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First-Year Students Experience FYI in Prague

This year, nearly 20 NC State students started college off on the right foot before ever stepping into a campus classroom. They took part in FYI in Prague, a two- week study abroad program integrated with the high-impact experiences of a first year inquiry course.

“I chose to go to Prague because I thought it would be a fantastic way to start my college experience,” said Elise Jansen, a first-year student in the College of Engineering. “I felt that it would help me adjust to college life and meet some new people in a small setting before diving into our very large home campus, all with the added bonus of experiencing a fantastic new European city.”

Students earn three course credits that count toward their degree prior to beginning their first semester. They immerse themselves in inquiry-guided learning through exploring historic Prague, Czech Republic, along with an NC State staff and faculty member.

FYI in Prague actually begins on campus with a two-day orientation designed to familiarize students with one another and help them adjust to college life. Students then fly to Prague for 10 days at NC State Prague, where they combine classroom learning with cultural experiences.

These experiences include visits to museums, monuments, cultural landmarks and other notable venues. Students also take a weekend sojourn to Český Krumlov, an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“Students learned about respecting and recognizing the importance history plays in who we are today, and the Czech culture is very much grounded in that,” said Dr. Debbie Acker, associate director of operations and academic programs at NC State’s Shelton Leadership Center and a professor for one of the classes for FYI in Prague students. “It feels like you’re living back in time but you’re in the modern world. Prague is one of the only cities that escaped the destruction of WWII. They had so many spaces that date back 700+ years. For two weeks, it gives you a full cultural understanding and appreciation and gives you a thirst for what else is out there.”

While in Prague, students take either Critical and Creative Decision Making Models or Introduction to Environment and Behavior: Integration of behavioral and environmental systems related to design. The classes fulfill a General Education Program requirement and encourage students to develop interdisciplinary and global knowledge and skills that will aid them throughout the rest of their academic careers.

“The benefit for the faculty member here, whether they go and teach in Prague or allow their course to be taught by a faculty member there, is that we are allowing our students from all the colleges to be exposed to other cultures, perspectives and opportunities,” said Acker. “This helps students be more prepared, more aware, and better equipped when they graduate and represent our university as globally engaged citizen leaders. It’s very exciting!”

Upon the conclusion of FYI in Prague, students return to NC State for an on-campus reflection day. This process allows time to unpack a rich cultural experience and apply lessons learned to upcoming classes and university life.

“Learning how to use the bus and tram system in Prague has definitely helped me navigate around the Wolfline system here at NC State already,” said Charlie Walker, a first-year in the College of Engineering. “In Prague, we took a class and were free to do whatever we wanted after class, so that helped me get used to taking classes at NC State. It also helped me know what to do with my freedom when I wasn’t having class.”

Increasing students’ self awareness and capability to successfully and fully engage in college life pays benefits far beyond FYI Prague. The students return excited about studying abroad again, ready for academic excellence and participation in an increasingly global society.

Learn more about how FYI in Prague merges the high impact experiences of a first year inquiry course and study abroad.

Meet the Student

Charlie Walker
First-Year Student, College of Engineering

Why did you choose to go on the FYI in Prague trip?
I chose to go to FYI in Prague because I wanted an opportunity to travel the world. I’ve never really been outside of the country (Cancun being the exception) and with my adult life ahead of me, who knows when I would have had another chance to go to Europe.

What was your favorite part of FYI in Prague?
My favorite parts of the trip were the times I got to walk around the city by myself. My favorite solo journey was going to a secret cafe where I watched a live performance in a coffee shop. Afterward I went to get a pizza, but the pizza shop only sold whole pies, so I bought a whole pie for myself. I obviously didn’t eat it myself, so I gave the rest of my pizza to these kids who were eyeing me for the pizza anyway. They were pretty happy and kept yelling “Pizza!” and “Thank you!” which was probably the only English they knew pretty well at the moment.

What did you learn while you were there?
On the trip I learned that even though the Czech Republic and U.S. are two different countries, they are pretty much the same when you look closer. Prague reminded me of New York City because they are both fast-moving cities. Once I got past the language barrier and my preconceptions of others, I started to learn that all around the world people are all the same and we’re not really different as we might think.

Meet the Student

Elise Jansen
First-Year Student, College of Engineering

What was your favorite part of FYI in Prague?
My favorite part of the trip was getting to explore the city both within class and on our free time. My class, the LAR 221 (Introduction to Environment and Behavior for Designers) with Art Rice, had assignments that required us to go out into the city and observe the behaviors of people and study the city and culture around us. I found that all extremely interesting. Also, on our free time we were able to go explore the city on our own and choose the things we wanted to do/see. I enjoyed this a lot because I had been to Europe previously with a different tour group, and our schedule left little room for separate exploration outside of guided tours and planned meals. The freedom we had in Prague allowed me to see the city through my own eyes and really get the personal experience I was looking for.

What did you learn while you were there?
While in Prague, I learned to be more observant and appreciative of my surroundings. The Czech Republic has a much different culture than we do here. For example, one doesn’t say to a stranger “Hi, how are you?” like we do casually in the U.S., and people do not wave to cars as a “thank you for stopping” as they cross the road. Those are simply little things, but there are so many more that differentiate our two countries. Being immersed in the culture for two weeks definitely taught me that there is so much to be learned from and valued in other cultures, and the importance of taking a moment to really see what’s happening around me. Not just seeing on the most surface level of the word but deeply seeing and being able to absorb and appreciate what is going on. Professor Rice’s class definitely assisted in growing this skill as well, since it was all about behavior and understanding why people do certain things where they choose to do them. So, I guess you could say another thing I learned in Prague was to redefine what it really means for me to “see” something.

How do you think this will help you during your academic career at NC State?
I think this trip will help me immensely in my academic career at NC State. The smaller setting allowed me to establish a relationship with my professor, something I think is very important to being successful in college. I think having that experience right off the bat will encourage me to reach out to more of my professors in the future. Also, I have always been interested in studying abroad, and the Prague trip has made me increasingly excited about that opportunity and much less nervous. I think it will allow me to approach other experiences like this with less apprehension than I have in the past.