Harvard Club Prague

Harvard University, photo: gallery.hd.org

Harvard University in Massachusetts is one of the best known universities in the world and attracts the cream of under- and post-graduate students from around the world. The first Czech to graduate from the august institution was Gerhardt Bubnik in 1969.Today, almost forty years later, there are over forty Czech Harvard graduates. They meet in the Harvard Club Prague, which was set up by Mr Bubnik in 1993, attending presentations which are followed by heated discussions.

Gerhardt Bubnik recalls the club's beginnings.

"I must say that it was not my idea. There were a few people who were affiliated to Harvard, they were not graduates but they showed an initiative to organize such a club in Prague. There are practically Harvard clubs in every country. I agreed to help them because at that time I was the only graduate here in the Czech Republic, in Prague. There were quite a few of foreigners living and working in Prague who were graduates mainly of the business school. So at the beginning many of the members were foreigners, only very few were Czechs."

The number of Czechs has increased since then but many members are still foreign graduates living and working in the Czech Republic. As the current president of the club Marco Sipione half jokingly says, Italians like and are good at organizing parties. And that was the reason why he has as an Italian accepted the task of grouping all graduates together. But besides that the club of course does many other things. Marco Sipione:

"We have been quite active in organizing events and promoting the University here in the Czech Republic. We try to keep all Harvard University alumni together, organize events, invite interesting people and also try to encourage Czech people to apply to Harvard. It is a great experience. We are inviting people from the Harvard university admission office in October and we hope to get Czech students to come and listen to them and to learn what the university is about."

The number of Czech who apply to Harvard is higher than in the past, but in comparison with other countries the number is still low. The reason for that is unclear although it is likely that the money more than anything else puts many students off. When I asked Gerhardt Bubnik whether Czechs are equipped for such demanding studies he was more than positive.

"I think that nowadays there are many students who would be, as you say, well equipped for the studies at Harvard. First of all the knowledge of English has improved terribly. Many, many students speak English fluently and I believe that as far as other qualifications, as being bright they are also equipped. I believe there are many students who are really bright and who would have not problems. It is just a question of courage to apply and of financial resources. There is no question that studying at Harvard is expensive. An estimate is that nowadays one year at Harvard including tuition and other costs cost about 40 000$."

Gerhardt Bubnik
Nowadays a successful lawyer, Gerhardt Bubnik - who also has a degree from Charles University in Prague - recalls the days when he lived hand to mouth 40 years ago. He says although he was given a grant from the Harvard law school his budget was very, very tight.

"I even had problems to have enough money to buy books which I needed and everything else had to be forgotten. I remember that I had to think twice whether I could take the subway or whether I had to go by foot."

Harvard was tough work. There were long hours of studying without fun or free time - but it was worth it, recalls the first Czech graduate. The Socrates approach taught him to question instead of passive listening and agreeing, and was different than what he had known in Prague. Here he talks about his strongest impression.

"I would say that the only shocking thing was to find out how different was the way of studying law in the States. How hard work it is. How hard- working the students at these best US universities are, how competitive they are. Absolute striking difference in the way of studying, in the approach of students and professors."

The club invites specialists of all professions from all over the world to present their ideas. Members of the club and visitors then practice what they were taught during their studies. They talk about the subjects of the discussions as they used to at Harvard. Marco Sipione describes their style, a style they are all proud of.

"To be quite controversial and to discuss the issues at the core. We don't have discussions where one person speaks and the others listen so it is quite heated."

I also asked Gerhardt Bubnik about those heated arguments.

"Yes, we have meetings and we do argue but there are not arguments among the members. We organize our meetings in the way that we try to get a guest speaker for every meeting. Politicians, artists, scientists, writers, entrepreneurs, business people. The guest speaker has a presentation and then there is a discussion and then we argue with the speaker or with other person. They are not shy so they attack the speaker. Their questions are very tough and provocative."

The Harvard Club Prague hopes to expand. Not only in numbers of the members and graduates but above all in its activities.

"We are now trying to get some Harvard professors to stop by in the Czech Republic for some discussions. Prague is an interesting place for all these people to come so it is easy to invite them over."

Czech graduates of Harvard are highly successful. They are on very high posts, leading prestigious companies. The hard work and loans many of them had to take have paid off.

RP: Do I need to be a genius to study at Harvard?

"You need to be a leader, you need to be somebody who is dynamic and who likes to make things happen. It is not a question of being a genius.", says Marco Sipione.