NC State’s global influence impacts faculty, staff and students in myriad ways. This influence is keenly felt at the NC State European Center in Prague, the university’s gateway to Europe and a model for international education and research.
This summer, NC State Prague celebrates its fifth anniversary in the Office of Global Engagement. That’s five years of building on what started as a successful effort within the College of Design, marked by program expansion and positioning the university for continued competitiveness in a diverse society.
A Look Back
In 1992, the College of Design established a summer program in Prague. In 2004, Art Rice, Professor Emeritus of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, and former college dean Martin Malecha, worked to create a year-round program, with the Prague Institute officially opening in January 2005.
Fast forward to the summer of 2017, and the Prague Institute was in the midst of moving to a new location. The official name changed to the NC State European Center in Prague, and management moved from the College of Design to the Office of International Affairs (now the Office of Global Engagement). New opportunities opened for all NC State students and faculty.
“We envisioned being able to expand NC State Prague’s physical footprint and ability to serve faculty and staff through the increased support the Office of Global Engagement could provide” said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Warwick Arden. “Since then, the center has grown to something greater than we originally imagined, and we’re looking forward to an even more prosperous future as a global influence.”
In its first year in the Office of Global Engagement, more than 200 NC State students studied abroad in Prague. Over the next several years, new courses were added to the catalog and Prague Connection and First Year Inquiry opened study abroad opportunities for first-year students. In 2019, Kimberly Strozewski was named director of NC State Prague, and a new student affairs program coordinator was hired.
Expanding Student Impact
NC State Prague’s course catalog has expanded over the past five years to include more STEM and GEP courses appealing to all majors. As a result, in spring 2022 NC State Prague hosted an equal number of students from the Colleges of Engineering and Design. The center has also expanded offerings from students in the College of Education, and will continue to add courses to attract more students from the College of Sciences.
“NC State European Center is a fully fledged university asset and is one of the reasons why students apply to NC State,” said Anaël Symůnková, NC State Prague communications specialist. “Students have Prague on their radar before applying to NC State, and we have worked to make NC State Prague a place where all majors meet. Additionally, with a strong social media presence, students can be inspired and look forward to their experience abroad.”
Students most noticeably influenced by this growth include first year students with the Prague Connect program (started in 2017), who get the opportunity to start their college journey abroad. Spending their first semester abroad truly impacts the course of their academic careers. Often, first year students return to campus and get involved in global outreach, becoming Global Ambassadors and Study Abroad Ambassadors, and working with New Student Programs.
A Student Perspective
NC State alumna Elizabeth Vanegas studied at NC State Prague during the fall 2021 semester. She was able to take a variety of classes, including Principles of Sociology, Stellar and Galactic Astronomy, Applied Child Development, and Czech Culture and Language.
Vanegas was inspired to study abroad at NC State Prague due to her previous international experiences with other NC State programs. She wanted to push herself further and immerse herself culturally in a country that was different from the U.S. to develop independent and interpersonal skills.
“The most formative part of my experience was learning how to travel on my own and creating a safe space for others to explore other cultures. I had to do a lot of the planning for the group trips I took and I learned so much about traveling! As someone who did not travel a lot while growing up, I realized that traveling is a lot more accessible than I thought,” she said.
Since graduating in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in middle grades science education, Vanegas encourages current NC State students to pursue study abroad. In her personal life and professional career, she has developed the confidence to pursue career opportunities abroad, and has considered doing a master’s degree program abroad in Prague because of the incredible experiences she had.
“My advice to students seeking to study at NC State Prague is to allow yourself to view Prague as your temporary home,” said Vanegas. “Once I started viewing and treating the Czech Republic as my home, the more independence I gained. It also made the process of living away from home a lot easier. I felt less and less homesick the more and more I viewed Prague as my home! I still think about Prague as a second home even after graduating.”
Growth and Momentum
Over the past five years, student services at NC State Prague have greatly expanded. New positions were created, including the addition of a Student Affairs Program Coordinator. Enrollment has also opened to students from other land-grant universities, in order to offer these students a low-cost option for studying abroad.
Faculty and staff worked tirelessly on the creation and development of three new programs: the Prague Connect program, the global leadership minor in cooperation with the Shelton Leadership Center — a program that has courses in three European locations — and the Summer Internship program, running with great success in summer 2022. NC State Prague is now renting a building exclusively for its students in an up-and-coming neighborhood only 20 minutes away from the center, enhancing the study abroad experience.
“NC State Prague has been transformed to a truly universitywide center for global engagement in the last five years that supports student from all colleges and expands services to faculty for research, and as well as a gateway for collaborating with other partners in the region. Prague faculty and staff, and everyone in the Office of Global Engagement, have worked collaboratively to create even more educational and cultural experiences for NC State faculty and students,” said Senior Vice Provost for Global Engagement Bailian Li. “We are very happy that we were able to reach pre-pandemic enrollment this year. With excellent service and support, participants receive a well-rounded experience that inspires achievement and academic and personal success.”
At the beginning of the spring 2020 semester, 50 students arrived in Prague expecting a traditional study abroad experience. That quickly changed in March, when the COVID-19 situation in Europe necessitated NC State getting all study abroad students back to the U.S.
The Prague study abroad experience became an online one, with program faculty and staff working tirelessly to help students adjust and continue to offer as many academic and cultural experiences as possible.
“We overcame pandemic-related challenges,” said Strozewski. “We were the only program to run in spring 2021. All efforts were made to keep the opportunity to study abroad available. The local team worked hard to adapt to the new restrictions and still provide the best experience.”
Due to navigating the challenges posed by COVID-19, NC State Prague was well prepared to address another conflict when war broke out between Russia and Ukraine in February 2022. The center quickly began hosting Ukrainian refugees in its student living spaces and hosted week-long intensive Czech language courses for Ukrainian students. The student lounge of NC State Prague’s facility transformed into a childcare center while parents attended the language classes. NC State students studying abroad in Prague also volunteered to cook meals for refugees. Because of these efforts, NC State’s global impact was also one of community service.
Today, NC State Prague is well known as a study abroad location for students. Moving forward, the center seeks to increase global collaborations and faculty research opportunities.
With its central European location and outstanding facilities, NC State Prague intends to foster partnerships with colleges and departments to develop seminars and symposiums to engage with partner universities to become the global gateway for NC State.