Armstrong faculty and students visited with the Governor of the South Bohemia Region (center) during study abroad in the Czech Republic.

Checking in with Czech Republic

The Czech Republic, its capital Prague and the country's South Bohemian Region served as the backdrop for a study abroad excursion for 14 Armstrong students and three faculty members, who spent three weeks in this Central European nation studying its Velvet Revolution, the transition into a post-communist era and visiting storied landmarks, churches and museums. Students also visited two major research labs and toured facilities at the University of South Bohemia, one of the top research universities in the country.

In ?eské Bud?jovice, capital of the South Bohemian Region, students met the deputy mayor, the governor of the region, Mgr. Ji?í Zimola, and stayed at the University of South Bohemia for two weeks, touring the city and meeting with local leaders. An hour away, in the city of ?eský Krumlov, a cobblestone-street town anchored by a castle and surrounded by unspoiled countryside, the Armstrong cultural travelers took in a performance of Macbeth at an outdoor theater. They also met with the mayor of the town of Hluboká nad Vltavou, also in the South Bohemian region.

“We had lectures on post-communism, lectures on how the country has adapted since then, on what the legal system is like, we visited a courthouse and watched a trial and had attorneys who are faculty members at the university explain the legal system,” said Becky Kohler da Cruz, associate professor of criminal justice, and one of the three faculty members traveling with the students. The other two faculty members included José de Arimatéia da Cruz (political science) and Sara Gremillion (biology).

The tour took the students to the Criminalistic Institute in Prague, where they visited for an hour with all the scientists at the institute. One of the things that emerged from that meeting was an appreciation on the part of the hosts for the students' desire to learn.

“They were really impressed that we were there to learn from them,” said da Cruz.

Internationally famous Charles University in Prague, established in 1348, was also among the destinations. There, the four biology students in the group had an opportunity to listen to a mycology professor, tour a mycology research lab and a botanical garden. In addition to biology students, the group included political science, criminal justice and law and society majors.

Alex Hernandez, a senior political science major, had been waiting for the opportunity to visit the Czech Republic since being a freshman. “I really wanted to visit one of the last countries where you can the remnants of the Soviet system,” he said. For him the highlight of the trip was meeting the South Bohemian Region governor. “Every government official we met treated us with a lot of respect and showed a lot of pride in their country.”

The relationships that build these exchanges into transformative experiences for students were cultivated over several years. A formal agreement between Armstrong and the University of South Bohemia signed some five years ago has been followed by several visits back and forth, including an Armstrong-sponsored Fulbright-Hayes seminar there in 2009. Additional relationships established by Armstrong President Linda Bleicken and James Anderson, assistant to the vice president for international education, contributed to the success of the study abroad exchange.

“This trip presented a great opportunity for our students and faculty to hear from the country's politicos, scientists and other leaders about the country's non-violent revolution 20 years ago and how they have adapted since,” said Anderson.