5) CZU - A place to get a unique education grounded in the life sciences
The Czech University of Life Sciences is a place where an education rooted in science and agriculture is merged with other subjects like economics and business; a place where students from all over the world can get a truly unique and well-rounded education, grounded in multiple subjects.
24-year-old Taine Rose from New Zealand, a student of the Faculty of Economics and Management, says it’s the diversity in his education that he loves most about the study culture at CZU.
“One may think that it doesn’t make sense to study economics and management at an agriculture university, but I think the school has found a pretty good balance between having business basics but also integrating agriculture into it. A lot of people may not realize that there are a lot of business and economic careers that have to do with farming and agriculture. It never occurred to me before that if I wanted to start my own business that I could use agriculture, it doesn’t have to be something cool with technology, there are plenty of farms in New Zealand that are developing new technology, or working out better ways to do farming. That’s all a possibility with an economics and management degree from CZU.”
That unique study environment where students are able to merge subjects like business or IT with life sciences or agriculture is something that Ondřej Votinský, who works in the Department of International Relations at the university, says is a priority for the school.
“I think the variety of our study programs is something that should be highlighted. We have the Faculty of Economics and Management, which is by far the biggest faculty, but you can also study IT. On the other hand, we have all the other faculties, which are very focused on life sciences, like the Faculty of Tropical Sciences and Environmental Sciences. We have a huge variety of programs, so it doesn’t matter whether you study economics or engineering, there is always a motive for life sciences. So if you’re doing something with business, it’s going to be the business of farms. When you are doing engineering, the focus will be on engineering agricultural machinery.”
This specialised educational experience is offered to students in a tight knit campus community, which Ondřej describes as a special feature of the university.
“I would say we are one of the few universities that has an American style campus, which is strange because the school was designed during the communist era in the 1950s. This is a big advantage because you get the feeling you are at the university, you can see all the students hanging out in the restaurants, everything is happening in one place. It’s a really busy place and you really feel like you’re at the university.”
The centralised campus doesn’t only make life easier for students to navigate the university, but it also contributes to creating a closely connected environment for international students to thrive in.
“I think our students are quite good at building the community, maybe because they have the feeling that they are all together on one campus. You can really see that during inter-university events. There is a famous ice-hockey battle between the universities, and I always get the feeling that the CZU students are the most united and supportive of each other. So this could be a result of everyone being together on campus. Additionally, when you study at the Faculty of Economics, you don’t only go to that one building. For example, when you have maths, you go to the Faculty of Engineering. When you have something with chemistry, you go to the Faculty of Agrobiology. So students have this understanding of how the different faculties look like, and what the people from different facilities are like.”
For Taine, studying in Prague at CZU has been more than an educational experience, it’s given him the chance to fall in love with the city, which he describes as a fantastic place to lay roots.
“Prague is really cool, it’s super close to everything, not as cheap as I originally thought, but it’s still relatively affordable. As a student here, I can teach English or work at a bar and make enough money to get by and still go on weekend trips to Germany and Austria. I really enjoy living in Czechia.”
When it comes to relocating to a new city, finding an accommodation that feels like home is critical to feeling comfortable, wherever you may be living. Nitkamon Iamprasertkun, a student from Thailand studying in the Faculty of Tropical AgriSciences, chose to live in a student dorm while studying in Prague. She describes it as a great opportunity to meet new people from different universities in Prague.
“ I live in student housing in Prague 7. It’s perfect for internationals because sometimes we have events and activities where we can meet other students from different universities across Prague. In our dorm, we have students like me from CZU, but also students from Charles University. So it’s nice to have communication between us from living in the same dorm.”
Nitkamon also explains how living in a dorm has opened her up to meeting new people from all across the world, as the international community in student housing is quite strong. From living next to each other, international students can share their own cultures, and learn from each other.
“I think it’s good to learn and see the differences between cultures. All of us have different cultures and foods, so sometimes we can share it together. We often go to the main kitchen and cook food together. Sometimes people are surprised when they see you cooking a certain food, but then they try it and they like it. There is also a lot of diversity in the classroom at CZU. For example, I’m from Thailand, but a lot of my classmates are from African countries. So we don’t always learn from what we’re being taught in school, we learn from each other.”
The diversity amongst classmates is also seen in the friend groups that many students form while here in Czechia. Taine from New Zealand describes his friend group as a combination of Czechs and internationals.
“I would say it’s a combination of Czech people and international people. Through sports that I play I’ve been able to meet a few people from my part of the world, Australia and New Zealand, as well as some Irish people. I also have Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarussian friends, since I speak a little bit of Russian. So it’s a mix of different ethnicities.”
Forming friendships often happens from engaging activities and spending time in a new city. Taine has taken to sports and athletics as a means to make new friends and fill his days in Prague.
“I do a mixture of things, I really enjoy sports, so I play a few- for example Australian football, which is similar to rugby, as well as Frisbee or basketball. I also go to quiz nights or game nights at different bars. There are apps where you can get a free beer a day for 100 crowns a month. It works out really well, I never really drank beer before I moved to Prague, but now I do enjoy it. So going out for drinks, playing sports, and working is how I spend my time.”
Unlike Nitkamon, Taine and his partner opted for living in private housing here in Prague, another alternative many international students take.
“I live in a private flat with my girlfriend. When we first moved here, we lived in student housing, but we figured out that for basically the same price or a little more we could live in a private flat by ourselves with better facilities. We live in Žižkov, which is a really cool neighbourhood. It’s close to the main train station and the city centre, lot’s of cool bars and young people, which can be good and bad since there are a lot of parties going on around, but overall it’s a great environment.”
When living alongside locals, language is important, and Taine is working on his Czech in order to better acclimatize to living in Prague.
“My Czech is not as good as I thought it would be. Originally, I thought I would move here and learn Czech because I thought it was a bit similar to Russian, and then I would be able to go to university in Czechia for free. I quickly found out that Czech is quite different from Russian, and so I study in English. But now I can get by, I can order beer, and say basic greetings, but I’m not as fluent as I’d like to be.”
Czech language aside, the number of international students like Taine and Nitkamon continues to grow at CZU, with no end of growth in sight, as Ondřej explains.
“We do have around 30% of non-Czech students, and this number is getting higher every single year. This year as well we registered higher numbers of study applications from international students than last year. So even though there was COVID, even though we have a war very close to our borders, international students are still interested in coming. We were a little bit afraid that because of all the things happening in the world, it would have pumped the brakes on our internationalization, but it’s not, and we’re super happy about that.”
With the number of internationals continuing to grow exponentially, the city of Prague has had to respond, becoming more friendly to those non-Czech speakers and open to a diversity of cultures cohabiting in the city.
“I think the situation has developed within Prague that more people know English and you can hear English in Prague everywhere. This was not so 10 years ago. I can imagine future students visiting the city as tourists and when they feel safe, and they hear people around them speak English, it brings them the feeling that even though they don’t know Czech, they can live here. So the community is here, and it’s influencing the locals, and they have to adjust to it, and vice versa. And I think it’s working quite smoothly.”