2015/08/03

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.”

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