Texas Border Business ---
BROWNSVILLE – Travelling on family vacations throughout Mexico and to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, didn’t prepare Victoria Bouchot for the culture shock of Eastern Europe.
“Not only was this my first time in two completely new and foreign countries, but that long flight over the Atlantic was my first time flying alone,” said Bouchot, a junior bilingual education major at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College. She graduated from Brownsville’s Porter High School in 1999.
Bouchot, along with students Katerina Nemkova and Jonathan Cruz, participated in a “Maymester” study abroad with Dr. Sharaf Rehman, Associate Professor in the Department of Communication, venturing to Prague, Czechoslovakia, and Krakow, Poland.
“It’s impossible to say which city I liked the most,” Bouchot said. “I was impressed by both cities – the architecture, of course, yet even more by the natural environment with the incredible flower gardens; also the accessibility, being able to walk or take a bus everywhere.”
This trip was the Department of Communication 4303 photojournalism course; last summer, it was comprised of a larger group that went to Spain. While these three students traveled abroad for the class, others are currently taking the course with Rehman in Brownsville. Composition is an integral part of the program; students are required to submit three papers: informative, demonstrative and persuasive.
Jonathan Cruz, a communication major and 2008 graduate of Brownsville’s Hanna High School, submitted his informative paper on the famous Charles Bridge in Prague. He said the trip confirmed his interest in his major, and he might pursue travel writing sometime in the future.
“I’ve been interested in photography for some time, and I’m fascinated by languages,” Cruz said. “I had not been to Europe before, and this was an amazing experience to be in a totally new place, soaking up the culture and interacting with the people.”
Cruz, Bouchot and Nemkova spent their mornings with Rehman critiquing the previous day’s photos and preparing for the day with a lecture on the sites they would be visiting. After lunch, the four would set forth to explore the day’s points of interest.
“Aside from general photojournalism photography, each day I would determine something for the students to focus on with their cameras,” Rehman said. “One day they would concentrate on windows, one day doors, another of street vendors and so forth.”
One of the students, Katerina Nemkova, was not seeing Prague for the first time. Born and raised in Prague, Nemkova is a sophomore on the UTB and TSC chess team. She was able to stay with her family, who live in the city, during that portion of the trip.
“New people bring a new perspective to my home,” Nemkova said. “There are always some new places that I explore when showing people my city. This year we found John Lennon’s Wall and it was really interesting, it was my first time that I came to that hidden place to enjoy amazing graffiti.”
Cruz and Bouchot remarked on the freshness of the food during their trip.
“Actually, fast food over there isn’t really fast,” Cruz said. “And the water in restaurants isn’t free.”
Another first for Bouchot, the seven-hour train ride from Prague to Krakow, allowing the students to see the countryside and do some last-minute reading on Poland. In Krakow, they attended sessions of the Fourth International Conference on Language, Culture and Politics held at Tischner European University, May 30-31, where Rehman was a lecturer. Also at the conference, the students attended several thesis defense presentations by linguistics students.
“We were amazed that undergraduates have to write a thesis and give a defense,” Bouchot said.
The most stirring event of the journey for all three students was their visit to Auschwitz Concentration Camp, about a 90-minute bus ride outside the city.
“Movies and books cannot replace actually being there,” Cruz said. “I got chills while touring the camp. It was overwhelming.”
Although their first trip outside the United States and Mexico, Cruz and Bouchot both said they know this would not be their last time to Europe. Cruz also has an interest in Asia and is looking into teaching opportunities in China or Japan.
Bouchot taught elementary school in Matamoros for four years and hopes to achieve her degree and bilingual certification to teach in the United States. She feels this trip has enhanced her understanding of cultural diversity and said she knows she will be a better teacher for it.
Nemkova has had a head start on travelling as a champion chess player for Czechoslovakia and now as she enters her sophomore year as a member of the UTB chess team.
“Playing chess professionally means a lot of traveling,” she said. “Except Portugal, I think I have been through all of Europe, and I have also played tournaments in many cities in Russia, even Siberia. My next tournament is to play in the Chess Olympiad, this year in Istanbul, Turkey.”
Rehman said a goal of the program was to expose students to new cultural viewpoints.
“Visiting new places gives students a perspective on the way different cultures approach life, family, work, work, neighbors, love, stress and cultural heritage,” Rehman said. “It also emphasizes the point that ‘our’ way – the American way – of doing things is not the only way. A visit abroad is an opportunity to realize, experience, understand and celebrate cultural differences.”
To see a photo gallery of the trip, visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/utbtsc/sets/72157630620442954/.
For more information on study abroad programs, contact the Office of Global Engagement at 956-882-7092 or email@example.com. TBB