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Misty Cooper and class
Columbus High School graduate Misty Cooper is pictured with members of a class she taught in Ostrava in the Czech Republic. The students she taught were what would be the equivalent of first-graders in the United States.

COLUMBUS — Former Columbus High classmates Misty Cooper and Ian Tonnies reconnected thanks to a school in the Czech Republic.

The two, both 25, were casual friends, but lost touch after graduating in 2003. It wasn’t until Tonnies put a message out through Facebook to fellow teachers and education majors that he and Cooper renewed their friendship.

The message asked if anyone would be interested in international teaching in the Czech Republic. Cooper, who had just graduated from Chadron State College with an elementary education degree, decided to check it out.

“Could have I gotten a teaching position more local? Yes, but I had nothing to tie me down,” Cooper said of her decision to apply for the Czech Republic teaching job.

Tonnies had done a three-month study abroad program in 2006 in the Czech Republic while enrolled at Wayne State College. He eventually returned to the country to further his education and earned his master’s degree there in European culture. After that, he went on to teach at the 1st International School of Ostrava.

Tonnies said he went back to the Czech Republic for two reasons.

“I fell in love with the country, and I fell in love,” he said, speaking of Pavoa, his wife. The two met while he was there and got married in the Czech Republic in April.

There were teaching opportunities available at the school in Ostrava, so Tonnies sent out the Facebook message to five or six education majors and teachers he knew. Cooper responded. She sent in her resume to the school and had an interview over the phone before she was hired.

Both Cooper and Tonnies are back in Columbus now. Cooper just recently returned to Nebraska and is currently living in Grand Island. Her parents, Curt and Joyce Cooper, still live in Columbus.

Tonnies and his wife are staying at his parent’s home, Marshall and Nora Tonnies, for the summer before returning to the Czech Republic at the end of August.

Cooper’s two-year stint at the school is finished, but Tonnies will go back to teach at Ostrava when the school year starts again in September.

Ostrava is in the eastern portion of the Czech Republic near the Poland border. It is an industrial town with a population of about 300,000. The primary school has a diverse enrollment. Most of the students are from families that live in the Czech Republic because of employment, so they aren’t native speakers. The families come from many countries, mostly from Korea.

Cooper, though, had a dozen students representing six different countries in one of her teaching years. The students she taught were in what would be the equivalent of first grade in America. Classes were taught in English, but students’ ability to speak the language varied.

The diversity in the classroom will help Cooper when she finds a teaching position here as many schools in this area are becoming more diverse, she said.

Most of the students she taught were eager to learn, though there were a handful who struggled. Cooper recalls one Korean student who lacked English skills and said he didn’t like school, only Nintendo.

But after a month in school, the boy came around by pronouncing: “Ms. Cooper, I like Nintendo. I like school. I like Ms. Cooper.”

She said helping that child was one of her highlights in the classroom. Outside the classroom, there were many memories. While in Europe she traveled to 13 different countries and visited three different continents.

Tonnies said when he goes back that he will probably stay there at least a couple more years as his wife is working on earning her Ph.D. at a university in the Czech Republic. Where they will end up calling home is up in the air.

“We’ll just go where the wind takes us,” he said.

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