Friday, August 8, 2014

Postcards from Abroad:
Students Enjoy Art, Culture, History in Prague Summer Seminars

Museums, theaters, cinemas, cobblestone streets: the historic city of Prague is a perfect place to study history, literature, art, photography and architecture. The historical capital of Bohemia has been a political, cultural, and economic center of central Europe for more than 1,000 years. And for nearly 20 years, University of New Orleans students have studied abroad there, taking courses at Prague's prestigious Charles University.

"You learn so much about yourself and this beautiful world we live in when you travel," said undergraduate student Mark Wilson, who arrived in Prague on July 6 for the one-month program. "Prague is a perfect example of a city with endless opportunities and adventures to be had. I am grateful for this trip and how exploring new surroundings can shape the way I think and see."

Thirty-six students and eight faculty are participating this year in the Prague Summer Seminars, said Mary Hicks, program director for the International Student Exchange Programs at UNO. Students from across the U.S. participate in the summer program, which offers six college credits in art, architecture, urban planning, photography, literature, music, film and art.

Many of the students are from Drexel University in Philadelphia, one of the University's longtime partners, Hicks said. Students who do not attend UNO spend an additional two weeks preparing for the program at Drexel University.

In Prague, students stay in a dormitory on the campus of Czech Technical University, one of UNO's partner institutions, said Hicks. The summer stay in the residence hall, amid native Czechs and Slovaks, makes for "an authentic Czech experience."

Every student takes two courses at the College of Social Sciences at Charles University, located on the banks of the Vltava River. Participants step out of the building to beautiful views of the river, Prague's Lesser Town and the Prague Castle, Hicks said. Prague's oldest coffeehouse is two doors down from school; the gilded National Theater is located on the corner and the 600-year-old Charles Bridge and Old Town are within easy walking distance.

"All of the courses in this program are designed to incorporate the location," said Hicks, who has designed the six-week program to introduce students to various elements of the Czech and Slovak Republic's long and illustrious history. "Areas of study include history, literature, art, photography and architecture," she said. "Specifically, the Art and Architecture classes utilize many in-class field trips in order for students to be able to truly experience Prague and the material that they are studying."

Already, students have enjoyed a series of field trips, said Hicks. Early on, they took day trips to Terezin and Lidice, "important sites that help to record and tell the history of the Nazi regime in the Czech Republic," she said. "Although a somber destination, it is an important part of understanding that important chapter in the history of Central Europe."

The students also visited Český Krumlov and České Budějovice, via a tour of the Bohemian countryside outside the capitol city of Prague. Students visited the Český Krumlov medieval castle and Renaissance theater; spent the night in a charming hotel in the heart of the town; enjoyed traditional Czech cuisine; and toured the brewery and hometown of the original Budweiser brewery: České Budějovice, Hicks said.

A special highlight was a weekend trip to Vienna.

"Students travel by train to visit this other Central European capitol city that is interesting to compare and contrast to Prague," said Hicks. "Activities on this field trip include walking tours of the city, museum tours, a classical music concert and traditional Austrian meals. Although we barely scratch the surface of Viennese life and culture, we hope that students will take away a love of this magnificent place!"

On campus, the students home away from home, the group "had the honor of listening to Joska Skalnik and Milos Curik speak about the protests and the events leading up to the Velvet Revolution and all of the changes the Czech Republic has gone through in the recent past," said Hicks. "These men gave us a glimpse into the true heart of the Czech people, and we are forever grateful!"

Skalník is an artist and a leader of "the unofficial Czechoslovak culture movement in the 1970s to 1980s." according to a website honoring his work. As a graphic designer, he created the "face" of many underground publications such as Jazzova sekce, Prague's avant-garde theatre Činoherni Klub or samizdat Revolver Revue. He also designed the logo of Občanské Forum, an initiative around poet and politician Vaclav Havel in 1989. In the 1980s, Skalnik was arrested for political activism together with other leading members of Jazzova sekce.

(Havel, who endured multiple prison stays and government surveillance for his political views, documented a four-year stay in prison in letters to his wife later published as Letters to Olga. In 1993, he became the first president of the Czech Republic after the Czech-Slovak split and held the position for 10 years.)

Curik is a tourism and cultural guide who has spent more than 30 years in his business and provides a wealth of insight to visitors to his native land.

The weather this year in Prague has been "although hard to predict, overall quite nice," said Hicks. "Hot days were not so unbearable, and many days were wonderfully cool and refreshing."


Read More

UNO International Education
UNO Prague Summer Seminars
Postcards from Abroad: UNO Students Return from Life in Prague