July 11, 2019

VSU’s Steven Kohn Honored for Decade of Service to Czech Study Abroad Program

Dr. Steven Kohn

VALDOSTA — Dr. Steven Kohn, associate professor of psychology at Valdosta State University, was recently awarded the Comenius Medal from Palacky University in the Czech Republic for his 10 years of service to VSU’s “Live and Learn in the Czech Republic” study abroad program.

Kohn, who said he was humbled by the award, was first involved with the study abroad program — which takes VSU students to the Czech Republic every summer to study psychology at Palacky University — as a faculty member and has been the program director for the past five years. The Comenius Medal, which is named for one of the premier European pedagogues of the Middle Ages, reflects a high level of esteem and gratitude to the recipient.

Kohn’s duties as program director include recruiting and supervising students — which includes acting as an all-around caretaker for students who are often leaving the United States for the first time — coordinating logistics, and teaching Palacky University students, who are still in session during the summer study abroad program.

“There is a humongous amount of work that goes into putting together a study abroad program,” said Dr. Ivan Nikolov, director of VSU’s Center for International Programs. “It’s year-round work, and once you’re over there, it’s a 24/7 job.

“I’ve seen Dr. Kohn in action, and he’s a seasoned program director. You don’t have many people who have consistently delivered and have integrated so well with the colleagues of the partner university. He’s intellectually and personally committed to this program.”

Kohn said a major motivation for his work is seeing students grow throughout their time abroad.

“A college education is more than just the classroom,” he said. “These are life-changing experiences. It changes their views on their own future, their ideas about things, how they see themselves, and how they see their home. It’s a pleasurable thing to see.”

VSU first established its partnership with Palacky University — which is considered one of the premier universities in the Czech Republic and is located in the culturally and historically rich city of Olomouc — in 1998 with a study abroad program through VSU’s Department of Political Science. That program is still going strong, and students from Palacky University often join VSU political science students in New York City to compete in the annual Model United Nations Conference.

The psychology study abroad program that Kohn oversees was established 15 years ago and was a success right from the start. Through the month-long program, VSU students are able to learn from Palacky University faculty and earn academic credit; conduct field work related to their major and pursue service learning and professional development opportunities; and explore numerous iconic cities throughout Europe, such as Vienna and Prague, as well as historical sites, such as Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

“Many students say it opened their eyes to the world,” Nikolov said. “And it’s a professional enhancement, to go and work with a partner to do professional work. They grow up. By working with other cultures, with people from different backgrounds, our students are maturing both professionally and personally.

“Companies love to hire students who have been on study abroad because they have the global skill of communication, of traveling and dealing with logistics and issues. It’s a necessary skill to have in our globalized economy.”

Throughout the year, VSU and Palacky University students also have the option to study at the sister university through a semester exchange, and faculty from Palacky University often come to teach at VSU for a semester through VSU’s Louie A. Brown Visiting International Scholar Program.

“Palacky University is extremely easy to work with,” Nikolov said. “We’ve helped them where we could, and they’ve definitely enriched us professionally and culturally.”

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