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Alex Wesner Named New Assistant Director of the NC State European Center in Prague

The Office of Global Engagement is proud to announce that Alex Wesner has been named Assistant Director of the NC State European Center in Prague (NC State Prague for short). Alex previously worked as International Student & Scholar Advisor in the Office of International Services. He has been with NC State for seven and a half years. As the new Assistant Director for NC State Prague, he will serve as the unit’s campus representative and office liaison to the University. He will in particular be responsible for managing the advising, application, and pre-departure phases of study abroad programs facilitated by NC State Prague, working in collaboration with the Prague-based staff towards providing high-quality programming for the University’s students and faculty.

Alex has a Master’s degree in International Studies and over six years of professional experience in the field of international education. His interest in working with international students stems largely from his family background in addition to formative personal experiences traveling, working and studying abroad.

What are you most looking forward to in this new role?

There are many aspects of this new role that excite me.  First and foremost, I am thrilled to be able to continue my professional life as a member of the WolfPack community as well as part of the international education community, both of which I’ve served and grown to love over the years. But probably most of all, I am looking forward to the opportunity to reconnect–in a sustained and professional manner–to that part of the world that I hold very near and dear to my heart.  In addition to majoring in East European Studies as an undergraduate at UNC, I inherited a love for the region through my parents, who emigrated from Poland in the 50s and 70s, respectively (they only first met in the small eastern North Carolina town of Plymouth).  Over the years this personal passion only grew, fed by the significant amount of time I spent studying about and traveling in the region, which included several unforgettable trips to Prague and the Czech Republic.

Have you ever been to Prague, or in the Czech Republic?

Yes, on three separate and wonderful occasions. Though this may sound trite, it is true:  the place really does have a uniquely magical and captivating quality to it– our university is truly lucky to have a permanent facility there.  My first visit to the city of Prague came some 20 years ago, and its hooks were in me right from the start, aided no doubt by its delightful artistic, architectural, and culinary offerings. It has a fascinating history and incredibly rich cultural heritage, making it rather easy to “sell” our NC State Prague programs to prospective participants, attracting students from a wide range of academic disciplines. In this role, I consider myself fortunate to have the opportunity to encourage and enable as many students as possible to experience and be educated in–and by–this lovely city and country.

What do you think the biggest challenge(s) will be?

Perhaps in the long-term, there are bigger challenges, but it is difficult not to point to the elephant in the room here and answer “COVID-19.” I don’t think it’s myopic to say so either, since even once we return to pre-pandemic “normal,” nothing I think will ever really be “normal” again. The world and the way we live, move, and work within it will remain profoundly affected, to say nothing of the acute impact on those who’ve tragically lost loved ones during this time.

And so in this role, it becomes therefore a challenge of persuading students and their parents of the programs’ benefits, cognisant of the risks and recognizing that there will be varying levels of risk each is comfortable accepting.  One of the frustrating aspects of a global pandemic is that its unpredictability leaves many elements outside your control, presenting serious challenges to any worthwhile long-term planning.

But it’s not a challenge we can’t learn to overcome.  Perhaps the better word here is to adapt to– much as we have in the wake of difficult times in the past.  We can and should use it to learn, grow, and improve, as individuals and organizations.  Personally, it has been a poignant and at times painful reminder of how vital it is for the holistic health of the human individual to have daily interaction with others, to live in full dimensionality, outside of virtual settings and Zoom meetings, experiencing the world with all senses engaged, and being embedded in it in a real, tangible way.  This is something I believe Education Abroad and programs such as those offered by NC State Prague can contribute to in a very important way, helping in the larger healing process in the days, months and years ahead.

What do you like about working in International Education?

I see my interest in this field as the natural outgrowth of being the child of immigrants, plus a consequence of developing an early and abiding love for playing and watching soccer, a true global game.  At its best, international education operates at the intersection of two very noble pursuits:  the improvement of the individual and society through institutions of higher education; and the fostering of peace and greater cross-cultural understanding through the movement of peoples beyond national boundaries.  And so working in this field helps satisfy the idealist in me, while, at the same time, drawing me into collaborations with very interesting, intelligent, and conscientious people, who are motivated by similar ideals of improving both the local and global settings they find themselves in.  This provides for a very dynamic work setting. During my time in this field, I can say that I’ve had some great days, and I’ve had some tough days.  But I’ve never had a dull day. That’s what I like about working in international education.

What energizes you at work?

At work I am motivated and energized by an undefined mix of the following variables:  the desire to contribute/serve, the next round of monthly bills, the needs of the other, a general fear of failure, and a [healthy] sense of competition (usually self-directed :).   Knowing (or hoping) that the things we do and sacrifices we make daily, in the end, have a positive impact on the world and the people around us (which I think our work does)– that is what gives wind to my sails (in addition to strong black tea, intermittent walks outside, and the occasional mid-afternoon cookie).

Saving the best for last: If you could only eat one item for every meal for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

To keep the Czech theme running here, and ignoring the dire health consequences posed by eating the same item of ANYTHING for the rest of your life, I would propose the following menu (not confining myself just to “one item” because I am writing this close to dinnertime and am hungry):

  • Appetizer: Smažený sýr [fried cheese] (famous Czech dish, absolutely delicious)
  • Main Course:  Goulash with potato dumplings (homage to my time in Budapest)
  • Beverage: Pint of cold Czech pivo (Zubr or Velvet, preferably)
  • Sides: Pringles (the OIS readers of this will understand), Caesar Salad (to offset the Pringles, and because the body needs something green, right?)
  • Dessert: a Carolina Concrete from Goodberry’s (sorry, Howling Cow, you’re tasty too, don’t get me wrong)