Five Questions with Rhoda Cerny

Rhoda Cerny lives to lose herself in the world.

 

Name: Rhoda Cerny
Position: Assistant to the chair, Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering
Time at the Gillings School: Four years

 

Recently, Rhoda attended an orchid show at Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

Recently, Rhoda attended an orchid show at Sarah P. Duke Gardens. (Contributed photo)

What I do at UNC Gillings (and why I love it): I support our chair with her calendar scheduling and the many things she deals with on a daily basis. I also collaborate with students to plan department events, do some communications work and assist faculty members with jobs like purchasing lab supplies. I have a part in many things our department does because if something involves the chair, it involves me.

The greatest thing about my job, besides juggling a variety of challenging tasks each day, is being in an international, health-centered environment like the Gillings School. I’ve always loved new places and learning about different cultures. I try to eat well, exercise, and take care of myself and I enjoy being in a place where so many people are passionate about these things. I love the Culture of Health program and having mindfulness and exercise classes available at work. More people should really take advantage of those perks!

 

Outside of work, I like: going to concerts and operas. There are so many amazing performances right here on campus. I love singing, especially learning new songs in languages other than English. I also like yoga, dancing, theater, hiking, writing and reading. All my life, if I’ve had an interest, I’ve pursued it. I just started a cactus and succulent garden (this is sort of a family tradition), I recently took a flower arranging class and I’m learning about caring for bonsai. My latest find is a night-flowering succulent from Brazil that is supposed to attract bats. In a nutshell, I’m not a person who gets bored. I’m more of a “lose yourself in the fascinations of the world” kind of person.

Both my parents influenced my love of traveling, studying new things, and embracing life and international culture. My father is from the Czech Republic and used to live in Australia, and my mother was an accomplished classical musician who performed in many countries and was fluent in a number of languages. She died when I was three years old; music keeps me connected to her. My father always played classical music and records by Nana Mouskouri in our house when I was growing up – she’s a singer, originally from Greece, who is known for performing in many different languages. Her voice was like a mother’s voice to me in those early years (if you can imagine a mother who doesn’t speak, only sings), and she definitely influenced my love of singing in many languages.

My first favorite song, which I came to love right after my mother died, was “Soleil, Soleil.” It’s a simple, happy song in French about the sun. Over the years, I’ve studied Spanish, Italian, Czech, French and a tiny bit of German and I like to sing in all those languages. Music connects me to my parents and also to my two wonderful half-sisters who both are excellent musicians. I like so many different types of music – I really couldn’t live without it.

 

Rhoda's latest succulent find is a night-flowering plant from Brazil.

Rhoda’s latest succulent find is a night-flowering variety from Brazil. (Contributed photo)

To start a conversation with me, ask about: music… or any number of things! I grew up in Boone, North Carolina, and have lived in other N.C. cities, Charleston, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Prague and Milan. My zeal for exploring whatever intrigues me has taken me on a lot of adventures. I’ve studied acting in Los Angeles and design in Milan. I’m certified as a yoga instructor, English as a Second Language teacher and grief recovery specialist. Recently, I attended the first international conference hosted by the Grief Recovery Institute. In the past, I spent about seven years working for the Institute in Los Angeles – it offers trainings and tools to people who want to help themselves and others move through loss of any kind. Let’s see… I also love animals and have two adorable kittens: Figaro (named after Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville”) and Aria.

 

My perfect day: Well, how specific do you want me to be?! It would take place on a Greek island. Greece is a place I’ve always wanted to visit. I really like the idea of waking up, putting my bare feet on a rough, warm floor, and walking out onto a sunny patio with a view of turquoise water, whitewashed houses and pink flowers everywhere. I’d drink a mug of the best, strongest coffee on the planet, have fresh fruit for breakfast and take a long walk through an olive grove. Maybe I’d visit the village center to see men playing backgammon in their Greek fisherman’s caps. Later, I’d enjoy an afternoon picnic, then stroll along the beach in a red dress and watch the houses along the cliffs light up for the night before heading to a concert.

 

The best advice I ever received: was… well, you can’t print that word, so let’s rephrase it as, “No fear.” That’s something my acting teacher used to tell us – to stick up a note with that phrase or write it with lipstick on the bathroom mirror. If I’m nervous about something, I think of that.

There’s also a quote; it wasn’t given to me as advice but I really like it. It reminds me of the time in my twenties when I dropped everything and moved alone to Italy. I didn’t know anyone there, had no place to live, signed up for design and singing courses taught in a language I didn’t yet understand, and gave myself just 30 days to become sufficiently fluent. Actually, that may have been a little crazy, but it turned out fine! The quote, from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, is, “Magic is believing in yourself. If you can do that, you can make anything happen.”


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