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Athletic Teams Mix Culture & Victories during Summer European Adventures

July 26, 2011

"Any time you go somewhere with a football team, they're gonna be noticed," Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology professor Mike Kukral chuckles.  The geography professor accompanied the college's football team on its trip earlier this summer to Europe, where they emerged victorious in a charity benefit game against the Austrian national football team.


Seeing The Sights: Members of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology's men's basketball team had some fun at Mont Saint-Michel near Normandy during a recent trip to France.

The trip was also educational as several football players took a Central European Studies course, developed and taught by Kukral, to fully appreciate the history and culture of Prague in the Czech Republic and Vienna, Austria. 

"We want to promote more international education at Rose-Hulman and this is one of the ways to do it," Kukral says of the trip and its corresponding class.  "It's a great experience to educate Rose-Hulman students about these cities."  He adds that immersion in another culture provides an education that can't be found on the home front.  "You can only learn so much in a classroom or a book," Kukral notes.

In addition to the game, the team traveled to Hradcany Quarter, St. Vitus Cathedral and the River Vltava in the Old Town Castle District of Prague, as well as Vienna's Schobrunn Palace.  "It's very important to internationalize or globalize Rose-Hulman's curriculum," Kukral says.  "One of our goals is to get students into other cultures because their jobs are going to take them all over the world."

As a civil engineering major, Mitch Snyder took a particular interest in the architecture of the cities he visited.  "I don't know how they did this without any modern equipment," he marveled as he recalled the grand cathedrals and massive palaces of Europe.

Kukral indicated a valuable part of an international experience is recognizing "differences you never thought of or expected."  He adds, "You realize that things are different everywhere you go - and things are the same everywhere you go."

Among the cultural differences, Snyder noted some of the subtle things that were most surprising in the international setting.  "They didn't have any ketchup over there and that kind of threw me off," he said.

International experiences were also gained this summer by member of the men's basketball team, which traveled to France, where they played, and won, three games.  Players had the opportunity to tour the Champ Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe and the Notre Dame Cathedral.  This was the team's fifth international trip under head coach Jim Shaw.

Good Luck Charm: The Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology men's basketball team found a familiar - and welcome - sight in an elephant statue in front of the Musee d'Orsay, a museum in Paris.


As with the football team, the basketball players stood out among the Europeans during their travels.  Basketball team member Spencer Harlan says that the players' height, along with their American clothing, left no doubt among the French that the students were from the U.S. 

"People would point us out on the street and say, 'Oh, Americans!',"  he says.

Harlan, who had never before traveled abroad, continues, "The major thing I learned is what it's like to be in a completely different environment, with a completely different way of thinking and viewing things."

The basketball travel group had a particularly moving experience when members met a group of British World War II veterans near Normandy.

"I probably could have sat there and listened all day.  I've only ever talked to one other World War II veteran," Harlan says of the encounter.  "It was a wonderful, life-changing experience."

Kukral says that students traveling abroad representing Rose-Hulman are not only gaining a valuable learning experience, but they're also ambassadors for their school and country.  "Everyone that met our team was very impressed," he says of the football team, adding "I heard a lot of positive things about their manners, their attitude and their interest . . . Everywhere we stayed they were great ambassadors for Rose-Hulman."

Football player Ben Parker credits Kukral's Central European Studies class, as well as traveling alongside the geography professor, with helping him appreciate the cultural aspects of the trip.

  Carrying American Banner: Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology football players brought an U.S. flag onto the field in pregame ceremonies before the Charity Bowl game against the Austrian national team in Vienna.

"Everything you saw, you already knew what it was," he said.  As the group toured the historic Charles Bridge in Prague, Parker enthuses, "Dr. Kukral was dropping knowledge bombs on us, telling us all kinds of stuff."

Snyder comments that although there were many cultural differences, the similarities outweigh them.  "It's definitely opened my eyes (about other cultures).  Just seeing what else is out there and understanding how other people live.  But, overall, they're a lot like us."

Learn more about the football team's European trip, including Facebook updates and photos, at