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ESJ Bids Jan Goodbye

By Susan Stewart / L’Observateur / January 21, 1998

A foreign exchange student at East St. John High School was bid goodbyeby teachers and students.Jan Hovorka of Czech Republic said he will never forget his time at EastSt. John High School and in the United States.

“You surprised me so much today, I didn’t expect anything like this,” hesaid of the party Betty Clement’s first hour eleventh grade English IIIclass gave for him.

The class gave Hovorka, who attended the school one semester, mementosof Mardi Gras and good ‘ole Louisiana traditions like Tabasco sauce, beadsdoubloons and a T-shirt with a Mardi Gras emblem on it.The also enjoyed king cake.

Hovorka told the class that at times they may have thought he was weirdfor studying so hard.”That’s just the way I do it,” he said.

Clement said Hovorka was at the top of the class grade wise.Robbie Tomeny, Hovorka’s second hour Home and Family teacher, hadnothing but praise for her foreign exchange student.

“Jan is exceptional student, he really is. He participated in class andmade close friends easily,” she said.

In Clement’s class, each student got a chance to bid their classmatefarewell by reading aloud poems and letters they wrote to him,affectionately expressing their feelings of having him in class andlearning of his ways and culture.

Clement said it was not only a gesture toward Hovorka, but an Englishassignment in which she would grade on presentation, oral communicationand grammatical usage.

As each student approached the podium to read a letter, Hovorka listenedattentively to every word spoken.

“I listen with my heart,” he said.

One student praised Hovorka for demonstrating that education isimportant and commented about his accent.

“I really enjoyed hearing you talk,” she said.

Afterwards, Hovorka said: “I know how y’all must have felt writing thosepapers for me; I hope you weren’t upset about having to do it.”

Candace Clement, a senior, said the class had fun working with Jan.”We got to compare U. S. and Czech Republic, and he shared a lot with usabout his viewpoint of parenting and home life,” Clement said.

Clement noted one distinct change is that Hovorka’s English improved. “It wasn’t as clear as it is now, and I remember he’d pull out his littlebook all the time (containing English words and meanings).”

She also recalled the look Hovorka had on his face when he first came.”He’d have that little puzzled look on his face when we’d talk to him,”

Clement said, smiling at Hovorka, who sat in the desk to her right in theclass.

Hovorka said he improved his English simply by listening to people talkand really studying the assignments his English teacher gave.

Before the bell rang for the students to change class, Clement told themto re-write their letters and “turn them in tomorrow,” being sure to giveextra attention to spelling.

“We want him to be able to read and understand these 10 or 20 years fromnow,” she announced as they filed out of the classroom.Hovorka said he plans to keep the letters and poems in a picture album andlook at them from time to time.

“It’ll be great to read them 10 to 20 years from now,” he smiled, addingthat friends have given him a lot of pictures and “other stuff” that heplans to keep up with.

Aside from his regular schedule of classes, Hovorka joined a variety ofclubs and was member of the basketball team.

As for his reason for playing basketball, Hovorka said he already knew howto play.”I thought I’d be a good thing to do,” he said.

Basketball coach James Smith said Horvorka’s presence on the team wasdefinitely felt.

“He’s an overall good person and has good basketball skills; he’s verybusinesslike,” Smith said, adding that if anything rubbed off on the teamfrom Hovorka, “it’s has to be his character.”

Smith continued: “I sympathize with anyone that far from home, but the short time he was here he made a commitment to East St. John basketball. I wish I could have had him around for the remainder of the season.”

“He came, he conquered and he left,” Smith said of Hovorka.Clement shares Smith’s sentiments.

Clement said Hovorka was one of her better academic and behavedstudents.”He represents the type of student teachers love to teach,” she said.

“It was a short, brief and good trade-off,” Smith said.Hovorka observed that the school rules are different than what he isaccustomed to, and he said he was surprised at the number of students atthe school.

From his experience at East St. John High School, Hovorka drew theconclusion that school in the United States is easier than in Czech.”In Czech, we have more discipline and some students goof off, but not asmuch as here,” he observed.

Twelfth grade student Heather Mason said she will miss Hovorka. “We became really good friends, and we talk on the phone, but he’s readyto go back,” Mason said.

As for his plans for higher education, Hovorka said he has not planned thatfar into the future yet but may like to explore the possibility of attendinga university in United States.

“I really don’t know, because I don’t know about any of them,” he said,adding that the cost of such a venture would be probably triple theexpense of one semester at East St. John.

A group called the Center for College Interchange set up the exchange, andthe organization Open Society Fund picked up the tab.

“They paid for everything and even provided pocket money for me,”Hovorka said.

As for the food he enjoys, Hovorka said he likes everything. Gumbo is hisfavorite.

Tomeny said for Christmas her husband gave a her a ticket to Europe, and when they go one of her destinations will be Prague to meet up with Jan.”It’ll make my trip even more exciting,”she said.

Hovorka will do quite a bit of letter writing when he returns home, too,trying to keep in touch with the friends he made during his tenure at EastSt. John.

Many students plan to be his pen pal.

Although Hovorka was not really sure of the welcoming he’d receive fromhis family when he returned home, he took a guess.

“It’ll probably be a surprise party,” he smiled.

Photo – Jan Hovorka shows off his Mardi Gras T-shirt given tohim as a going away present.

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