Yet another installment of my summer abroad experience!
While in the study abroad program, you have a cultural liaison who is affiliated with UT (usually a masters or PhD student) that is familiar with the culture and fluent in the language. Your liaison is responsible for organizing cultural events every week so you get a good taste of the culture in your short time abroad.
Our liaison was Jaro, a UT PhD student from Slovakia, and he did an excellent job organizing our events so we would get a feel for the distinctive culture in Prague.
The cultural event for our first week was an extensive walking tour of the city so we could get our bearings. This was very informal and a good way to start to get to know our fellow MPA students also in Prague. Prague is a city rich with history: stretching back from being the cultural center of the Holy Roman Empire under Emperor Charles IV, being invaded by Prussians, becoming the capital of Czechoslovakia, being invaded by Nazis, being taken over by communist powers at the end of WWII, to leading the Velvet Revolution to end the communist regime. Prague also is one of the most picturesque cities in the world with it beautiful baroque architecture that is everywhere you turn. The only unfortunate thing about the walking tour is that we found ourselves in the worst flood of the decade (and a nation-wide state of emergency) so some of the areas close to the Vltava river, including the famous Charles Bridge, were closed.
The next week, Jaro was our personal tour guide through the Prague Communist museum. Jaro shared his personal experience growing up in a communist country, and the experiences of his family during the communist regime. This is where the effect of Communism became really apparent, and it became impossible to ignore how often you saw its impact on the city throughout the rest of the trip.
Prague is a city famous for its jazz music. Some go as far to say it’s the best city next to New Orleans for jazz in the world. The city has many famous jazz clubs where all the American greats have performed out. Even Bill Clinton graced the citizens of Prague with a performance on the saxophone while he was here as US president. Jaro booked us a jazz river cruise for the night after our exam for Professor Kamas’ half of the course. I think he was so nice to us since we missed the river sights on our earlier cultural experiences due to flooding. We enjoyed the company of our fellow MPAs, Professor Kamas and his wife, wonderful jazz music, and the beautiful sights of the Prague waterfront.
Our last cultural experience was a visit to the opera. Prague is famous for its opera, and it was definitely a … hmmm, how do I say this…. cultural experience. So, it turns out opera is not my cup of tea, but it was still a wonderful experience and I can now say that I have attended an opera!