Petr Vrba studied Political Science at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic. In 2021, he spent his spring semester at the University of Kansas, Lawrence through ISEP. Petr shared his unique experience studying abroad during the pandemic and how the opportunity has vitally inspired his individual and professional pursuits.
Petr is passionate about International Relations and wanted to study abroad like his classmates. He reached out to his faculty, who partnered with ISEP to facilitate Petr’s experience in the United States. ISEP was not Petr’s first exchange opportunity. In 2020, he studied abroad in Northern Ireland through Erasmus. Unfortunately, Petr had to come home early in early March 2020 due to the pandemic. However, he did not give up on his dreams, and applied for ISEP in June that year. Looking back, Petr says this turbulent time had a silver lining: one opportunity cut short opened the door for another uniquely exciting one.
Every exchange student recalls their experience as a “special” one. This adjective applies to Petr’s case quite literally. Arriving on the campus in January 2021, Petr had to navigate “the new normal” as we called it. Covid regulations limited some activities, but did not define his spring semester at University of Kansas. Although most of his classes were online, Petr had a thought-provoking academic experience. He enrolled in interesting classes, including one about International Organizations which inspired his career interest in diplomatic service.
Petr often found himself as the only non-American student in his classes. He says that while “it was a nervous experience,” it helped him overcome his shyness. Moreover, Petr could offer a unique perspective as an exchange student to the discussions in class. “Classes here place more emphasis on forming your own opinions and applying them to recent events,” he says, “I’m glad to experience new ways of learning in the United States.” Petr especially enjoyed going to his only in-person class. Face masks and Covid measures posed challenges to bond with classes, but Petr found it “refreshing” to meet physically again. “Back home it wasn’t possible [to meet in-person], but here I could.”
During his free time, Petr hit the gym, read, or hung out with his international friends. Together they would challenge each other in a card game of UNO, play soccer, or attend musical performances, which were not available in the Czech Republic due to protocols at the time. Petr also liked traveling locally with his friends. Petr is glad he was in Lawrence, where he could “truly see the real America.” He had visited New York City once as a tourist, but the experience was different. In his words, the United States “is a huge country with many cultures, and there he gained “first-hand experience of the Midwest.”
ISEP broadened Petr’s horizons and motivated him to keep searching for more opportunities. He shares, “the only thing you regret is the opportunity not taken.” Last year, Petr landed an internship at Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic to the United Nations in New York City, where he witnessed discussions on pressing issues taking place. It was a memorable experience for Petr, and his ISEP exchange played a crucial role in inspiring him to further pursue his passions.
Studying abroad offers many perks. Petr argues that besides developing proficiency in English or another language, exchange programs give a competitive edge professionally. “Your potential employer will recognize these skills: being independent, unafraid of taking on challenges, and being multicultural. Nowadays it’s hard to be unique. This experience helps you stand out.” More importantly, he adds, “you will always have stories to tell.”
*Story written by Mai Kasemsawade, ISEP Princetern