Lenka Vystrcilova - Academic Director, Prague
As CEA's Academic Director in Prague, Lenka serves as the primary contact for students and CEA staff regarding all academic issues, including academic process management and student academic advising. She is also charged with strengthening and developing the relationship with CEA’s partner institution in Prague, Anglo-American University.
Before CEA you worked with students studying abroad in Munich, how did you get connected to CEA’s programs in Prague?
My educational, and eventually professional, experiences have always been closely connected to study abroad. While on maternity leave, I was approached to consider the position of CEA Prague Academic Director. The role seemed like a perfect fit in terms of position profile and responsibilities, as well as organizational mission and philosophy. I am very fortunate to have assumed a role in which I can help shape the life-changing educational experiences of CEA students in Prague.
Your role involves managing academic processes and advising, as well as institutional relations; what does a typical day as Academic Director in Prague look like?
My typical day is quite varied and fast. In involves intensive contact with CEA students, including academic advising, mentoring, and leading student workshops or peer program activities. It also entails close collaboration with academic leadership of our partner institution, Anglo-American University, on academic matters ranging from academic quality management and curricular or student issues to participation in university academic fora. There is also a fair portion of program organization and academic administration, constant rapport with university advisors, partner organizations, and CEA Academic Directors and colleagues worldwide.
You studied abroad several times in different countries, how do you apply those experiences to your work advising international students in the Czech Republic?
I was educated in the U.S., Germany, and (Czecho)Slovakia. I am thus familiar with the U.S. universities and students first-hand. I can also relate to challenges and rewards connected with study abroad in general. My personal educational experiences and my belief in the transformational power of study abroad are a constant source of energy and inspiration in working with CEA students.
What are the typical characteristics of academically successful CEA Study Abroad students in Prague?
Certainly open-mindedness and perseverance. While it is crucial that students set clear personal and academic goals for their time abroad, they should put their expectations in perspective and embrace the unexpected. They should be pro-active, intellectually curious, and exploratory, in order to take full advantage of immersion opportunities that the CEA program, and their everyday life abroad, has to offer. Second, they should have the resolve to withstand cultural differences and difficulties because tough encounters outside of their comfort zone can often times be the most rewarding.
What’s the most important tip you give to prospective CEA students headed to Prague for the first time?
At CEA, we are strong believers in the importance of authentic cultural immersion, if study abroad is to fulfill its mission of personal and academic growth. I would advise students to take advantage of every immersion opportunity offered. Whether it is a Czech cooking workshop, volunteering opportunities within the local community, international internships, or buddy program pairing students up with peers, we always try to come up with creative ways to complement and enhance students’ academic experience with meaningful immersion opportunities in Czech life and culture.
What makes Prague such a great place to study abroad?
I am sure that CEA students would agree that Prague is an easy city to fall in love with. It is a stunning city known for its rich history and architectural splendor. The uniqueness of its appeal has to do with it being the very heart of Europe, where centuries of history and traditions intertwine with the excitement and opportunities of “new Europe”. Of course there are also practical considerations, such as an excellent transportation system, vibrant cultural life, and access to many parks, which are also important to everyday life.
You can speak five languages, what do you tell students in regards to the importance of language learning while abroad?
Learning a language wires one’s brain differently and helps provide a fuller and more authentic grasp of the culture. Our CEA Prague students may have it tougher, as they mostly have no prior knowledge of the Czech language, but we encourage them to learn at least basic phrases useful for everyday life. Although they may be far from proficient when they leave Prague, it is the effort made greeting or thanking people, which signals open-mindedness and willingness to embrace the host culture.
You’re originally from Slovakia, but have spent a good portion of your life living and studying in the U.S. How does your life experience help you when chatting with international students about academic life in Prague?
Studying abroad has been an integral part of my life and I know from personal experience how enriching and rewarding it can be. Our students’ experiences and journey remind me of my own, only in geographic reverse. This is why I greatly enjoy seeing and helping our U.S. students make life-changing experiences in “my” part of the world as part of CEA study abroad in Prague.
How do you use your academic background in political science in your job?
By training, I am a political scientist specializing in democratization, post-communist transitions in Central and Eastern Europe, and European Union studies. My background, combined with my academic training, enables me to convey the socio-economic, political, and historical specificities and realities of Central Europe to our students while allowing me to put these into a comparative perspective.
You’ve been with CEA Study Abroad for a couple of years, what has been your biggest accomplishment thus far?
Our accomplishments are best measured by accomplishments of our students and their life-changing experiences, personal growth, and learning curve attained while in Prague. Nothing is more rewarding than a wonderful note from alumni or parents reflective of this.
What is the best part about working for CEA Global Education?
All my CEA colleagues worldwide are travel and study abroad enthusiasts. I think that this collective passion for international education makes CEA a very dynamic and innovative organization. I enjoy that we always continue to look for ways to think outside the box and creatively seek ways to continuously enhance student learning in order to help our students have a truly transformational study abroad experience.
To this end, student feedback is crucial for us and I believe that ongoing assessment, coupled with self-reflection and innovation, will continue to inspire us toward constant enhancement of our students’ study abroad experience in CEA locations worldwide.