Postcards from Abroad: UNO Students Return from Life in Prague
For nearly 20 years, arts-minded adventurers at the University of New Orleans have spent their summers studying abroad in the magical city of Prague, capital of what is now the Czech Republic.
With its cobblestone streets, walled courtyards, cathedrals and colorful history, the centuries-old Central European city is a prime location for students to immerse themselves in the arts, literature, history and life lessons, said Mary Hicks, program director of the UNO International Student Exchange Programs. Nearly 40 students from around the U.S. – including six from UNO -- enjoyed the University's Prague Summer Seminars this year, Hicks said. The group returned home August 8 following one month living and learning in the historic city.
"It is hard to believe we learned so much in such a short time," said undergraduate student Victoria Sibelich.
The arts and humanities-focused program sponsored by UNO in coordination with Drexel University gives participants the opportunity to study, live in and explore the heart of Central Europe, said Hicks. Faculty use the city of Prague as their classroom, centering their classes around the art, architecture, photography, literature and history of the city.
"My teachers were absolutely great and I was so lucky to have the opportunity to take their classes," said undergraduate Josie Quaile. "I really enjoyed both of the courses I took, photography and art history."
For 18 years, UNO has conducted this small and personal study abroad program in cooperation with Prague's prestigious Charles University, according to UNO officials. The program offers six college credits in photography, literature, music, architecture, film and art. Students who do not attend UNO spend an additional two weeks preparing for the program at Drexel University.
This year, students received an introduction to 20th century Czech literature and explored conflicting politics by reading works by existentialist Franz Kafka and Czech playwright, essayist, poet and politician Vaclav Havel, who was the ninth and last president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech Republic.
(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.)
Other popular courses included a music and film course centered around Central European culture and architecture courses, including a survey course and one focused on early 20th century Prague art and design.
Inquisitive literature students also enjoyed a class centered around the European Spy novel. With so much beauty in sight, students also enjoyed advanced classes in photography and photography for non-art majors.
Students stepped out of the classroom each day to the banks of the Vltava River, the 600-year-old Charles Bridge, the colored roofs of Mala Strava and majestic 9th-century Prague Castle, where the Bohemian Crown Jewels are kept. During breaks, they hopped two doors down to the city's oldest coffee shop, opened at the beginning of the 18th century by Deotodus Damascenus, who brought the coffee over from Damascus. On the corner stood the gilded National Theater, where the Prague National Opera performs.
Roaming the streets of the historic city, students whetted their artistic appetites enjoying architectural styles from different eras -- and an art scene that rivals that of any European capital.
Understanding cultural differences is part of the experience, said UNO undergraduate student Blake Edwards, who referenced $5 dinners and a lack of air conditioning. So is living surrounded by history.
He travelled one weekend with friends to the medieval town of Kutna Hora, home to The Sedlec Ossuary. The Catholic chapel beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints is located on a site where a mass burial took place during the Hussite Wars during the mid-15th century. The macabre chapel, also known as the "bone church" is built from and decorated with the artistically arranged bones of 40,000 and 70,000 people.
Edwards and friends also visited Terezin, a village and former fortress outside Prague converted to a ghetto, then prison camp, by Adolf Hitler during World War II.
An attractive component of the Prague Summer Seminars is all of the traveling and exploring the participants can do as part of the program and on their own, Hicks said. On weekends, students had the opportunity to sign up for field trips to explore the Czech countryside, as well as the neighboring Austrian city of Vienna.
Indeed, said Hicks, some of the most enriching parts of the program are the lasting friendships that students make -- and the memories they create that will last a lifetime.