Bridging Political Science and Criminal Justice in Prague

(March 2, 2013) For a number of years now, José de Arimatéia da Cruz, associate professor of political science, and Becky da Cruz, associate professor of criminal justice, have collaborated to take a study abroad trip to Prague, in the Czech Republic. With their combined expertise, the da Cruz's have created a special opportunity for Armstrong students to learn global politics and criminal justice simultaneously.

The trip to Prague, however, isn't just coffee shops and a history lesson in Balkanization. Thanks to José da Cruz's background in the Brazilian state department and his research on Latin American politics, he has an entrée into offices that sets Armstrong's study abroad program apart. He is also a regular visiting scholar at the recently established Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) at the University of Economics, Prague. When there, da Cruz lectures on economic policy and social systems of Latin America for master's and doctorate students at the university. For many of the students, this is their first real immersion into the ins and outs of Latin America, as da Cruz shares not only his research but his personal experiences as well.

“This is the second year I have had this great opportunity to share my understandings and views of the problems facing Latin America with students at the Center for Latin American Studies," said da Cruz, “and I am honored.”

da Cruz's scholarship has lasting benefits for Armstrong students as well. Because of his work with the CLAS and his background, the study abroad trip includes an exclusive meeting with the Brazilian ambassador to the Czech Republic, as well as an audience at the United States embassy. In the summer of 2012, Armstrong students spent two hours talking with the Brazilian ambassador about his country's interest in the Czech Republic and the cultural and bilateral relations between the two countries. At the U.S. Embassy, the current public affairs officer discussed what the U.S.'s interests are in the Czech Republic, and what influence that has on trade and commerce.

“It's good for the students to know that the US has mutual interests and differences with other countries,” explained da Cruz. “They learn so much more about their own country during this study abroad trip.”

On the criminal justice side, students get a first-hand look at all facets of the legal system in the Czech Republic. In a town neighboring Prague, they meet with the chief prosecutor and sit in on a trial. After the trial, the judge meets with the students in his chambers to explain the courtroom procedures and decisions. They also tour a jail and visit the Forensics Institute of Prague to watch how investigators there prepare for a case. Even today, the students can observe how the Czech Republic is still adapting to the European Union's justice system.

Back in Georgia, a selection of students from the trip presented papers at the annual meeting of the University System of Georgia Americas Council in January 2013. Their presentations focused on what they were able to study in Prague.

“We also met one of the Czech Republic's representatives to the European Union,” said Mallie Brosset, senior political science major. “These meetings gave me good context for how the European Union functions and how Latin American countries relate to it. My paper was on the EU and Latin America's relationship on drug control. Those meetings helped me to better understand the challenges of forging those kind of international relationships.”

“I have a better understanding and appreciation for the international relations side of political science,” added Haley Lattke, also a senior political science major who presented at the January conference. “To be introduced to the way another country's government operates on both the domestic and international level was really eye opening and taught me a lot.”

As José da Cruz prepares for his second visiting scholar appointment at the CLAS in March 2013, both he and Becky da Cruz are already mapping out their next summer study abroad trip to Prague and working to open the program to other disciplines, such as economics and biology, and break down more international boundaries for Armstrong students.