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Discovering leadership abroad in Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic

What does it mean to become a leader? How do you best practice citizenship in the world? Students in Leadership Across Cultures found out when they traveled to Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic to grow their identities in rich cultural settings (with plenty of scenic vistas). The study abroad trip was offered by the Office of Student Engagement as part of the Excellence in Leadership program.

Budapest city building.

The 2022 Leadership Across Cultures cohort visited the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest, Hungary.

If you’ve ever traveled abroad — or even on a road trip — you might know that it’s one of the best stress tests ever. Therefore, the logic goes, it’s also one of the best learning experiences ever.

How do you remain a leader when you’re part of a larger group? How is leadership overseas different from in America? How can you perform cross-cultural leadership? These are questions that students on the first-ever Leadership Across Cultures study abroad trip found answers to — and in no better locations than the countries of Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic.

Group photo of students outside the Hungarian Parliament building in Budapest.

The students at the Hungarian Parliament.

In May, nine students in the Emerging Leaders Institute, offered by the Office of Student Engagement, went abroad to not only learn about their own leadership capabilities, but also about leadership styles in Central and Eastern Europe and at international nonprofits. Amanda Gelber, director of student engagement, and Courtney Cunningham, assistant director of student engagement, brought their expertise in leadership along for the journey.

“There are many different kinds of leadership, but we use the active citizenship model the most, where we take students from a self-view to a world-view,” says Gelber. “With Leadership Across Cultures, we give students a global experience in multiple countries.”

The first stop was Budapest, Hungary, where the students checked into their hostel and set out for the McDaniel Europe in Budapest campus, where they met with students who provided a tour of the city and shared how their long-term study abroad was making an impact.

They visited the Szechenyi Thermal Baths to shake off their travel fatigue before touring the Hungarian Parliament, a palatial building of spires and arches perched beside the Danube.

To make sure new concepts in leadership and citizenship in the world were taken to heart, the students had reflection discussions about the history, culture, and first-hand lessons they learned along the way.

“I want to work in international affairs,” says Luci Vallor, a junior Political Science and Psychology major with a minor in Sociology. “So, being given this chance to learn about and explore different countries is an invaluable experience.”

Group of students sitting in a train car.

On day six, the students boarded a train to Vienna, capital city of Austria. On a once-in-a-lifetime day trip to Salzburg, Austria, they toured locations from the film "The Sound of Music." Another trip to the red-roofed, white-walled 18th-century city of Bratislava, Slovakia, brought them to a picturesque setting packed with history.

Back in Vienna, the group got down to business at the United Nations of Vienna, where they watched representatives in action — for many students, like Julia Hurlock, it was a true highlight from the trip.

“One of the most interesting things I saw was the United Nations in Vienna. It was really cool to be able to see how a session worked,” says Hurlock, a junior Business Administration and Marketing major.

“As a leader, this trip was very important to me,” says Jeremy Volker, a junior Criminal Justice major with minors in Forensic Science and Psychology. “Going to places like the United Nations and nonprofit organizations to talk with them gave me more insight as to how leadership overseas can be so different from that in America.”

Group photo of students at Grenzenlos Nonprofit in Vienna, Austria.

An eye-opening visit to Grenzenlos Nonprofit in Vienna.

The students were able to learn about international nonprofit work at the Grenzenlos Nonprofit, an Austrian NGO that aims “to promote the personal development of individuals and intercultural understanding”; and at Social Impact Award, an Austrian nonprofit with the goal of empowering students to make a difference on an international scale.

Another train ride to Prague, Czech Republic, brought interesting experiences in the form of a lecture at the Anglo-American University and a Czech Republic cooking class.

Their final activity was a day trip to Kutná Hora, a medieval mining town-turned-royal city, now preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its Gothic architecture, gone unchanged for centuries.

Even though it was home to Baltimore after Prague, the journey had a lasting impact on every student, all of whom shared that they would recommend it to a friend looking for leadership experience.

“Leadership Across Cultures was very thrilling. I learned more about myself and what specific things would make me a better leader,” says Autumn Cunningham, a junior Social Work major with a minor in Psychology. “Budapest was lively, Vienna was beautiful, and Prague was exhilarating! Overall, it was a worthwhile experience that I am delighted to have been a part of.”

The Leadership Across Cultures study abroad opportunity was for students in the Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI) within the Excellence in Leadership program, offered by the Office of Student Engagement. The program is open to students of any major and at any point of their college career.

Leadership Across Cultures provided real-world experience to developing leaders, and participating students earned an experience credit on their transcript. Experience credits are a major part of the McDaniel Commitment, and students need two to graduate

"We give them the tools, but then we ask them to utilize the tools and their lived experiences to develop their own leadership style."

Courtney Cunningham

“A lot of what we do in our leadership programs is about self-reflection and growth. We give them the tools, but then we ask them to utilize the tools and their lived experiences to develop their own leadership style,” says Courtney Cunningham, who planned the itinerary for Leadership Across Cultures.

The ELI program introduces students to leadership practices while guiding them in understanding their sense of self and personal values. After completing ELI, students can complete the Advanced Leaders Institute, which focuses on models of group leadership.

In addition to the Emerging Leaders Institute and Advanced Leaders Institute, other Excellence in Leadership programming includes the Sophomore Cohort Leadership track and the annual Common Read, which is centered around a specific book. For 2022-2023, students will read “The Personal Librarian” by Marie Bendict and Victoria Christopher Murray, then travel to New York City for Jan Term.

Students on the 2022 Leadership Across Cultures trip included:

Montara Clay, a junior from Ellicott City, Maryland.

Autumn Cunningham, a junior from Baltimore.

Keishan Dempsey, a senior from Towson, Maryland.

Julia Hurlock, a junior from Elkridge, Maryland.

Monzel Jasmine, a junior from Glen Burnie, Maryland.

Kate Pickersgill, a sophomore from Holtsville, New York.

Emily Sherk, a junior from Bethesda, Maryland.

Luci Vallor, a senior from Woodbine, Maryland.

Jeremy Volker, a junior from Halethorpe, Maryland.

September 15, 2022 is the fall semester deadline to study abroad in January 2022 . See the available trips at this link.