Elizabeth Vanegas ’22, a science education major and good night scholar, began considering studying abroad while still in high school. She watched countless travel-related YouTube videos, and when she arrived at NC State, she applied to study abroad in Spain in the summer of 2020.
Then the pandemic hit and the trip was canceled. But Vanegas was undeterred and she applied for summer study abroad in Prague in the summer of 2021. That trip was also cancelled. Thus, Vanegas transferred his candidacy study abroad in Prague in the fall of 2021, and his perseverance paid off.
“The second I landed I was like, ‘Well, I’m really going to do this for the next three and a half months,'” Vanegas said. ” I can not believe it. I really had those moments, like several times when I was like, “Oh, I’m really in Prague right now.”
Upon arrival, Vanegas self-isolated for the night before taking a rapid test the next morning, which ended her quarantine. Then she was free to explore. Vanegas grew up in Sanford, North Carolina, and although she loves her hometown, she was thrilled to have the opportunity to experience Prague.
“The city itself is so beautiful,” Vanegas said. “It was also surreal to have the campus building in the middle of the Old Town Square. Even now, I don’t understand how NC State managed this location. Right after class, I could go for a walk in the Old Town Square or I could go to the Charles Bridge.
With the help of staff at the NC State European Center in Prague, Vanegas and the other students obtained digital passports for the European Union’s COVID-19 vaccine, making it easier to travel around the Czech Republic and beyond. from Europe. So over the weekend, Vanegas ventured outside of Prague, making trips to the Czech Republic and other European cities such as Berlin, Munich, Zurich, Vienna and Amsterdam.
Vanegas also made a number of trips through her classes. As part of PY 123: Stellar and Galactic Astronomy, she visited the Astronomical Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Ondřejov. In EDP 370: Applied Child Development, taught by NC State College of Education alumnus, former NC State College of Education instructor, and Czech Republic native Ondřej Pešout ’17PHD, she was able to visit a Czech kindergarten.
“Each class brought a unique experience to my experience in the Czech Republic,” Vanegas said. “Every class I had a field trip, which was so cool, because I never had the chance to have field trips in college.”
She has found these experiences rewarding not only personally, but also professionally as she prepares for her future role as an educator. For example, in the Czech kindergarten, Vanegas gained new knowledge about what education looks like in the world.
“At the Czech school, what I found so interesting is that the children have a lot of autonomy over their time,” Vanegas said. “They can kind of choose what they want to do at certain times. So things like that were really, really interesting; just the time difference.
Through field trips with her astronomy class, she got to see science in a whole new way, an experience she hopes to share with her future students.
“To actually be able to see where history was made with the scientific discoveries was amazing,” Vanegas said. “And I never thought I would feel so connected until I could actually experience it. So hopefully I can push students to think a little more about that outside world.
At the end of the semester, Vanegas took a COVID test to make sure she was negative and returned home to North Carolina. Now she has the opportunity to take what she learned in Prague and apply it in the classroom as she completes teaching students this spring.
“I really hope to show the kids pictures of the places where I saw where history was being made,” Vanegas said. “Science is constantly changing, it’s something that forever connects us to things like that. (Johannes) Kepler, he lived in Europe hundreds of years ago, and we still talk about him. So just remind students that science really does change the world and you find science everywhere.
But beyond sharing her love of science with her students, Vanegas wants to help them broaden their horizons the same way she did when she was finally able to fulfill her dream of studying abroad.
“I hope to inspire students not to be afraid to travel or explore things outside of their homes because they never know what they’re going to find,” Vanegas said.