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The Czech Republic, an Unthought-of Sanctuary, By Sarah Boyd, Veterinary and Biomedical Science major, Equine minor

Posted: June 5, 2018

"Often times, you learn the most in places you expect the least from and that was what I took away from my time spent in Eastern Europe in the Czech Republic."

Often times, you learn the most in places you expect the least from and that was what I took away from my time spent in Eastern Europe in the Czech Republic.

This past May I had the incredible opportunity to travel to the Czech Republic with a small group of other Penn State students taking part in a communications course. I went into my time aboard almost completely blind, being one of two people out of 24 that was not a communication major and had no idea about the history, culture, or language of the country I about to spend the next three breathtaking weeks in.

I could endlessly rave about the country, the kindness of the people who lived there, the beauty of it all and tell you story upon story of the late-night adventures and early morning class discussions but I still wouldn’t be able to do my experience justice. The Czech Republic was one of the last places on my radar of countries I wanted to travel to, if it was even on it. Now, I would be back in a heartbeat if I could.

My group and I started off in a small town called Telc. It consisted of three or four restaurants whose workers got to know our faces well in the week we spent there, a small castle and a few churches along with residential living and a satellite campus of the university we were paired with. The small-town atmosphere helped with the transition and culture shock that some were facing. This was one of the many topics that was discussed in our global communications course, COMM 499, that we took part in during our time abroad. Having been a country that was oppressed for such an extensive amount of time in history and with the changing of international relations today, cultural differences were very prevalent and eye-opening.  As we transitioned from Telc to Brno, the second largest city in the Czech, it was a whole different atmosphere and brought with it new challenges. Communication was extremely difficult at points as, even though some of the people may have known and understood English, they were hesitant to speak back to you if they were able to or oftentimes simply did not understand. This put me in situations where problem-solving and decision making was a key factor in navigating my way around the city and strengthened my communications skills as well. COMM 499 was almost entirely a discussion based class as well, which put me in situations where I needed to be able to listen and understand the perspectives of others in my class. Although we were all Penn State students, we all came from different backgrounds and had varying views and understanding of every topic that we were presented with. The three-hour class time never seemed to give us enough time to finish, so the learning and conversation never stopped even after the class had ended. I must grant the fluidity, jaw dropping and educational discussions to my professor Michael Elavsky. His guidance throughout the trip and genuine interest in what we were personally gaining from our time there added so much to the experience itself. I was granted with friendships from not only others from Penn State that I continue to spend time with now, back stateside, but also those who live in the Czech as well as students from University of Toronto who were paired with us for a majority of our travels.

Although this program and choice for a study abroad is unlike others that are commonly sought out by those in the College of Agriculture, I believe I gained just as much from it as I would have from a program that directly applied to my major. Communication is a key attribute that is needed in every professional setting and having an opportunity such as this, without a doubt, helped me grow in this skill set. Not only was I challenged in the sense of verbal communication, but also it forced me to be more open minded and accepting of others beliefs and opinions. These are skills that are sought after in today’s job industry as the working community continues to diversify.

The three weeks I spent on the other side of the world taught me so many valuable life lessons and I am unable to even begin to scratch the surface of how incredible this trip was. The actions I take today and the decisions I make have an impact on tomorrow and the days to follow. I am not alone in my beliefs but mine are surely not the only one’s worth listening to and understanding. I developed new friendships, and I grew as a person and I learned that there is more than what you are able just to gain from safety of your apartment or dorm room. Those three short but influential weeks has fueled my desire to travel and to continue to expand my worldly views as much as I possibly can, because one is only as intelligent as they push themselves to be. I am honored that through this program, Penn State and the College of Agricultural Sciences were able to teach me the meaning of having an impact on the world and the impact the world can have on me. The lessons and memories I gathered from this trip will stick with me forever, and of course whenever I am given the opportunity to speak about it, it will be nearly impossible to get me to stop. Thank you, Penn State, and Thank You College of Agricultural Sciences.