Journey to Prague
Seven students had the experience of a lifetime when they visited Prague in the Czech Republic with political science and public policy professor Petra Hejnova over this month's spring break. While it was a return to Hejnova's homeland, for a number of the students, it was their first time to travel abroad.
"I'd never been overseas and I'd always wanted to experience a different culture," said Chris Hess '11. "When I saw that Petra was leading this trip, I knew that's the one I wanted to go on. She's from Prague and I knew that she'd make sure we experienced the real Prague - not just the touristy one.
"It was amazing," Hess continued. "Our group met people from all over the world - not just those native to Prague. Every night we made new friends - people from Switzerland, Norway, England, Australia, Germany, Greece and more."
The trip also was the first travel abroad experience for Carolyn Boyajian '11. "Prague was the most incredible experience of my life. It's one of those places you never thought you would go to, but is totally worth it, and I picked it because of that."
Beyond Prague, the group took several day trips, including a visit to a concentration camp. "It was a real eye-opener for the students," Hejnova said. "They were saying that, up until then, World War II and the Holocaust was just a story to them. Once they were actually in the camp, it suddenly became very personal."
"My ability to empathize with different cultures has been increased dramatically," said Hess. "Before, I read about Communism and the harsh realities of war, but going to the camp and seeing the monuments made it all the more real. It no longer felt like studying - it felt like we were living the experience."
In addition to exploring a medieval castle from the 14th century and a Gothic cathedral, they toured Kutna Hora, the location of the Church of Bones.
"Inside, the church is donned with the bones of 40,000 plague and war victims," Hess explained. "A monk was commissioned to arrange the bones in a decorative, artistic manner. There was also was a Cathedral inside the city that had impressive artwork, hand-painted windows, furniture from the 14th century and a huge organ."
According to Boyajian, "Everything we saw had some sort of historical meaning or event happen there. ... Everything is so well preserved and breathtakingly gorgeous. My favorite place we visited was Kutna Hora. Everyone just totally fell in love with the city. It looked like what I imagined every little European city to look like."
Before traveling to Prague, the students met with Hejnova multiple times throughout the semester, learning about the Czech Republic's history, culture and society, seeing a Czech film and reading Czech books. "Basically, they got a context for the place they would be traveling to," she said.
Boyajian said their schedule allowed for time to explore Prague as they pleased. "After learning about the city's background, we were able to look into what we found interesting a little deeper."
Because they stayed in the center of Prague, they were able to walk everywhere.
"We took a tour of the city and went to several restaurants to explore Czech food," Hejnova said. Typical Czech fare includes beef, pork, dumplings and cabbage. "They were very adventurous about it. Each of them ordered different meals and they shared."
"Between the tours, currency, food, nightlife and architecture, Prague is definitely somewhere I will go again," Boyajian said. "I think going abroad is something everyone should do, or at least consider. It is such an invigorating experience."