Masaryk University held two winter schools this January, which students from all over the world could attend to gain international experience in their fields of study, credits, and friends from across the globe.
Although these winter schools were open to anyone, most students came from Australia; they wanted to study in Europe and experience real winter. MU also welcomed students from Switzerland, India, Indonesia, Peru, and Armenia, as well as students from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, who came for the first time on an MU short-term programme.
“For 13 years now, MU has been organizing the Human Rights and International Law Winter School taught by teachers from the Faculty of Law. The pandemic brought us an opportunity to add a second winter school, International Relations and Threats to Global Security, which had historically only been taught in July by teachers from the Faculty of Social Studies. Both winter schools were taught online in the past two years, but this year we were finally able to bring students together again in person and we were very pleased with how it all turned out. In addition, many Swiss and New Zealanders came on the recommendation of satisfied classmates who had taken MU courses online, which made us very happy,” says Erin Anna Smith, organizer of the MU summer and winter schools from the MU Centre for International Cooperation.
Intensive coursework and assignments every day
Over three intense weeks, a variety of academic, cultural, and social offerings awaited the nearly 50 students enrolled in the courses. Every weekday they had classes from morning until lunchtime, and in the afternoon, the students had time to study, work on projects, and take part in social activities. At the end of the course, students had three weeks to submit an essay to receive a final grade and eight credits, which their home universities recognized.
These international students could look forward to more than just superb academics. In the first few days, they were treated to a welcome dinner, a tour of Brno, and lessons in basic Czech phrases. The students also played laser tag, took part in an escape game around Brno, went to a hockey match, and visited museums and galleries. They also particularly enjoyed tasting different varieties of wine from vineyards near Brno and from all over the Czech Republic. At the end of the winter school, MU held a farewell dinner for them, during which they could try Moravian and Bohemian folk dances.
Students also went on a half-day trip to nearby Kroměříž and went on a three-day excursion to Prague, where it snowed heavily, so some students got to see snow for the first time. “Back home in Australia we get around 45 degrees in January and it never snows in the winter, so snowy Prague was magical for us. It was very funny to see how the students from Switzerland were not surprised by the snow at all, whereas we from the south didn't even know how to walk in the snow. Passers-by must have been amused to see us treading carefully and apprehensively,” laughs Australian Eve Panagopoulos, who studies law at Deakin University in Melbourne.
The first trip outside the continent for some students
In addition to the trip to Prague, during which the students visited Radio Free Europe, which broadcasts news in various languages, MU also organized excursions to Budapest and Vienna.
“In Budapest, we visited the Parliament building, and we also visited the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and had a discussion with a representative from the European Roma Rights Centre, which was a very interesting experience for the students. At the end of the winter school, we were in Vienna, where we visited the UN headquarters and the students were able to meet with practitioners, which was also very beneficial for them,” says Erin Anna Smith, the organizer of the winter school.
According to Smith, MU has received very positive feedback from students who attended both courses. They praised the cultural and academic programme, which offered them new perspectives on their fields of study and a new way of thinking. Moreover, for many Australians and New Zealanders, the winter school was their first international experience and marked their first time leaving their home continent; some of them are even considering coming to MU again in the future, for example, for an exchange programme or a summer school.
One such Australian is cybersecurity student Jack Moore, for whom the course at MU was his first opportunity to meet Australian classmates in person, as his degree programme is fully online.
“I am very happy that I went to Europe. It was a very interesting experience. Brno is a great city and especially for students. The people here are great too, they often just chatted with me when they heard my accent. They were always interested in asking me where I was from. When I said I was from Australia, they were amazed, and they asked me what I was doing here. So, I always replied with a smile that I came to study at Masaryk University and that it was great here,” laughs Australian Jack Moore and adds that he is thinking about coming back to Brno one day. There are more than enough job opportunities and interesting places here, he says.
Masaryk University will offer winter schools next winter as well. Applications for January 2024 will open in April 2023. To see courses being offered in summer 2023, visit summeratmasaryk.cz.