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Kevin Schug: Calm, Relaxed and Excited - Why Not?

Kevin Schug is a chemist. During the
current Spring semester, he teaches analytical chemistry and English for chemists at the Faculty of Science of Palacky University in Olomouc. As a Professor of Analytical Chemistry at The University of Texas at Arlington, Kevin has been to the Czech Republic before, mostly to attend conferences, to meet with research partners or to explore the Czech countryside together with his wife. This January, he traveled to the country for five months as a Distinguished Scholar of the Fulbright Program. He shares that: "Many friends and colleagues have asked me how I can justify simply picking up from my everyday life and leaving to live in Europe for the better part of a year. To them, I say, “why not?”" Just a few days after his arrival, Kevin joined other American Fulbright grantees in the country at a mid-year conference that took place in Třešť, right in the middle of the Vysočina Region. To Kevin's surprise the Fulbright crowd was much younger (and louder) than he expected, as the dominant cohort consisted of 29 English Teaching Assistants, who help Czech teachers to teach English language at secondary schools all over the country. Kevin immediately felt a sense of close-knit community among the grantees. He admits that it will be tough to spend five months far away from his wife Dani and their three sons, but he is excited to see what the time will bring.

As I begin my stay as a Fulbright – Palacky University Distinguished Scholar, I must reflect on what this time means for me. I would not consider myself new to the Czech Republic. I do not face any of the normal anxiety one might have moving abroad to a new city for the first time. I have traveled a lot and I have lived abroad a couple times before. I know Olomouc quite well, after having visited probably close to ten times in the past 20 years. I know the people here at Palacky University well, having hosted many students in my own laboratory in Texas and having collaborated extensively with its faculty. Further, Prague is a common location for large scientific conferences, and I have probably visited there as many times as I have Olomouc. As a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Vienna in Austria from 2003 – 2005, my wife and I visited many towns and cities in the Czech countryside, simply in search of adventure and new experiences. I have attended the Colours of Ostrava and I have attended the Five-Petalled Rose festival in Cesky Krumlov. I have visited many breweries across Czech, to taste the beers where they were made. I know the Czech people to be friendly and I know the Czech food and drink to be enjoyable.

Though I am completely calm about my surroundings, probably the most challenging aspect of this stay will be that I am away from my family for an extended period of time. While current virtual communication possibilities make this easier, I leave a loving wife and three wonderful boys at home. Though Fulbright CZ provides for dependent support for families to join grantees, for this time in life, it did not make sense for my children to leave their schooling behind for several months. My oldest (18) will graduate from high school in May. My middle son (16) will train to earn a starting spot on the high school football team. My youngest (13) will have lacrosse and basketball. All of them are also in pivotal academic moments in their schooling to prepare for the future.

Photo: Kevin with his wife Dani and their son Luke after an American football game, Carroll High School, Texas, Fall 2023. 

I have some concrete goals associated with my stay. I will teach some courses, such as English for Chemists, and I will convey my analytical chemistry expertise in lectures and seminars to students. I will consult with masters and doctoral students about their research. I will meet with faculty and hopefully kindle, or rekindle, some productive research relationships going forward. However, I cannot help but think of these things as secondary or bonus to my upcoming five-months in the Czech Republic.

I recently attended the mid-year conference held by the Czech Fulbright commission. It was an exceptional experience. This served not only as my official orientation to the program but also as a chance to meet other scholars, students, and English teaching assistants who are current grantees of the Fulbright program in the Czech Republic, as well as administrators of the program. For those that had already been here for four or more months, this meeting was an important check-in. I was impressed by the level of community and interaction those grantees exhibited. It was clear that life-long friendships lay in the forge and under development. For those for whom this meeting represented the start of their Fulbright adventure, I could feel the excitement and wonderment for what was to come. In my conversations with each of them, I realized I was in a rather unique position, with my prior knowledge and experience with the Czech Republic.

Photo: Kevin and other Fulbrighters during a group discussion on the first day of Fulbright mid-year conference in Třešť, February 1, 2024.
I was asked about the goals of my stay by many, and I could easily recount the duties I would fulfill and my hope for future professional relationships. However, as I formulated my answer, I realized my main goal was just to have an experience, without any preconceived notions about what this would entail.

I have found over the last ten years or so that I really enjoy writing. I do plenty of technical writing and editing, but I prefer the type of writing where I can simply sit and think and formulate words on paper. This may include musings about science, but I also like to try to convey softer topics. Through my past writing experiences, I have been told that people who read my work appreciate my levity and the insight into me and my thoughts. It is rewarding when I hear such views. While I am here in the Czech Republic, I want to practice this type of writing and reflect often on my experiences. I have a great many personal goals on this front, and I just hope that I can achieve a few of them during my Fulbright stay.

If I am honest, one of the main reasons for pursuing this Fulbright was to get away from my everyday life. It is not that I have much of anything to complain about my daily life, and I am certainly not including a desire to be away from my family as any significant motivation for seeking change. However, as I sit here, just one week into my stay, I feel calm and relaxed. I am excited about the personal growth I can experience with some time by myself to consistently reflect on life and the world around me, without nearly as many distractions as I would have at home in the U.S. And of course, to be able to do this in the beautiful Czech city of Olomouc is an exceptional opportunity.

Photo: Kevin walks through the beautiful downtown of Olomouc, February 2024. 
Many friends and colleagues have asked me how I can justify simply picking up from my everyday life and leave to live in Europe for the better part of a year. To them, I say, “why not?” If my stage in life and work has afforded such an opportunity, why not take it? I think that many Americans today are so stuck in their everyday routine that they just simply do not consider taking a step like this to be realistic. What is life, if not to take every chance to live it to the fullest and experience new things? All opportunities come with drawbacks. But if the advantages outweigh the drawbacks, as is clearly the case for me here, then I say one owes it to themselves to get out of their comfort zone and have new experiences. It is even more exciting when you do not necessarily know what all of those experiences may be.

I am truly thankful to the Fulbright program for giving me this opportunity to contribute and to reflect. I believe I will return home refreshed and a better person, all around. However, in the meantime, I do not want to rush the experience. I will take none of it for granted and will appreciate every moment it has given me.

Photo: American Fulbrighters meet at the mid-year conference at Castle Třešť, January 31, 2024. 

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