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Going Pro in Prague

How would you like to spend a semester in a brand new city, play your favorite sport on a professional team, and interview a famous Czech dissident for your thesis?

Sounds too good to be true, right? But that’s just what history major Brandon Boccellari ’15 was able to do, when he studied abroad in Fall 2013 through Haverford Study Abroad and Collegium Hieronymi Pragensis (CHP) in Prague, Czech Republic.

We caught up with Brandon a few weeks ago, and he shared with us a couple aspects of his unbelievable adventures last semester.

Brandon, a junior this year, plays attacker on the lacrosse team at Haverford and hails from Oakland, New Jersey. With eleven years of experience in box lacrosse and field lacrosse, and having served as captain of his high school team, Brandon is no stranger to the game. He chose Prague as his location to study abroad because he had never been to Eastern Europe—and soon learned he was the only Haverford student that semester on the program. Nevertheless, Brandon made friends quickly, through his classes, his travels through the city, and most importantly, through his new lacrosse team.

Getting into the professional lacrosse league in the Czech Republic was no easy feat, but Brandon had a personal connection: “A friend of mine owns an apparel company and he was out in Prague this past year expanding his brand.  He put me in touch with a few people running the European Lacrosse League (ELL), a highly competitive international box lacrosse league in Europe, and they got me into the draft over the summer,” said Brandon.

Brandon was drafted 50th to the team Pietro Filipi, based 45 minutes outside of Prague in the town of Radotin. To retain his status as NCAA athlete in the US, Brandon was not paid for his time with Pietro Filipi. In his single semester abroad, Brandon became the team’s leading scorer. “Our team was the most international in the league, boasting a roster composed of players from 9 different countries,” said Brandon. At the close of his semester, Brandon was even invited to continue to play professionally for Pietro Filipi. He turned down the offer, in order to return to the States and finish college at Haverford.

Although Brandon made friends with, as he says, “most players in the league” and was able to explore Prague in his time off from classes and practice, a drawback to playing lacrosse at the elite level was the restriction he felt on his schedule to do typical “study abroad” activities—namely, traveling. The first half of Brandon’s semester was filled with twice-a-week practices and weekend games across the country, leaving him little time for travel to see other cities or fellow students abroad. He also played without compensation for the Radotin Custodes LLC, a team in the Czech Field Lacrosse League, during his time abroad (and also led them to the championship game!). “I wish I could have planned more [sightseeing] trips to other countries, but [I] had matches on most weekends,” said Brandon. “The second half of the semester, however, I was able to get some traveling in; I saw Amsterdam, Vienna, Brno [Czech Republic], and Berlin.”

Brandon’s incredible professional sports career is just one side of his astonishing semester abroad in Prague. In one of his classes, Societies in the New European Union, Brandon was able to work on a personal project that sparked his interest in a big way. Through the connections of his professor, Brandon was invited to interview Czech dissident and Protestant pastor Tomas Bisek, who signed Charter 77, a 1977 document declaring open rebellion against the Communist regime in then-Czechoslovakia. “The interview got quite emotional given the subject matter,” said Brandon. “Mr. Bisek is an extremely kind man who has a deep rooted care for human beings of all kinds and is pained by all sorts of oppression.”

Studying abroad in Prague played a powerful role in Brandon’s plans for senior year, and most significantly for his thesis. “I think my study abroad experience helped to define my academic path,” he said. “My studies of communism and my interview with Tomas Bisek are going to play a major role in my senior thesis next year; I seek to continue my research on rebellion, resistance, and dissidence under Communism.”

When asked if he would recommend the study abroad program in Prague to other students (even non-professional athletes), Brandon had nothing but positive things to say. “I most definitely recommend it; Prague is a beautiful city rich with both old and relatively modern visible history… [It is] often said that people come to see Prague in a day, but the city really has so much to offer."

-Kelsey Ryan '14

Founders Green on a warm spring day.

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