International Study Trip: Business and Culture in Prague
Students meet Czech leaders from tech, auto, private equity and VCs
Prague is at the heart of Europe. History lives in each of the streets and buildings, with an incomparable mysticism captivating locals and tourists alike.
On our week-long International Study Trip in the Czech Republic, our group of students from the Graduate School of Management were able to take it all in, with a schedule packed full of meetings with business and government leaders in the tech sector, the auto industry, private equity firms, venture capital startups and the U.S. Embassy.
We saw the influence of communism in buildings throughout Prague, while reflections of capitalism shined through in the newer commercial buildings we visited, such as those housing IBM, Microsoft and UniCredit.
A CRASH COURSE IN CZECH BUSINESS AND CULTURE
Back in California before our trip, we spent every other Sunday discussing topics like history, macroeconomics, business, law and culture in the Czech Republic.
As a guest speaker, Miroslav Tenkl from CzechInvest provided insights into the business dynamics between the U.S. and the Czech Republic. The company provides potential investors with information and contacts for investing within the country or the opposite, for Czech startups to succeed on the American market.
Sharing this experience with 20 classmates was invaluable. The people, the traditions, the food were unbelievable.
PRAGUE PRIDE: SCODA AND BEER
On one of our visits, we were able to walk through some of the painting and assembly lines on a tour of Škoda Auto’s manufacturing facility—a large source of Czech pride. The auto industry is the main economic driver for the Czech Republic, representing nine percent of the country’s GDP. During the communist era, Škoda cars were considered to be of low quality, but are today recognized across Europe as top performers.
Beer is deeply a part of the Czech culture as well. The country has the highest number of breweries per capita in the world. We actually went beer tasting in one of Prague’s oldest palaces, which dates back to the 12th Century. The beer industry directly contributes to the hospitality industry, which is responsible for about a third of the jobs in Prague.
THE DOWNSIDE TO EUROPE’S LOWEST UNEMPLOYMENT RATE
Having split into its own country and now far removed from the protectionist practices of the former Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic has grown an economic environment that’s today more supportive of entrepreneurs.
With unemployment down to just 1-3 percent, Czech companies are actually having difficulties hiring and retaining a qualified labor force. The pool of available talent is small and with strict hiring policies in place, it takes at least three months from the hiring date for an employee to be able to start work. Employers are having to look outside of their local job markets to fill openings. They are often hiring from neighboring Slovakia, Austria or Poland.
The low unemployment rate is also making it difficult for startups and new companies to develop and grow.
AN ECONOMY THRIVING ON TOURISM
We finished our trip with a cultural visit to Český Krumlov, a place that exists as a flashback to the region’s medieval history. The small town in the South Bohemia region of the Czech Republic is best known for its elaborate 13th-century castle, a Unesco World Heritage site overlooking the Vltava River. The town’s main activity is tourism. We found it full of cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops and exchange rate offices.
History lives in each of the streets and buildings, with an incomparable mysticism captivating locals and tourists alike.
Sharing this experience with 20 classmates was invaluable. The people, the traditions, the food were unbelievable. Hearing so many different languages in the streets, restaurants and cafes awakened my interest in learning a new language.
The Graduate School of Management, in conjunction with Professor Suzy Taherian, who led the practicum and trip, has created the experience of a lifetime.
I look forward to returning to Europe and enriching my international experience.