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A blind Kazakh’s bureaucratic battle to study in Czechia

Alibek Tokabayev is currently studying political science at Muni: a dream come true with Masaryk University Support Centre for Students with Special Needs.

Twenty-eight-year-old Alibek Tokabayev is a first-year student of political science at the Faculty of Social Studies, MU. He comes from Kazakhstan, he is blind, and his path to the field of study of his choice was rife with problems and pitfalls. Learning Czech and obtaining a visa were by far not the only challenges.

Tokabayev, who is also a chess player, first visited the Czech Republic in 2011 to participate in a chess tournament. He enjoyed his visit and made several friends among the local chess players. At that time, he already had a law degree from the university in Astana, but had recently lost his job.

When he found out that, providing he complied with specific requirements, he could study in the Czech Republic for free, he did not hesitate. As he describes, “I wanted to study political science, which is not offered in my homeland due to the authoritarian tendencies of the country’s government. But first of all, I had to learn Czech.”

After returning to Kazakhstan, he threw himself into the study of Czech—and immediately encountered first serious problems. “Language schools in Kazakhstan are expensive and of exceedingly low quality,” he complains. “Moreover, they usually prepare their students for everyday communication, not for academic discourse and essay writing.” For this reason, he finally opted for self-study.

Over a single year of intensive study, with occasional help from a Kazakh expert who had studied in the Czech Republic herself, he managed to master the language to the required level. In the beginning, he relied solely on a Czech textbook published in Czechoslovakia during the Communist era; only later did he start reading Czech online media and listening to Czech radio stations. Unfortunately, his decision to learn Czech on his own, without attending a language school, was to have further repercussions.

In 2015, Tokabayev passed his entrance exams to the Faculty of Social Studies and was to enrol in his studies in the following academic year.

He describes what followed as a vicious circle: “As I could not give proof of having attended any Czech course, I was unable to submit all the required documents for passing the ‘nostrification exam’ and have my degree from abroad recognized. Without the exam, I could not enrol, and without enrolling, I could not get a visa. And without visa, I could not even come to take the nostrification exam.”

He admits that he considered his dream to have been lost, but by a stroke of luck he contacted the Masaryk University Support Centre for Students with Special Needs (Teiresias), who helped him break out of the circle.

“They helped me obtain a short-term visa, so that I could come and take the nostrification exam. Before that, I had to convince the Czech embassy in Astana that there is no legal stipulation requiring that one complete a Czech course, and that I did not, in fact, need any course,” he says.

When he passed the exam, Teiresias helped him reapply and get ready for another admission procedure. His most recent worry was getting his long-term visa approved by the Ministry of the Interior. The Ministry used the maximum allowed period to decide on his application, so Tokabayev arrived in Brno in mid October and had to start catching up, as the semester was already in full swing. However, he is happy with the quality of the study programme. He now has a girlfriend in Brno and plans to stay in the Czech Republic.