils, what hasn’t changed at all is this personal dynamism and the fact that among the pupils there are young people from all over Czechoslovakia and today from the Czech regions, and all The situations. What hasn’t changed either is that in the 1920s there was a fund to support and grant scholarships to those who came from modest backgrounds. Today there is a fund created by the Alumni Association to support those from more modest environments but that have enough talent and courage to leave. “
How many students are currently studying in these Czech sections and how were they selected?
“Today there are 12 students in Nîmes, four for promotion, and 18 students in Dijon, a mixed section, so we have six students for promotion, three girls and three boys. Every year, the competition is held the same way. The Czech Ministry of Education, which is also a major partner of the program, prepares the competition. The first step goes through the file. Students must meet the minimum requirements relating to their general grades, then in French and Mathematics, and have a recommendation from their principal. And then, if they pass this phase, they are called to a written competition and then for some to an oral in the presence of the two principals of the high schools of Nîmes and Dijon. “
What happens to these students in general after they pass through the Czech sections?
“Czech pupils are as free as the French to choose their orientation. We find all the professions, researchers, lawyers, doctors, translators and many people who are moving towards diplomacy and towards European structures. About 40% of students return to university in the Czech Republic, 40% remain in France and 20% move elsewhere. “
As for the exhibition, what is it made of and who was behind it?
“The exhibition was conceived by the Alumni Association to provide an element for the centenary of the sections and we started preparing it in 2020. Initially the idea was to present it in Dijon during the Czech days, but Covid has changed the plans. . So we opened it a month ago here at the Institut français. It is an exhibition made up of elements donated by the elderly. There is a series of black and white photos taken by a student from Dijon around 1970. These illustrate the pupils’ daily life, college, high school, their outings, their hobbies and their free time. We also present some original documents to be consulted on the notice boards and information panels that shed light on the history of the sections, their evolution in the international context and which tell some interesting paths of the alumni. Today, having been a student of the Czech sections is a plus of the CV. But if you were a Czechoslovakian student before World War II, later, under Communist Czechoslovakia, having studied in a capitalist country was perceived rather badly. We are fortunate to see that the sections helped some students’ careers but others paid the price due to the political regime of the time. “
What are the other objectives or projects of the alumni association, what is their role?
“The association is there to document this history and to reflect on the evolution of this program since history is important but the future is even more so. We are working on applications for the presentation of this program in Czech high schools. We are there for parents and students to answer questions, to share our experience. We have created a support fund so that students who wish to leave, and who have the necessary language skills, the courage, a certain maturity but who come from a more modest background are not stopped by their economic situation. We have published a book, made a film, we are organizing meetings. “
What is your personal history with the Czech sections and what is your role in the association today?
“I am part of the very first promotion following regime change. I left for Nîmes in September 1990. We were eight years old and we were the first after 20 years of interruption of the program. At the Daudet high school in Nîmes, we discovered at the same time what a Czech section is, how it works, how children under 15 are supervised. It was an extra adventure, today the students have an easier situation because they have their friends there to help them. For us to be in Wenceslas Square in November 1989, not far from here, to see freedom arrive and find ourselves in France nine or ten months later, it was truly a dream. The name of the exhibition is “A Czech Dream in France” and we were living this dream ourselves. What the sections have brought us is an energy for life to follow and a personal experience, a capacity for adaptation and discovery. “
“We were learning a language of a country that was previously impossible to discover. We had correspondents, we could read French magazines but that was enough. We wanted to discover and travel as it was not possible before. “