My STEP money went towards my summer trip to Prague, Czech Republic through the Office of International Affairs, where we took classes in various subjects such as economics, Czech agricultural studies, Czech history, and sustainability. This program took place from May 15th to June 11th and counted as a 3 credit hour course towards a subject related to my minor.
This 4 week program gave me a better perspective of the world outside of the U.S. and made me realize how important it is to explore different cultures and learn new ways of life through meeting people in other countries. Before stepping into a new country and immersing myself into their culture, I had no idea what the world was like outside of where I grew up. After living in Prague for a month, my view of the world changed because I met people from several countries and heard their stories, how they grew up, how they ended up where they are now, and what took place in their life to lead them there. Talking to so many people opened my eyes to the amount of possibilities there are in choosing a life path, and taught me that you can’t always plan exactly what you’re going to do or where you’ll end up. I met several terrific people with such an array of different cultures and different lives and it really made me appreciate all the diversity in the world. Growing up in Mentor, Ohio, mostly everyone has relatively similar backgrounds and cultures, so being able to experience such diversity within one month changed how I view the world and put me in other people’s shoes, seeing how they live their life and how it differs from what I know. My view of the world before was through a much smaller scope, so what I know now is from experience rather than stories from other people or textbooks. I learned things about the Czech Republic and their government and their past that I had never known before and it truly made me appreciate the country that I previously knew so little about.
While we were in Prague, the celebration of the 700th anniversary of King Charles IV was taking place, through events such as the showing of the crown jewels in Prague Castle where people stood in line for hours to be able to see. Thanks to the celebration of this event, we got to learn why King Charles IV was so beloved in the Czech Republic and how much he meant to the development of their country and of the town of Prague especially. This helped facilitate my change in the view of the world because I had no idea how old Prague was and how much history it held and I got to understand how a country was built and what it had been through for the past thousand years. I would never have learned the rich cultural history of this country without having travelled there and without the celebration of King Charles IV’s anniversary, I would not have learned as much about his role in the country.
Activities we did within the program included a few farm tours throughout different areas in the Czech Republic, in order to see how farms operate especially in a country where farming is such a huge contributor to their economy. We went to small and large farms, some owned and operated privately by families and some owned by large companies. We went to a meat manufacturing plant where we saw how chickens are processed for sale and we went to a milking cow farm to see dairy production. All these experiences changed my view of how we get food. I had never visited farms to such an extent before and seeing how they differ in the Czech Republic from what I know about farms in America helped to improve my understanding of how different countries operate. For example, I learned that the Czech Republic has several sustainability initiatives such as solar panel farms and ways to improve farming efficiency without hurting the environment. Learning about their efforts to contribute to a healthier world made me realize that different countries are putting forth efforts to make a big difference in people’s standards of living.
Lastly, the relationships I formed with the people I met in the Czech Republic really changed my perspective in how people live their lives. I was fortunate enough to be able to stay with a Czech student and her family for a weekend in the village she grew up in and I was able to see how their family lives. In her village most people have farms and grow a lot of their own food and breed and kill their own animals, which is very different from the place I grew up in. I also learned that in general, everyone in the Czech Republic is very family-oriented, unlike most families in America these days. I appreciated learning about the family and village dynamic and how everyone works together to sustain themselves. I saw how different their culture was from mine in the U.S., which gave me a greater understanding of the diversity within the world.
This change in my understanding of a different part of the world matters in my life because with my major in Public Health, I hope to travel the world and help people in all kinds of areas to improve public health and safety. With a better knowledge of at least one other culture and the differences between health and food safety in Europe and America, I will be able to apply that not only to my learning in college, but also to my future endeavors. With experience in a different country so early on in my schooling, it will shape how I learn and interpret concepts because I can apply ideas I’ve developed from Europe to what we can improve or work on in other countries. Such a fulfilling experience will help with finding a job after graduation and allow me to develop the future career I am aiming for, as well as develop my personal goals of traveling and seeing various ways of life throughout the world.