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Many know Sylvia Vondráčková as a lecturer at AAU for marketing, PR and advertising classes. But, 22 years ago, she was introduced to AAU (then AAC) as a student. Like many of the AAU students we have today, she arrived in Prague fairly internationalized already, perhaps even more than most.
Born in the USA with Czech heritage, she lived on a sailboat for six years of her childhood, went to school in Cyprus, Mallorca and did home-learning, travelled to Syria and Lebanon along with 22 other countries, sailed back across the Atlantic to visit South America… all before age 11. When time for choosing a college came around, AAC was a natural choice. After AAC, she got her MBA at the Czech Management Institute and worked for six years in a well known P.O.P. advertising agency (SARA, s.r.o./ DesignTeam) where she was the marketing director and later export director, establishing sister companies and distributor partnerships across Europe.
Why did you and your brother choose AAC?
“Growing in the US and moving to CZ for a new adventure… AAC really saved both mine and my brother's situation. Being accepted in a Czech university was not an option for us due to our poor Czech language and so when we discovered that AAC is in Prague and offers a similar interactive teaching style we were used to in the US, we were happy. I had a few classes with my brother Martin, but he was so lively during the sessions that the teachers either loved him or tried to calm him down. Unfortunately he never finished AAC since he died travelling in Africa at the age of 18. I remember being in this complete emotional stupor and instead of crying at home, I went to class in three days to try and keep my mind off things. So to a certain degree AAC helped me pass the days and months better.”
What’s a more worldly upbring than being raised on a sailboat?
What are some of your memories?
“I used to drive and old SKODA 105 to the villa in Vysocany. That was really impressive way to get to school and apart from being ridiculed in the US for such a car, here we thought it was great driving a car from the real communist times. Then AAC moved to the campus next to Charles bridge in the premise of the Maltesian knights. It had impressive classrooms and we felt great. The shift from the outskirts of Prague to the beautiful center was mind boggling to us back then, but we were happy for the change. The class size was the same as now, and there were many students from ex-Yugoslavian countries. They definitely made the classes vibrate though I must admit I had never since so many creative ways of cheating. On the other hand they were talkative and charismatic, which is something I really appreciate now when teaching and being on the other side! The only teacher I clearly recall is the founder of the school since he wore very short pants. There was another charismatic advertising lecturer who threw papers in the air when the session finished. Because he taught interactively, due to him I went into the advertising field and enjoy it till now.”
Back then, the campus was at the Fleisnerka building in Prague 9 (Na Jetelce) with 80 students, 30 courses, and only eight full time academic, admin and support staff.
What is it like to become a teacher as an alumna?
“When I got the chance the teach at AAU about six years ago I was happy yet nervous. The first class I taught was in the exact same classroom I had studied with my brother 15 years ago. Incredible…I guess it was meant to be that way.”
How have you seen AAU grow? How do you think it has grown in the right direction?
“AAU is an institute I will always be attached to. I have seen it grow physically and geographically, moving from the outskirts to being in the heart of Prague in such immaculate premises. Though the process is difficult, I see results and appreciate them. We have beautiful classrooms, faculty room and most students are really here to learn. Overall, AAU cares and I look forward to hearing peacocks in the garden near our classrooms.”
What was the biggest turning points in your life?
“Turning points are both negative and positive. So of course I miss my brother but since then I became a bit more relaxed and love humor. To end on a positive note, the best adrenalin rush that I had and can still feel today was while hiking in the Himalayan mountains and seeing Mt. Everest. I could barely breath and knew that the „real“ mountaineers still have to climb another 2500m to its peak. In Brazil I had a chance to join gauchos herding a herd of cows on the Paraguay/ Brazilian borders. After two days of herding, when all the cows were finally nudged into the ranch, this incredible feeling of content rushed through your body. I could not walk for two days afterwards but felt good. Of course giving birth to two lively boys is a turning point for the better. Having great travel memories is an asset when you get to the stage when you fold underpants, repeat to your kids – wash your mouth, clean your teeth, please do not bring all those rodents home. :-) ”
What was one of the toughest moments when you were working at SARA?
“Driving three times to Vienna to apologize for an incorrectly produced batch of advertising products is the worst working experience in the advertising field. All is meant well, but sometimes mistakes in communication and production just add up and in this case, we had to redo the delivery with images of Heidi Klum 3×. So standing up straight and apologizing straightforward does the job, though it was really unpleasant.”
If you could invent an app, what would it be and why?
“Honestly I dislike apps, but to answer the question an app that would help you quickly decide things might help. A Decision Helper- so you quickly find an answer which school to go to, which job to go for, who to marry, etc. Otherwise, as I mentioned, apps are not my thing and I hope the time shall come when people will start standing straight again, looking outside instead of on their screens with an artificial world.”
If you could have dinner with anyone dead or alive, who would it be? What topics would you discuss?
“If would really like to meet my great-grandfather who was left as an orphan by his own mother at the age of six. Since then he worked his way up working on a farm to become a renown wholesaler with fabric and his own clothing company in the center of Prague. He had survived World War I, Nazis, and then the communist regime had taken his business where he was hired as stock manager. After all of this he continued to be optimistic, generous and never carried a grudge.”
What are three books/ films/ series that influenced your way of thinking the most?
“Patrik Hartl – Moments of happiness (only in Czech). All Courtney Bryce books but the best is The Power of One. My father's book called CESSNOU SVETEM (flying the world with a Cessna airplane). The book includes photos my brother had taken on the expedition through South America and Africa which he never finished, but his photos are here forever. I cherish it.”
When you arrive in a new country, what do you think are the most important or interesting things to engage with first?
“I love the local corner shops and ethnic food. I miss that a lot now. Ideally it is a region where you can speak the language somehow and meet the locals. Traveling to South America is something I miss now, but hope to return once again.”
If you could write an article the whole world could read, what would you write it about?
“I cannot grasp that WE all know what is good and bad for our world, yet it is still run by multinationals and large entities whose main objective is profit. Maybe it would not be an article but a provocation to all the people in the world to unite and try to change things. I know this may sound like utopia, but Communism partially came to an end in Europe and that was also unheard of.”
How do you explain your teaching philosophy?
“Academic enlightenment, meaning combine theory, reality and energy to make it click.”