3) Putting students and international culture first: Palacký University Olomouc
Palacký University located in the Moravian city of Olomouc is a multicultural hub for students from countries the world over. Of the university’s 23,000 students, over 4,500 are foreign nationals.
Hugo Fonseca, from Colombia studies international development and environmental studies and he says the student life and community in Olomouc is second-to-none.
“To be honest, I love Olomouc. I always say to my friends that I love studying in a small city, because we have a student community that, if you were living in a capital city, you wouldn’t have. In capital cities, people tend to be more individualistic, but here in Olomouc it’s like a community. If you go out for groceries, you meet people from your school and we recognize each other even if we aren’t close friends. We’re all living in the community and we try to be nice, the people here really care about others.”
Palacký University Olomouc is the oldest university in Moravia and the second oldest in the country, just behind Charles University in Prague. The history of Palacký University dates back to December of 1573, when it was given the rights to confer degrees at the former Jesuit College in Olomouc. Today, it’s a bustling hub for international students like Hugo, who are seeking quality higher education.
Colombia is a long way off from Czechia, and before deciding to make the move to Olomouc, Hugo considered universities where they speak his native Spanish. But he says he’s loved the challenge of living in a new place like Czechia, where the language is foreign to him.
“I know it’s really far, but they had a cooperating program with my home university. A year ago when I decided to come to Czechia, I only had two options: Spain or Czechia. You could ask why I didn’t choose Spain, where I can speak my mother tongue. To be honest, I wanted to fight with the language because if I was in Spain, it would be really easy for me. I didn't know a word of Czech when I first came here, but fortunately in Olomouc, everyone speaks English, and I can say that all my friends speak English perfectly.”
Yael Romero is an economics and managerial studies student at Palacký University originally from Mexico, and he says, the location of the university, and the affordable cost of living in Czechia were significant factors in his decision to cross the globe for his studies.
“Of course I came here to study but I also want to know all of Europe, not just Czechia. Czechia is geographically located in a great place to travel. You can take a train and go to Austria, Poland, Slovakia, Germany or Hungary. So you can travel to many places and that really opens your mind. It's a great opportunity to see Europe. I also think that Czechia is not really an expensive country. Compared to Mexico it’s similar, it’s not a country like Germany or Spain where they use Euros. So for me, who handles Mexican Pesos, the Euro is quite expensive. So using Czech crowns, the prices are similar, which is a very important factor.”
The location that Yael mentions is a strategic factor that Jiří Stavovčík, the Vice-Rector of Foreign Affairs at Palacký University, says is a pillar of the institution, and describes the school as the “Oxford of Czechia.”
“Palacký University is three hours away from Prague, but it’s only two hours away from Vienna, it’s very strategically placed and especially for students who like a small town setting, Palacký University is an ideal place. My colleagues tend to call Palacký University the Oxford of Czechia. Maybe we are three hours from Prague, but we are much closer to other places, so students have a chance to travel more in central-eastern Europe.”
And Palacký University is not just the “Oxford of Czechia” for its location, it’s also a globally ranked and revered institution, as Jiří explains.
“Our school culture is one of the top 50 in the world for medical school and natural sciences. As a university we are ranked by Times Education and other rankings quite well. If I remember correctly, the US News and World Report ranks us among the top 600 universities in the world. So the quality of education is quite high, there are many specialty programs that you can do at Palacký University that you cannot do at other schools. We have quite renowned programs at the school of Liberal Arts, the School of Education, and also our Theology school. So we have many programs that we can offer to international students.”
The quality of education has not gone unnoticed by the international students at Palacký University. Aidarkhan Jussupov, an English teaching student from Kazakhstan says he enjoys the autonomous teaching approach employed by professors at Palacký University.
“I suppose yes, I get a very good quality education in Czechia. I can see how the educational system works here and how teachers work. I like how teachers here present their subjects. They are very down to earth people, and they don’t give us 1,000 pages that we will not remember, they say “you should learn for yourself”, and give you help if you need it, but if not, it’s your choice. Everything is very connected and everything flows, I haven’t had any difficulties so far, it’s been all good.”
Hugo also appreciates the education he’s getting at Palacký University, and says that studying at the institution helped change his mind on his original vision and career path.
“When I started to think about what I could study, I was thinking petroleum engineering. But when I started to really read about this program, the environmental consequences were really bad. I thought maybe I could study the opposite and actually help the environment. I’m really impressed with the level of academic studies here at Palacký University, all the professors have a really high level of education - Masters and PhDs. I am not only going to take classes from them, but also lessons. The experience in this environment is really pragmatic,, it’s not just recycling, reducing and repeating. At Palacký University, the environmental points are really important and realistic. Maybe we don’t have all the control to change the world, but we can make really big changes.”
That quality of education is something that the university works hard to promote, and as it closes in on 450 years of existence, Jiří explains the plans the school has for attracting future students.
“At the moment, we are working on organizing different programs in the United States and in Canada to promote the 450 years of this school. We are a part of the European University Alliance, with the University of Iceland, the Free University of Amsterdam, with the Copenhagen Business schools, and the University of Innsbruck. So we are getting around.”
The work Palacký University has put into getting around and getting the word out there about the school's strong reputation for international students has paid off in attracting students from all over the globe. Aidarkhan describes what he loves so much about the international community at Palacký University.
“The thing that I like about being an international student is that you can never guess where someone is from. Another thing is that international students are very open when you talk to them; they aren’t closed because they want to spend their time talking with others too, and hanging out with others and studying with others instead of by themselves. So I think 95% of international students are talking with each other, forming some type of groups, even like families with very close connections where you go around everywhere together.”
But while most international students enjoy being abroad amongst other cultures, there’s still room for differences, as Hugo explains.
“I am from Latin America, and in Latin America we always try to be happy and smiley and really friendly. But when I arrived here and met Slavic people for the first time, not all of them were super smiley. And I arrived saying “Hello, Dobrý den!” and I remember one girl asked me “Why are you smiling, why do you look so happy?”, and I just asked her “Why not?” It’s just cultural differences, and it’s really nice because I can learn about society, why people are the way they are and it’s really interesting.”
When it comes to understanding and discovering Czech culture, Jiří thinks Palacký University and the city of Olomouc is the perfect place to do so.
“Czech culture is the culture of a place in the centre of Europe, and certainly, we are the result of 1,000 years of cultures going across this land. As my professor of history told me in the early 1990s, there is not one military that didn’t cross the Czech lands in the course of history. And this always leaves a footprint, it also brings different cultures. And the result is a culture that is very unique, and different from the culture of Bavaria, Austria, different from Polish culture or Slovak culture. It’s a chance to discover our unique culture.”
So if you’re from Mexico, Kazakhstan, Colombia and everywhere in between, Palacký University in the small student town of Olomouc is the perfect place for international students to learn, live, and thrive together in a tight-knit community.