2013-14 U.S. Fulbrighters Comment On Their Experience in the CR

At the end of their stay in the Czech Republic, Fulbright grantees are required to submit a Final Report where they reflect on their experience. Here is an excerpt from these Final Reports from the academic year 2013-14.  The comments can be also found in our Annual Report.

The traditional cultural setting of the Czech Republic attracts many U.S. students. Matthew Goodheart conducting research at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague strengthened previous relationships with local artists through collaborative projects and concerts.  He also made professional connections with his host institution and the Institut Intermedii through a series of lectures, workshop, and private work with students.  Finally, Goodheart gave a presentation at a conference in Brno, and it strengthened his professional connections through attendance at both the Ostrava Days and Contempuls music festivals.

A growing number of U.S. students come to pursue their research at Czech scientific institutions. Thuy Hua researching at the Institute of Physiology of the Czech Academy of Sciences was very satisfied with her host: “I learned and perfected many techniques that will be critical to my success in my graduate program in the future and opened my eyes to how this lab operates and I can’t wait to transfer the techniques that I learned here to my future work.”

The position of teaching assistants can be much more demanding than that of research students. Quite often, they come from big U.S. cities to small Czech places where only few people can communicate in English. Getting used to the kind of language isolation can be difficult. Lori Dougherty teaching in Strakonice comments on that: “The biggest cultural adjustment was coming from New York and living in Strakonice, which in my viewpoint, is an extremely small town. Of course, being in a small town I had to learn Czech quickly, at least the basics in order to survive, and challenge myself to leave my comfort zone. Though there are many activities for students to do and clubs to join in Strakonice, there aren’t many opportunities to join sports or social activities for adults in my town.”

On the other hand, a teaching assistant can have a very unique position at a small place where he/she may be the only American.  Davis Holter was affiliated with the secondary school in Kyjov in 2013/14.  Holter said, “I suppose the most impressive thing about my time here has been how consistently generous so many people have been toward me. On many, many occasions, both acquaintances and strangers have gone out of their way to assist me or expose me to special things that I otherwise wouldn't have seen. I certainly won't forget that.”

Lori and many other teaching assistants also point to a number of differences teaching assistants have to cope with: “The education system is so different here, especially coming from a Title I, low-socioeconomic school in Brooklyn, NY. There are no security personnel at schools, no dress codes, and it seems like hardly a disciplinary code, mainly because students behave exceptionally well (for the most part). Teachers arrive at school a few minutes before their first lesson, and leave immediately after the last one ends. There’s not much for faculty camaraderie when teachers mainly stay in their own offices while at work. Students hardly ever get homework, and they finish school exceptionally early. Moreover, I had to teach students how to be creative, think outside the box, and question things. The school system here is very much based on memorization of facts rather than real world application.”

David Tykvart placed in Brno notes: “I was most shocked with the openness of my students. They often told me things I would have never said to a teacher. They would sometimes criticize the other English teachers, which I would not allow. It was hard to know where to draw a boundary since things that would not be acceptable in the US are not taboo here.” 

Also Emily Jensen teaching in Klášterec nad Ohří was surprised by the relaxed student-teacher relationships.

Most teaching assistants value the Fulbright grant for becoming confident in their cross-cultural communication skills: adaptability, organization, independence, and time management, just to name a few. Mariel Tavakoli teaching in Znojmo notes in her report: “I really feel like I have grown a lot this year and am proud of the relationships I have formed with people in Znojmo. It’s hard to imagine how much has changed since the beginning of the year and yet how fast the time has gone. Living in a smaller town and in Moravia has meant an entirely different and wonderful experience. Even after spending another 10 months here I feel I still have so much to learn between the language and the culture. I have really enjoyed soaking up as much as possible and hope that I will continue to visit and keep in touch with the people I have met here.”

David Tykvart tells about his experience: “I have strengthened my public speaking abilities and have become more comfortable with taking risks without being afraid of sounding stupid. My time in Brno helped me create new friendships and strengthened my relationship to the Czech Republic- one that had begun to dwindle as my grandparents grew older.”

It is not only teaching English but also a number of extracurricular activities that teaching assistants pursue. Many become engaged in volunteer work, e.g. Lee McKinstry teaching in Bohumín in 2013/14 got involved with volunteering in the Roma community, which was one of her goals for the Fulbright: “I volunteered at a Roma community center, Majak, that one of my friends teaches at. I helped with crafting activities there, gave presentations about United States customs, and helped facilitate parties for the children and talent shows. I met some of my closest friends there, and the experience was deeply rewarding.”

U.S. research scholars come to the Czech Republic because their project is focused on some aspects of Czech history and culture or because they want to collaborate with a specific research team here or a research topic is of a global nature. Thus, Daniel Donato affiliated with the Czech University of Life Sciences and studying forest disturbance gained a significantly new perspective in his field of study: “In short, I learned there is a surprising amount of parallels between forests in Europe and those in my home region, and now I can use published studies from here in an informed way, to better understand my studies in my region.  Also I now have a new set of collaborators and projects that will contribute to my overall research program.” 

James Lewis conducted research in a team with Dr. Jelínek, Czech Fulbright alumnus at the Institute of Physics in Prague, and believes “that being associated with the group of Pavel Jelínek is outstanding and there will be many publications that will come out of this association.”

Linney Wix affiliated with the Jewish Museum in Prague summarizes in her report: “My work serves memory and the lives and remembrances of children who created art in Dicker-Brandeis’s classes in Terezín. Increasing my understanding of European history, especially in relation to memory, has been and will continue to be a large part of the cultural and international understanding that I take from the Fulbright research experience. My research is one very small piece of the much larger issue of remembrance in Europe’s history.”

U.S. scholars lecturing at Czech universities help internationalize their programs and ways of teaching but on the other hand they also gain a lot. Jimmy Gore, who taught a graduate course at Charles University, anticipates adopting what he learned to teach at Gallaudet University: “In addition, I expect that I will be featuring more material drawn from the Czech Republic in my future courses. I will be able to offer a more international perspective and experience in my courses. I will also encourage my students to study abroad in the Czech Republic because of its richness of history and culture.”

Eric Ugland lectured at Masaryk University. Ugland writes in his report: “I would love to return to the United States and begin teaching a course on comparative media law and policy. Regardless, I will certainly begin to incorporate more examples from the European experience to show my students how other countries are addressing these issues. Another idea I would like to pursue is a collaborative teaching project involving both my students in the US and some students in the Czech Republic in which both groups of students would investigate, debate, exchange ideas about and ultimately seek to solve a current media law problem or dilemma. This would give students from both countries a chance to exchange ideas with people who might approach these issues from a different perspective and would give them some exposure to the laws and traditions in other jurisdictions. I expect to maintain a closer connection to the Faculty of Law and particularly to the faculty members associated with the Institute for Law and Technology. I have developed several close connections with the faculty there and I expect to maintain those friendships after I return to the United States.  I also expect to continue to work professionally with those colleagues as well. My hope is to return in the fall–if not this fall then the next one–for a conference hosted by the Institute. But whether that happens or not, I will stay in touch with these faculty members who have interests and areas of expertise that connect nicely with mine.”

Rory Stuart lectured at the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts. Stuart finds his experience excellent and said, “making personal connections with people in the Czech Republic, and with jazz musicians here and from other parts of Europe; meeting students whom I can help in their future career decisions”.

Jessica Wilson who gave courses at Charles University states that she had never worked at a foreign university and been integrated into another culture to the extent that she was able to through the Fulbright program: “I learned much more about culture living from inside it, which is what the Fulbright program inspires. Not only has my interest in the history of Prague been piqued, but my interest in countries that were occupied following World War II has increased. I want to challenge my students more after teaching in this system to apply what they are learning to issues in the broader world. I have already asked the chair of my department about ways to teach the two courses I developed over here. I plan to include more Czech authors in my world literature courses, to create a course solely focused on the literature between 1939-1989 in which students will also get to travel to Prague,and to encourage my students to study in Prague post-graduation.”

Patricia Dyk, Fulbright-Masaryk University Distinguished Chair appreciated being immersed into a daily life and local culture: “I have an even deeper understanding of the challenges faced by Czechs under totalitarianism. I have tried to equip the next generation of young scholars to be engaged citizens and we have learned from one another. This experience will further enhance my education abroad course ‘Leadership Lessons from Prague.’ Also, I believe I will have less tolerance for students who do not take their education seriously after having observed what students and their families have gone through to be able to pursue higher education in other countries.”

It is not only grantees themselves but also their accompanying families who benefit from the Fulbright Program. Jimmy Gore says in his report: “Being together with my two deaf sons in the Czech Republic was an extraordinary experience for all of us.  My sons got to experience the disorienting challenges and pleasures of travel and immersing oneself in a different culture.  My sons wrote a collective blog about their time here – thus sharing their experiences with their friends and school back in Maryland and Louisiana and establishing a record life in Czech Republic for themselves. I am confident that the effects of living here in Hradec Kralove will be very positive and long-lasting.  My youngest son now has a consistent refrain: ‘I want to go everywhere and do everything.’ It has added new dimensions to our lives.“

Also, Erik Ugland reports on a very invaluable experience for his family: “My wife has loved her time in the Czech Republic and she cannot wait to return. My kids have also had a great time. This was their first trip outside of the United States and I cannot even begin to list all of the things they have learned, sites they have visited, people they have met, and new things they have tried. Breaking them away from their home environment and forcing them to live in a different culture has been very valuable for them. Their experience at the international school was particularly enriching and gave them a chance to meet other kids from all over the world, and they established friendships that they hope to sustain even after we return to the United States.”

Fulbright specialists bring expertise and contacts that are much needed at Czech universities. They represent a different teaching style, which stimulates critical thinking among students. Simultaneously, specialists themselves find the participation in the program enriching. They are able to learn about different cultures and establish new partnerships.  The program has been particularly crucial for universities outside the capital which may experience difficulties in attracting international scholars. It has also been very important for introducing the fields not developed in the Czech Republic.

The program brings rewarding experience to grantees and leaves positive traces at host universities. Prof. Lukeš notes how pleased he was by his ability to empower the students: “When I started, most were unwilling to speak in the classroom -- even when invited to do so. Their attitude changed -- improved -- within a few days.”


2013-14 Czech Fulbrighters Comment On Their Experience in the U.S.

At the end of their stay in the U.S., Fulbright grantees are required to submit a Final Report where they reflect on their experience. Here is an excerpt from these Final Reports from the academic year 2013-14.  The comments can be also found in our Annual Report.

Czech students value an inclusive spirit of U.S. universities. Anna Carbová studying at Iowa State University comments on this, saying, “All lectures, labs and seminars were a great contribution to my professional development. I became a part of a research group focusing on my field of study. This has given me much more insight into the matter and the way researchers work in the US.”

Martin Formánek who studied physics at the University of Arizona in 2013-14 stresses the importance of numerous clubs at a U.S. university: “I joined couple of university organized clubs during my stay here. There were International Student Associations which is helping foreign students to integrate and they are organizing events for us and generally helping. Also I was part of Ritmos Latinos salsa club and UA ballroom club. I think that such organizations are really missing in Czech universities and when I return back home I would like to support their establishment.”

In comparison to Czech university milieu, Czech students appreciate the level of students' engagement, and the intensity of student life at a U.S. campus. Borjana Dodová studying at American University stated: “There were many activities around the campus when the semester was starting and during the school year. I was also surprised that political discussion might be a part of lectures. I experienced that when I was sitting in my mentor's class. That's something I don't know from my university.”

Naturally, all Czech students like the international aspect of life at U.S. universities. Ladislav Vyhnánek studying LL.M. at New York University notes in his report: “I have met people from virtually every corner of the world and I had a great time with so many of them. I would say that now I am more ‘world citizen’ than ever before.“

Also, Borjana Dodová says about her experience of meeting with international students: “I have many new friends from non-western countries and I fell extremely enriched by that. I think this is a very important part of the Fulbright program. I had to learn to communicate with people without knowing anything about their background. I think it made me more open and I am very happy for that.”

Czech scholars having a possibility to stay at a U.S. university find their experience highly rewarding and enriching also for a U.S. host institution. Jan Faigl, conducting research at the University of Southern California is convinced that he will “definitely utilize the gained experience and comments about teaching computer science at the USC for preparing a new course of programming at our department. Besides, I also plan to take experience from the USC for supervising my Ph.D. students. I will encourage them for international experience and try to find support for their short research stays abroad during their Ph.D. studies.”

Milan Říha researching at Cornell University states in his report: “I got a new insight into science and education because I could compare approaches and achievements between excellent teams and professors at the top world-class university and Czech institutions. Such a comparison was very important for understanding of new ways in our research and education of students. On the other hand, it made me more proud of achievements of our Czech team because I applied many of Czech methods in my research in the USA and it brought new and interesting findings even in intensively explored Great Lake environment.”

All the scholars agree upon the fact that today’s science cannot be done without international cooperation. Zdeněk Hurák pursuing his research at the University of California strongly believes that “the only way in which Czech universities can improve on their international reputation is through sending the graduates who seek an academic career to the labs of collaborating top researchers at some top universities, preferably oversea, for one or two years.”

Also Beata Matysioková researching at the University of California promises that “While back at Palacký University I will definitely emphasize international activities of my home institution since I can now see how important it is.”

According to observations of many Czech scholars (particularly those in technical and natural sciences) U.S universities are not that different in terms of equipment but the major difference consists in the ability of a university to attract excellent people as Zdeněk Hurák points out. Josef Fulka conducting research at the University of Texas stresses yet another important difference: “I was very impressed by the academic level of the students I have met (most of whom were doctoral students). They were well organized and committed to their research. Another great experience was the smooth and effective way of dealing with all the administrative issues especially at the beginning of my grant period). What would have taken days, if not weeks, in the Czech Republic was taken care of within hours. Friendliness and competence of my colleagues at the university was also a very enjoyable experience.”

Fulbright-Masaryk grantees cannot praise enough their stays at U.S. universities which are both professionally and personally enriching. They value friendly relations between professors and students.

Marek Čejka conducted research at Hartford Seminary.  Čejka said, “The teachers occasionally organize potlucks for the students in their households. This informal contacts between students and professors do not decrease the authority of the professor but vice versa. This informal and personal approach I am missing in the Czech university environment.  The lecturers in Hartford Seminary were in most of the cases real professionals, not doctoral students-beginners, ideologues or ancient regime holdovers as is the case in many Czech universities.”

Blanka Maděrová stayed at Harvard University and considers her experience the best she could get: “Harvard University is an amazing facility for both learning and practice of various new projects. The level of interdisciplinarity is very high there and new methodologies flourish in every department.”

Martin Paleček, Fulbright researcher at Emory University says in his report: “I very much appreciated high-cultivated level of discussion and how biases among scholars could be solved. I learned how to criticize my own work and how to criticize the others in the very positive and helpful way. I hope that I became not only a better scholar but also a better person.”

Patrícia Martinková conducted research and lectured at the University of Washington.  She appreciated the way her host institution prepared students for furthering their research career.  Martinková said, “Besides the preparation for interdisciplinary research, students are trained to read a huge amount of books and articles, to write large amount of reports and articles as part of their homework, to prepare posters and present them, to search through job openings, to prepare their CV or give a job talk. Being exposed to university climate in the U.S., I felt I was relatively little trained in reading, writing, presenting, and most importantly asking questions, consulting, making a point and explaining ideas in simple way. Being exposed to our kids’ elementary school, I found that all these concepts are stressed from the very early childhood.”

Vladimír Šlapeta studying American influence on Czech architecture at The Cooper Union says that his U.S. experience helped him judge and see things in a different way than before: “Meetings with leading colleagues in America, like Phyllis Lambert, Kenneth Frampton, Jean Louis Cohen etc. had been very inspiring moments of my stay.”

Naturally, many grantees establish professional relations at U.S. universities, which may develop into institutional cooperation after they come back to the Czech Republic.

Radim Čtvrtlík pursued a research project at the Polytechnic Institute and State University in Virginia.  Čtvrtlík is convinced that: “We have probably found a way how to finance a stay of students from Palacký University in Olomouc in US. I am quite optimistic in this regards and hope that some students will visit Virginia Tech. My experience with Fulbright program is the best and I am going to propagate the program actively after my arrival.”

Petr Konečný conducted research at Oklahoma State University. Konečný believes that the U.S. experience helped him create contacts with the experts at the U.S. institution: “Future mutual collaboration will have synergic effect. US Civil Engineering partners have experimental experience that will be complemented by numerical computation capabilities at Czech side, which will strengthen addressing actual engineering challenges.”

Robert Zbíral, Fulbright researcher at the University of Michigan Law School, plans to come back in the future for shorter stays: “I will also continue research cooperation with prof. Halberstam. Finally, I would do my best to obtain external funding in order to invite selected professors from Michigan to teach short crash-courses in Olomouc.”

As Fulbright-Masaryk grantees engaged in a number of public activities (apart from their own academic ones), they consider it useful to be familiarized with non-profit sectors in the U.S. For example, Blanka Maděrová, whom researched at Harvard University, reports: “I learned different ways in which to do social activism regarding minorities and how to work with social media, which I am going to use, as a Fulbright-Masaryk scholar, in my project supporting Romani minorities is Czech Republic. From Spring 2014 I will organize workshops supported by EU grants Youth in Action and use music as a tool to foster and create open-minded communities.”

Some grantees integrate social life in their communities. One such grantee was Františka Jirousová.  Jirousová stayed at Georgetown University and took up singing in the church choir at the parish of St. Joseph at Capitol Hill: “I used to sing in a church choir since I was 12, so this is for me the most natural way of joining a Christian community in a place where I live and to cultivate relationships with American people. And one of the singers told me recently that it was a pity that I had to leave, because they needed me. I must admit that I was really pleased.”

Cultural experience is an inseparable part of the grantees‘ stay. Petr Urban researched at CUNY.  Urban comments that: “The experience of living the U.S. with my wife and two small children was transformative too. New York City is a place of never-ending cultural and social opportunities and the life experience is quite different from what we knew before. We appreciated especially the encounter with the enormous racial and cultural diversity in New York City. It has definitely reshaped our perception of our own identity as Czech and Europeans.”

Jana Horáková pursuing research at Michigan Technological University states: “I guess it has changed me as a person. Americans are different from us. I know that I will miss many things I experienced there as well as I miss many Czech things in USA. I enjoy friendly people all around me who are polite all the time even if I lack honesty from them. I like how kind they are to each other.”

During their stay grantees visited other parts of the U.S. as well. Klára Mergerová studying at Columbia University said of her travels: “Through the trips I made around the North East and also Texas, I was able to observe the changing facets of American society, so different from what I knew from Europe or from what I had previously imagined. The experience with a society, similar at first sight, but based on different principles, will certainly reshape my views of not only the United States, but also my own country.”

For Fulbright-Masaryk grantees – NGO representatives, U.S experience is irreplaceable.  This is because U.S. non-profit sectors have long traditions and can offer rich experience that is hard to find anywhere else.

Petra Michaličková, affiliated with the Aaker’s Business College, points out: “I would like to focus more on the educational system for professionals in vocational rehabilitation. Great experience, great people, I highly appreciate I have had the opportunity to participate on this program. My only recommendation is to continue with this program.”

Also, Alena Novotná, hosted by the Synergos Institut, finds her experience great “in any possible aspect ranging from my working space, access to internal systems, interaction with my colleagues and their openness and willingness to help me reach out to other institutions as well. This is crucial because without their positive attitude it would not be possible to learn about the real day-to-day management in their organization.”