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Honors Program Study Abroad In The Czech Republic

Honors Program Study Abroad In The Czech Republic

By Dr. Jack Seitz
Assistant Professor of History

From May 10-22nd, TWU Honors Program students took part in a new study abroad opportunity. Six students (Julien Withrow, Kennedy Moore, Josie Mitchell, Kyndra Randolph, Jadyn Jones, and “Honorary Honors Student” Stephanie Rocha) along with their professors Dr. Schutz and Dr. Seitz spent a week at Palacký University in the Czech Republic city of Olomouc as part of a study abroad internship opportunity hosted by the Pedagogical Faculty (Department) at Palacky University.

During their stay, students learned about Czech culture, history, and economics. Visits to historic sites included the Archbishop of Olomouc’s palace in Olomouc and his castle in Kroměříž. At the castle, the group met with the director of the castle (which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the Kroměříž region local tourism board to learn about heritage tourism. The group also visited the church and cloister, Svatý Kopeček (The Holy Hill) near Olomouc. In addition, the group visited local businesses including a local Mary Kay saleswoman who has built a successful business. The group discussed business as well as women’s empowerment and the impending changes from the planned economy to capitalism. The group also toured Honeywell (a US based company that builds airplane engines), and Bistrá Kráva (a successful natural foods restaurant and coffee shop). In all, the group learned about Czech history, culture, as well as business culture and economic opportunities and challenges. Given the interdisciplinary nature of the Honors Program at TWU, the mix of topics offered students the chance to explore various topics by drawing on previous courses in history, religion, and language as well as business, sociology, and economics.

During their stay, the students and faculty were hosted by Professor Václav Řeřicha and various local “buddies” who are students studying in the Pedagogical Faculty at Palacký University (Adela, Martin, Patricie, Vendy, Tomas, Daniel, and Ondre). Palacký University is the third largest university in the Czech Republic with over 20,000 students. It dates its founding to 1573. The town is a bustling small city with beautiful baroque architecture around several squares. The university itself occupies several buildings, several of which are older than the United States. In the heart of the Czech region of Moravia, Olomouc is situated in an agricultural heartland and is famous for its stinky cheese and other agricultural products as well as its long history as a university city.

While the educational programing was important, the heart of the groups’ time was the close relationships they formed with their “buddies” at the university. Time with the buddies included bowling, volleyball, cultural excursions, and just walking around town. In addition, the students quickly learned about Czech student culture and experienced the many cafes and restaurants, card games, cultural differences, and even learning some basic Czech language. One of our hosts (Tomas) is even a skilled banjo player, and on the last evening both groups joined together for banjo and guitar sing along at typical Czech restaurant “Moritz” where Tomas and Dr. Seitz led songs in Czech and English with the biggest hits being “Country Roads” and the Czech song “Hlidac Krav.”

In addition, the group took two excursions beyond Olomouc. The first was to southern Poland. There, they visited the Nazi Concentration Camp Auschwitz where they learned about the horrors of the Holocaust. On the same trip, the group took a short train ride to Krakow, where they ate traditional Polish Jewish food and learned about the culture that was nearly erased by Nazi plans. Dr. Seitz teaches courses on the Holocaust and was able to help offer additional historical context about the Holocaust and Jewish culture in Eastern Europe. In Krakow, they also visited the beautiful castle (another UNESCO Heritage site) at the heart of the city and explored café culture in the bustling “southern capital” of Poland.

Finally, at the end of their trip, the group spent two days in the Czech Republic capital of Prague before flying back to the U.S. Prague is an amazing baroque and medieval city. There they wandered the streets in search of Czech dumplings, tried Georgian food for the first time (from the country in the Caucasus, not the state bordering Tennessee!), and took in the atmosphere of this historic beautiful city including its castle and atmospheric Jewish quarter. Visits included sites related to the Czech Jewish author Franz Kafka, the Jewish Museum and Spanish Synagogue, as well as the oldest active synagogue in Europe (The Old New Synagogue). All of the students and the professors learned so much on the trip and made lifelong friendships.