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Learning from Locals – A Student Perspective on a Czech Homestay Experience

A Remedy for Homesickness: A Weekend Homestay in Hlinsko

By Zoey Schilling

Studying abroad has been an amazing and intensely rewarding experience so far, but I’ve definitely started to miss some parts of home: the charm of a low-key rural town, driving around on deserted backroads and, most of all, enjoying delicious home-cooked meals. Dinner doesn’t quite have that same warm and fuzzy feeling when I spend two hours trying to make a recipe that said it would only take half an hour, especially when it still doesn’t even taste that great. Thankfully, going on the Hlinsko homestays cultural immersion trip gave me the chance to recapture some of these familiar phenomena that I had started to miss from home.

The trip began on a Friday morning at 7:30 a.m., when a group of 12 students, myself included, left Prague in a bus and headed off for Hlinsko, which is about a two-and-a-half hour drive away. Honestly, I had passed out for most of the drive, but when I woke up we were approaching a high school in Hlinsko at around 10:30 a.m. We entered the faculty lounge of the school to find about a dozen Czech students, aged 15 to 18, sitting around two tables. We went through a quick round of introductions and spent about half an hour chatting with them and enjoying the desserts and snacks they had made. It was a bit overwhelming at first, but in a good way! I ended up sitting next to a girl named Lucie, and we hit it off really well from the start.

After we all mingled for a little bit, the Czech students took us on a tour of their school in small groups. The school was old-fashioned and the students seemed bored out of their minds. (Clearly some things are culturally universal.) I’m not going to lie, it kind of gave me hives to walk around a high school again, especially because we would interrupt classes and end up staring at the students as we observed their classes, and they naturally returned the awkward favor. I felt like both an animal and a visitor at a zoo.

Next on the agenda was lunch at a local Czech restaurant, where we found out that we would get to pick who we stayed with that night. Lucie and I agreed that I’d stay with her, which was a huge relief for me. I had found my homestay host without hassle!

After the pairings-up and lunch, we all went to a ceramics workshop in a house in a very rural part of the town. The woman who owned the house was a professional artist who had designed many things in her home, including the countertop in her kitchen and the tiling of her bathroom. My ceramics creation was an attempt at a crescent-ish plate, so maybe it’s not quite as impressive as her work, but I guess it’s the thought that counts, right?

Following our wholesome and peaceful experience at the ceramics house, Lucie and her friends took me and another NYU student to a restaurant-slash-tourist attraction called Peklo Čertovina, which literally translates to “Čertovina Hell.” (Čertovina is an area not far from the center of Hlinsko.) How welcoming. Despite the ominous name and décor, the place seemed pretty cute and fun — I would have loved to explore if we had had more time to hang out there (apparently the building has seven floors underground!). 

After visiting Peklo Čertovina, Lucie took me back to her house in a nearby town called Skuteč. She gave me a walking tour of the small town of about 3,000 people, which was a nice change of scenery from the comparatively bustling center of Prague. Her mother had prepared a traditional Czech goulash meal for dinner. Neither of Lucie’s parents spoke English, and I’m still barely getting by with what I learned in the Introduction to Czech crash course we took during orientation week. I’m pretty sure I just kept repeating said “dobrý” and “děkuji,” smiling and hoping I was making a good impression as I waited for Lucie to translate my gratitude. At the end of my stay, they kept insisting that I come back and visit whenever I’m back in the Czech Republic, so I think they liked me.

On the following day, after having the biggest breakfast I’ve had since coming to Prague, I had to say goodbye to Lucie and her family. Though I had just met them less than 24 hours ago, I was sad to leave them. Lucie and I have kept in contact in the short time since the trip, and I’m excited to send her the most ridiculous postcards I can find once I get back to New York City.

Once everyone said goodbye to their host families, we all visited the memorial site at Ležáky, a village that was destroyed under Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in World War II. The village was never rebuilt, making the memorial site an especially moving and important place to experience. It was a tragic and strangely serene site, a humbling way to end our cultural immersion trip with the Hlinsko students.

I would highly recommend the homestays trip to any NYU student interested in really throwing themselves into Czech culture, even if it is just for one night. If nothing else, it’s a great way to meet new people and feel like you’re back at home for a moment when a wave of homesickness washes over you in the middle of the semester.

 

This post originally appeared on NYU Prague Now and can be found here. All photo credits Zoey Schilling.

Czech Republic’s Second Female Conductor, Miriam Nemcova, Teaching at NYU Prague

The Czech Republic has one of Europe’s strongest music education programs, and children as young as 15 can start learning to conduct at the conservatory (students in the USA don’t start learning to be conductors until much later, usually after they have completed a BA degree). This semester NYU Prague’s music students can take a new course on conducting taught by Miriam Nemcova, who is the second Czech woman to become a professional conductor.  

The first professional Czech female conductor was Vitezslava Kapralova who was also the first woman to earn a conducting degree from the Janacek Academy in 1935.  She had a very successful early career, conducting the Czech Philharmonic in 1937 and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1938.  Tragically she died of tuberculosis at the age of 35.

It took sixty years for another female conductor to appear on the Czech music scene.  It hasn’t been easy. The first time Nemcova applied to the conducting program at the Prague Music Academy in 1983 she wasn’t accepted.  Not only was she female, but she was also religious, and the Communist regime was in control of the educational system. She was criticized for wearing a cross when she conducted an orchestra for a concert that took place just before her audition for school.  Nemcova persevered, and she was accepted the following year. Throughout her studies and early in her career colleagues and teachers told her that they didn’t think women have the authority necessary to conduct an orchestra. Nemcova, whose mother was a well-known opera singer, ignored the criticism, believing that when you conduct, you shouldn’t display either female or male attributes.   

A few years after graduation Nemcova was offered the prestigious position of conductor and choir master of the State Opera in Prague where she worked for several years.  She later spent six years in Italy, conducting choirs and orchestras around the country, and she has recorded CDs with the Hradec Kralove Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted film music for many Czech and international productions.

Nemcova is optimistic that the prejudices against women are slowly disappearing in her field, in part because of her own role at the music academy where she has taught for over twenty years, mentoring her female students.   “I have trained at least ten females to be conductors. Still, after graduation not very many of them work professionally. Being a female conductor is complicated. It’s difficult in terms of time but also difficult physically, especially when you have a family and children.  A lot depends on having support from your family and also your financial situation.”

Recently Nemcova conducted a concert of Dvorak and Smetana with the Cairo Symphony Orchestra in Egypt at an event organized by the Czech Embassy.  She was a bit nervous approaching them as a woman. “But the musicians respected my position – hierarchy was more important than gender to them. A maestro is a maestro – doesn’t matter if that maestro is a woman or man.”

NYU Prague Student Perspective: Rumburk with ROMEA: a Weekend with Romani Students from Across the Czech Republic

The Roma, the largest minority group in Europe, suffer from much institutional discrimination, including in the area of education. Nandini Kochar is an NYU Abu Dhabi film student currently studying at NYU Prague, and at the beginning of the semester she approached NYU Prague staff asking how she could meet or work with Roma, as she wanted to focus her film on this community.  Yveta Kenety is the Assistant Director of Student Life at NYU Prague and used to work for the nonprofit ROMEA running a mentorship program for Roma high school students. Yveta arranged for Nandini to do a non-credit internship there; read about her experiences meeting Roma youth for the first time.

I have the pleasure of interning at ROMEA, a non-profit organization that advocates for the rights of the Czech Republic’s marginalized Roma population. As part of the internship, my friend Vitoria and I were given the opportunity to visit the small town of Rumburk and spend the weekend with Romani high school students. What started off as an educational trip focusing on interviews and photojournalism quickly transcended into a thought-provoking and humbling experience where our preconceived notions about the Romani people were fundamentally challenged and dispelled. We went from viewing the Romani students as victims of discrimination to everyday-teenagers with dreams and experiences no different from ours.

Rumburk is situated in northern Bohemia (Czech Republic) with a population of around 11,000 people. ROMEA chose this town as the site for the eighth meeting of their BARUVAS program – meaning “We Are Growing” in the Romani language – that is offered as part of their Romani Scholarship Program. The program focuses on educating Romani students about their shared history and culture, as well as imparting relevant skills to them through workshops and seminars on media representation, networking, theatre, etc.

During the course of these workshops, we pulled aside the participants one-by-one and conducted interviews with them. We asked them about their family and childhood, their schooling experience, challenges they had faced, and their passions and dreams. Our first interviewee was Natalie from the little town of Chomutov. She is an aspiring singer, currently studying music at the Prague Conservatory. Natalie told us about her battle with identity in middle school where she found it difficult to take pride in being Romani. Her peers used to think that she was Hawaiian, and she chose not to correct them because “it was easier that way.” But after attending her first workshop with ROMEA, she began to find strength in who she is and reclaim her identity. “Soon after [the workshop], I decided to go upto my friends and confess that I’m actually Romani. I told them that if they weren’t okay with it then I didn’t want to be their friend.”

Another interviewee, Mario, shared his experience of being treated differently at school. “The most difficult time for me was in 9th grade when I wanted to pursue higher education, but my teachers refused to support me. That’s where ROMEA came in. They gave me funding so I could obtain extra tutoring. And I’m now in business school.”

As Vitoria and I spoke with more Romani students, what struck me the most was not the extent of discrimination they had faced on the basis of their ethnic identity but rather their resilience in refusing to let those experiences define them. They didn’t want to be seen as victims. Because they are not. It was at that moment that I became acutely aware of my own biases – I was so influenced by media’s one-sided depiction of the Roma and their marginalization that I had failed to see them beyond their social standing. But our personal interaction with them had quickly destabilized and shattered that reductive image. Vitoria shares the moment when this realization dawned upon her, “When we walked into the room and realized that this looks like a regular NYU Abu Dhabi class, it was a moment of wow, they’re wearing clothes I could never put together– their makeup is on point and their swagger level is amazingly high.” Indeed, they were just normal high school kids going through the typical teenage phase of being ‘too cool’.

On a more serious note, Vitoria and I – both being women of colour – found resonance with the Romani students’ experiences of identity struggle and feeling of otherness. And by the end of the weekend, our relationship with them had shifted from interviewer-interviewee to friends. So much so that we were invited to their farewell party and were able to witness the ‘gypsy dance,’ as they call it, and jam with them to Romani folk songs.

After our first night in Rumburk, I was reminded of something Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, had said in her Ted Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story”, that has stuck with me through the years:

“What struck me was this: she had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning, pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa. A single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her, in any way. No possibility of feelings more complex than pity. No possibility of a connection as human equals.”

I will forever be grateful for my weekend in Rumburk because it saved me from falling into the pitfall of a single story of the Romani people. There are multiple stories and experiences and people existing within that one dominant narrative. And once we realize this, we begin to see that our similarities outweigh our differences, and we share so much more than we think.

 

NYU Prague Hosts Conference: Women Friendly Employers: Together for Diversity

Panelists discussing what companies can do to promote gender equality

Two years ago CEZ, the largest energy company in the Czech Republic, launched an internship program for recent female high school graduates.  To select the young women, they ran a competition in which bikini-clad applicants posed in a nuclear power plant’s cooling tower – the women with the most votes on Facebook was awarded the internship.

Is this exceptional in the Czech Republic?

The question and many others associated with the struggle that women in leadership confront were discussed at Women Friendly Employers: Together for Diversity,  a conference hosted by NYU Prague.  It was initiated by the Women in Leadership platform which hopes to encourage cooperation in promoting effective approaches to gender diversity and women in leadership.  The platform was created by the Czech Diversity Charter in partnership with Vodafone and NYU Prague and it aims to adress the fact that Czech Republic has only 7% of women in leadership and the situation is not progressing.

All of the presenters

Speakers included Muriel Anton, NYU Professor and the former CEO of Vodafone, Alena Sochorova, a top executive at Microsoft, Dinah Spritzer, a journalist for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and an NYU Prague professor, and Jonathan Rutherford, Vice President at Vodafone Czech Republic.  They spoke about Czech society’s perception of women as the primary caregivers of children, the importance of education to change attitudes, how the government can provide structural changes such as investing in quality daycare, and what top companies can do to lead the way.

Alena Sochorova, who is now in charge of Enterprise commercial lead at Microsoft Central and Eastern Europe, recalled an experience earlier in her career when she was promoted to a top executive position and was given training for her new job.  The training – facilitated by a leading American HR expert – taught her how she could speak and act more like a man. “Many men don’t understand that gender equality does not mean that we are all the same. I will never behave like a man. We want and need different perspectives.”

The sole man on the panel, Jonathan Rutherford, spoke about how the Vodafone company has tried to help employers realize that it’s economically beneficial to have different perspectives in the business world – and that it’s the right thing to do.  He emphasized that we do not need to change women, but rather to open the minds of some men, and the only way to do this is if men are included in the discussion. “Getting people involved in the debate can be difficult. Men can be scared – they sometimes see it as a zero sum game, that the status quo is being disrupted in a way that is not in their favor,” noted Rutherford.

Pavlina Kalousova, the chair of the Czech Diversity Charter and the conference organizer, says that this is a long-term project which she hopes will lead to more programs promoting gender equality like the ones at Vodafone.  She already has two upcoming follow-up events planned: a discussion about equal pay and another about supporting working parents.

Approximately 90 people came to the conference, including representatives of  large multinational companies, government, media, as well as NYU Prague faculty and students.  Also in the audience was Michaela Chaloupková who is on the Board of Directors at CEZ, the aforementioned energy company.  She apologized for her company’s sexist internship recruitment program and noted that it was the failure of one employee which led to a disastrous public relations issue.  

The incident had positive results – the company took measures to work towards more equal environment, such as establishing independent gender audits.   Discussions and heightened awareness of the problems that women face will hopefully result in more private and governmental organizations reevaluating their policies, and the Women in Leadership platform aims to help to catalyze this.  

 

New PragueCast – Midnight

The latest edition of PragueCast, NYU’s Prague’s podcast that covers all matter of exciting topics related to the city. Created by NYU Prague students with support from NYU Prague professor and BBC correspondent Rob Cameron, PragueCast is always an interesting listen. The latest edition explores what happens when most of the city is sleeping, discovering Prague at midnight. Have a listen here – https://soundcloud.com/nyupraguecast/midnight.

In Conversation with NYU Prague Literature Professor Tomas Vrba

Tomas Vrba has been teaching literature at NYU Prague since 1999.  He studied philosophy at Charles University, but after signing the human rights document Charter 77 in 1977, he had to take menial jobs until the Communist regime collapsed.  Since then he has worked as a journalist, editor, and translator. Most recently he translated “Fascism: A Warning,” the latest book of his good friend Madeleine Albright, which is coming out in Czech next month.  He also translated her earlier book, Prague Winter, and he is currently chairing the boards of the Forum 2000 Foundation and the Archa Theatre.

How did you start working at NYU Prague?

Jiri Pehe, NYU Prague Director and I knew each other from Forum 2000, and he asked me to teach the literature class, as I had been involved in publishing since 1990. At the time I was wrapping up my time as a journalist (I was editor in chief of the New Presence magazine).  Since then, I’ve been teaching here as well for other international programs.

What classes did you initially teach?

Originally I taught two courses at NYU Prague- Modern European Literature and Contemporary Central and East European literature.  We were a part of the Russian Slavic department, so we had to have East Europe in the title…. But from the beginning, we all  agreed that it would be better to focus on the Central European content. After a few years we realized that it would make more sense to combine the courses.  I try to show literature in a larger framework- something between cultural history and literature. I have always argued that a novel can be a good source of history.  The last eighty years of Czechoslovak literature have been strongly connected to history and politics.

Do you think the students have changed since you started teaching at NYU Prague?

I can distinguish the two different generations.  Today’s students could theoretically be children of the first students I taught.  Of course they have different life experiences. Contemporary students read less, but their curiosity is the same as it was twenty years ago.  

At the beginning of every semester, I ask the students which countries they have visited – twenty years ago, this was usually their first trip abroad.  Now, virtually everyone has been somewhere. Of course you have a different experience when it’s your first time abroad.

What is one of your strongest memories from your class?

Some of my top moments in class have been during class debates.  Czech students usually have read more, but they are shy to speak – here it’s the opposite.  

I remember one student who wasn’t a big reader – actually he admitted that he had never read a novel – so I asked him to read one.  He was studying hotel management and he wrote an excellent paper about I Served the King of England  [Bohumil Hrabal’s novel set in a hotel]  which he divided in two parts. One part was about the reader’s experience, and the other part was an analysis of the organization of the hotel in the novel – the student really understood and appreciated how well it was organized in the 1920s.

What do you think the students get out of coming to Prague?

I always ask the students to write about their Prague experiences- you can do that in a literature class – and I find out how they’ve discovered their individual Pragues.  Most are soon fed up with the tourist industry, and they discover things outside of the center, in the suburbs where they live – Holesovice, Vinohrady. For many of them Prague is quite a romantic and mysterious experience.  

Do you think students today are as interested in literature as they were 20 years ago?

Originally I had 10-15 students in my class.  Now, sometimes I won’t teach for a semester because there isn’t enough interest.  Generally, I am afraid that there is something dangerous happening globally. Courses in the humanities are more and more limited even at the top universities. Oxford and Cambridge have started offering management courses in recent years.   

You have recently been involved in projects connected to the 40th anniversary of Charter 77 – curating exhibitions that have even toured to the USA.  Do you find that young people are interested in topics relating to the former Communist regime?

Yes, I saw a lot of interest last year during the 40-year anniversary events connected to 1977 – and this year, I see a lot of interest in the 50-year anniversary of the Prague spring and the Soviet invasion in Prague.  Ten years ago, my daughter said to me there’s nothing to protest against! Well, now there is a lot- and young people are active in elections, they are engaged. Ten years ago, the world looked all right – now, it’s gone crazy.

What has meant the most to you as an NYU Prague professor?

Last year I was invited to a conference at the Czech and Slovak museum  in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where I attended a panel of American professors of Czech language and literature.  During the introductions, one of the scholars on the panel said that she was there because of Professor Vrba, who she studied with in Prague.  That was nice.

The best recompense for me has always been looking at half a dozen, a dozen pairs of bright eyes.  That’s still true – NYU students are very motivated.

 

NYU Prague Alumni – Where are They Now?

Around 5,000 students have spent a semester at NYU Prague over the past 20 years.  We contacted a few to find out how their time in Prague affected the trajectory of their lives. Here are their stories:

 

Nicole Farnsworth (Fall, 2001)

Seventeen years ago, I was enjoying similar brightly-colored fall leaves while hiking amid castles, the company of new friends and inspiring lectures at NYU in Prague. That fall provided several opportunities that have influenced my life. I heard the very inspiring activist and late President Vaclav Havel, together with the Dalai Lama and other leaders speak at Forum 2000. I learned of the plight of Romani people and went on to research their access to education. Studying women’s rights in transition in post-socialist contexts, as well as the Czech Republic’s EU Accession process provided a useful foundation for my future work.

Perhaps the most life-altering opportunity that studying in Prague provided was proximity to Prishtina. Seventeen years ago this month, I begged my parents for what some may consider an unusual birthday present: a plane ticket to see Kosovo’s first democratic elections. I was fascinated by the United Nation’s experiment in governing post-war Kosovo. If I had not been in Prague, I would not have had such a unique opportunity to witness a (not-yet-recognized) country’s first elections.

After completing my BA, I persistently sought to return to Kosovo. Eventually, I secured a position at a local civil society organization (CSO), supported by the East-West Management Institute (EWMI) with funds from USAID, to strengthen Kosovo CSOs’ advocacy capacities. Since then, I have continued consulting for EWMI, among others, in various civil society support initiatives worldwide.

The vast majority of my last 16 years has been spent with the Kosovo Women’s Network, a network of 138 diverse women’s groups working to further women’s rights. As Program Director / Lead Researcher, I have (co)authored 24 publications on issues related to gender equality, several of which have informed new laws and policies in Kosovo’s state-building process.

In my work, I regularly have drawn from my knowledge gained in Prague, particularly in advocating for Kosovo’s EU Accession process to attend to the needs of both women and men; writing about the position of women in post-socialist Kosovo; and volunteering for Roma rights organizations.

I’m often asked how I first came to Kosovo, and the story always starts with, “I was studying abroad at NYU in Prague…”

Nicole Farnsworth is the program director and lead researcher at the Kosovo Women’s Network.

 

Brian Goodson (Fall, 2004)

On a recent research trip to Prague, I returned to the neighborhood where many of us lived during our semester in fall of 2004. I was immediately relieved to discover that our nightly hangout B-52 was exactly as we’d left it, still weirdly decorated with airplane fuselage and parachutes. Nearby Krymska street is a different story. The Shakespeare a Synové bookshop has been replaced with the ultrahip Café v Lese, and the neighborhood is now teeming with

Generation Zed backpackers. Nearby, Žižkov still has its edge, but the rest of Prague feels much more polished these days. The hypercapitalist mall at Nový Smíchov has a 4-D movie theater. Sometimes I feel like I’m in Austria.

But I still can’t let go of Prague. Or is it the other way around? “Prague won’t let you go, the little mother has claws,” wrote the guy on all those souvenir t-shirts. Officially, the reason I return so often is because I’m writing a book about American and Czech writers during the Cold War. The seeds for this project were actually planted at NYU in Prague in 2004, in seminars taught by Tomáš Vrba and Jan Urban. At the time, I had no idea that my semester in Prague would change the trajectory of my life. Now I’m a professor at Arizona State University, which means I have a great excuse to escape the air-conditioned nightmare that is Phoenix in the summertime. But if I’m honest, the book is just an excuse. Prague is where I go to escape what Philip Roth called the “indigenous American berserk.” Prague is where I go to disappear.

Some things don’t change. In 2004, we all stayed up into the early hours to watch two major American events: the ALCS between the Yankees and the Red Sox and the election between John Kerry and George W. Bush. (Both my teams lost.) As I write this, the Yankees and Red Sox  are about to face off in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. And we’ve got another election coming up on November 6th, which also happens to fall on the due date of my first child. Back in 2004, I remember buying two books at the bookshop on Krymska: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick and The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. Maybe my twenty-year-old self was on to something. It’s not too late to teach my future kid to speak Czech.

Brian Goodman got his PhD in American Studies from Harvard University.  He is an assistant professor in the Department of English at the Arizona State University and is writing a book about the exchange of literature and culture between the USA and Czechoslovakia during the Cold War.  

 

Meghan Forbes (Spring, 2005)

As a junior at NYU, I studied abroad in Prague. My initial interest in studying there was my mother’s Czech heritage — she grew up in a farming community of Oklahoma Czechs and my grandmother had preserved some knowledge of the language. I fell in love with the city of Prague, and its art and literature, the history of which had never been a subject of study back in the United States. Desiring to learn more, I continued to study Czech language, literature, and visual culture at the MA level at Columbia, and then for my PhD at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. I continue to travel to Prague ever year, and even had the opportunity in 2009-2010 to return to NYU in Prague as an employee! The friends on the fabulous staff there are still some of my closest in Prague.

Studying at a big university like NYU, I relished the more intimate environment of the Prague campus, and my experience there as an undergraduate has had an indelible mark on my life and career since.

Meghan Forbes earned a PhD from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor with dissertation about the avant-garde in interwar Prague and Brno.   She is now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as a Contemporary and Modern Art Perspectives Fellow for Central and Eastern Europe.

 

Callum Voge (Fall, 2012)

As a student of international politics, I was intellectually attracted to the Czech Republic’s unique political history and transition to democracy. Having grown up in China, I especially wanted to learn about the differing experiences of communism in China and in Europe.

While at NYU Prague, I interned at a non-profit media organization called Project Syndicate where I produced content for the organization’s social media channels and conducted research on international media markets. After graduating from NYU, I had the opportunity to return to Project Syndicate for a full time position. I have now been working at Project Syndicate for four years and manage the organization’s external media partnerships in 50 countries.

Prague has always been a special place to me. The concentration of non-profit institutions and the large foreign community in Prague creates a unique environment – at times Prague feels like a very local city while at other times very global. Prague’s increasing internationalization over the past years has made it an exciting place to live. You only need to look at the city’s food scene to see the change. When I first moved from New York I could only dream of the restaurant diversity that I had known. Now I can easily have Indonesian food one night, Venezuelan another, and Georgian the next. The feeling that Prague is moving in the right direction makes it an exciting time to be here.

Callum Voge is the Senior Global Relations Manager at Project Syndicate, where he is also the internship mentor to current NYU Prague students.

 

Kieran Kesner (Spring, 2013)

It wasn’t the first time I visited Prague and that’s probably why I decided to return. Prague represents the crossroads between the quintessential Western European study abroad experience and the Eastern European culture, which entwined with my own family history, so I was eager to explore.

Studying in Prague was as much a period of self-realization as it was an opportunity to live abroad and immerse myself in a different culture. It was at this intersection that I began to explore what inspired me most as a photographer, learning about and sharing other peoples stories. While studying abroad, I found those stories in the often misunderstood and much maligned Roma people, known to the outside world as Gypsies. Through significant research on my own and mentorship from local NYU professor, Ivana Dolezalova, I began traveling around the country on weekends and school vacations to spend time with Roma and experience first hand, their rich culture, and kind generosity. While prejudice and discrimination is a centuries-old narrative for the Roma, my personal experience strongly confronted the oppressive counter-narrative I was hearing. It was through this experience that I learned how the camera can provide a unique opportunity to interact and connect with people, often despite language barriers, that few other mediums share.

Today, I continue to work full time as a photojournalist and photographer/videographer for newspapers and magazines around the world as well as for commercial, corporate, non-profit and lifestyle brands. In the last year alone, I have traveled to over 20 countries for work assignments, feeding off a spark that began when I chose to study at NYU Prague, and which I hope will continue for many years to come.

Kieran Kesner is an award-winning photographer, videographer and visual storyteller based in Boston.  His work has been published in numerous publications including the Boston Globe, The New Yorker, the Guardian, and the Wall Street Journal.  

 

Short takes

You might remember the band “With Snack” which performed regularly in the Osadni basement during the spring 2014 semester.  Former music students Aviv Goldgeier, Matti Dunietz, and Evan Lane are still in the progressive R&B band, which has been renamed Valipala and is  based in New York City.  They released their debut digital album, Mango City in 2017 (available at https://valipala.bandcamp.com/album/mango-city) and are releasing a new single on October 26, 2018.

One of the most well-known NYU Prague alumni is Ari Leff (Spring 2015)- now known as Lauv – a singer/songwriter whose single I Like Me Better has had over 100 million views on Youtube.   Last June he was ranked as number one on Billboard’s Emerging Artists chart.

Another NYU Prague celebrity is Camila Mendes (Fall 2014), an actress who plays Veronica Lodge in the TV teen drama Riverdale, for which she won the she won the Teen Choice awards in 2017.  She recently acted in the comedy film The Stand In, to be released in 2019.  

Christina Ng (Spring 2009) is an editorial producer for CBS news, where she’s been employed since 2011. She’s also worked for CBS as a reporter and as assistant to anchor Diane Sawyer.

Hunter Nolan, (Spring 2012), was the cinematographer on Before the Flood, a climate change documentary directed by Fisher Stevens, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and executive produced by Martin Scorsese.  He also worked on the award winning documentaries Before the Flood, Sky Ladder and Racing Extinction.

In 2017, Kim Pham (Spring 2012 ) – entrepreneur and founder of Oxtale – was recognized as a Forbes 30 under 30 honoree for her work at Frontline, building VC platforms.

Allan Peng (Spring, 2016), who was active in the PragueCast and Prague Wandering blog, is now a producer at CBS News Radio, working on an upcoming podcast about polling, as well as other digital audio content.

Melanie Weisner, who studied vocal performance at NYU Prague in 2006, is now one of the top American female poker players.  As of 2016, Weisner is ranked 38th on the Women’s All Time tournament money list.

NYU Prague Music Professors Patricia Goodson and Michal Rataj Release New CDs

Three CDs that were initiated and coordinated by NYU Prague professor and pianist Patricia Goodson were recently released; they all also include her solo performances.

Macbeth and Other Orchestral Works by Geraldine Mucha  was released by Arco Diva in November, and commemorates the centenary of Scottish composer Geraldine Mucha’s birth.  Mucha – married to the son of the Art Nouveau artist Alphones Mucha – moved to Prague after WWII with her husband. As well as composing in Prague, she did much to protect her father-in-law’s supposed “bourgeois” work and legacy under the oppressive Communist regime.  Patricia Goodson became friends with Geraldine Mucha (who lived to be 95) at the end of her life and has continued to promote her work after her death. This pieces on this album were performed by Patricia with the the Hradec Králové Philharmonic and Irena Troupová. MusicWeb International writes that   “American pianist Patricia Goodson plays commendably in both the concerto and the variations; she is a strong reason for the success of this disc, as is the contribution of the Hradec Králové Philharmonic Orchestra under their astute director Andreas Sebastian Weiser in a well-engineered recording.”

Later this year, the same label will release a CD of Geraldine Mucha’s  chamber music which will include solo performances by Patricia.

Patricia also organized a CD devoted to chamber works by New Zealand composer Dame Gillian Karawe Whitehead (released in March by the New Zealand label Rattle Records), which jumped to number 2 on the New Zealand classical charts shortly after its release.  It features the Stamic Quartet, oboist Vilém Veverka and Patricia on the piano; there will be a launch at the New Zealand Embassy in September. The pieces were performed in Berlin and Prague before they were recorded at Studio HAMU. Whitehead is one of the most acclaimed composers from the Australia/New Zealand region; in 2008 she was given the title of Dame for her contributions to music in New Zealand.   

To listen to some pieces from the albums, please go to http://www.patriciagoodson.com

NYU Prague professor Michal Rataj also has a new CD, Sentenceless-Sentence, which was released in January, 2018.  It consists of electro-acoustic pieces composed during 2013 – 2017 and consists of a rich variety of sound palettes and emotional worlds.  They range from acousmatic music through mixed forms towards text-sound performance. On April 11 Michal presented the album and his work to our students at a public concert at NYU Prague.  You can here it on: https://michalrataj.bandcamp.com/album/sentenceless-sentence

Several of Rataj’s compositions will be performed this spring.  On April 28, The Long Sentence, will be performed at UC Santa Cruz, featuring the San Francisco based award-winning Del Sol Quartet and Ben Leeds Carson on piano.  On May 5-7, Temporis-concerto will have its US premiere performed by the Santa Rosa Symphony, conducted by Bruno Ferrandis.  Czechs can hear his music on May 25 at a concert called Škrábanice / Scribbles in Nachod as part of the Czech Museum Nights.

Michal Rataj is a composer, performer, sound designer whose work consists mainly of electro-acoustic and chamber/orchestral instrumental music.  His work has been performed throughout Europe and in the USA, and he has composed soundtracks to numerous documentary and feature films and TV series.  Later this year viewers can hear his music in two Czech films- Jan Palach (by Eva Kantourkova and Robert Sedlacek) and Pivnica/The Cellar directed by Igor Voloshin. 

Novelist Mark Slouka Teaching Creative Writing to NYU Prague Students

Like Czech history, Mark Slouka’s life has been accentuated by the number 8.  In 1948, his parents escaped from Communist Czechoslovakia. Ten years later, in 1958, he was born into a “Czech speaking ghetto in Queens, NY.”  The family first returned to Prague on a visit in 1968, and in 2018, Mark and his family made a permanent move to Prague.

NYU Prague has benefitted from this move – Mark has launched a creative writing workshop open to all students and staff.  “I teach how writers read – beginning writers need to learn to read their own work critically,” explains Mark. “And we talk about the use of silence- what is left out of an opening is what brings a reader in.”   

Mark Slouka has published eight books and is currently working on the ninth.  His work treads the line between fiction and nonfiction, often delving into aspects of his family’s Czech history.  His latest book, Nobody’s Son: A Memoir is about his parents’ escape from Czechoslovakia and how their lives were affected by memories of betrayal.   His novel Visible Worlds – based on his mother’s complicated past- was a finalist for the British Book Awards.  His short stories have been selected for the anthologies of Best American Short Stories and the Pen/O’Henry Prize Stories. In June, a Czech translation of  Nobody’s Son will be released.

“One of the reasons I am here is because my books have always been bicultural – they walk the line between languages, culture, histories, between the present and the weight of the past.  

Having spent my life in the States it made sense to connect to that other half of me.  It’s always seeped into my life. I am fascinated by the weight of history on the present.  What city is better for that than Prague?”

Mark’s first language was Czech, and he has had a “lifelong affair with the language, the culture, with palacinky [crepes] and svickova [creamy beef stew].”  Despite the fact that he was born and lived in New York, he remembers hearing English for the first time when he was five and was surprised that the speakers didn’t understand Czech.   

Until now, seven months was the longest time he had spent in Prague – he was here on on sabbatical in 2003 – but he felt like it was inevitable that he would come back.  When he retired from the University of Chicago in 2008, he decided to try to focus more on writing. Moving to Prague seemed to make sense. “I love getting away from the car culture – it’s so isolating.  In Prague, people sit in pubs and talk to one another.”

NYU Prague will host a reading of his work in the beginning of the fall semester.

NYU Prague Hosts Symposium on Migration and Populism

On April 5, 2018, NYU Prague is hosting a symposium on Population and Migration. Organized by NYU Prague, NYU’s Prague Institute for Democracy, Economy, and Culture and Forum 2000, the event will feature a panel discussion exploring how over the last few years, the phenomenon of migration has moved from a humanitarian domain into a public discourse and has become a powerful instrument for today’s populists and nationalists. The panel will consider the roots of this trend and why is there so much fear and hostility towards migrants and refugees particularly in Central European countries. Petr Mucha, professor of history and religious studies at NYU Prague, put together the program. The panelists come from diverse fields (media, sociology, political sciences, theology) and will discuss these themes from different perspectives. The focus of the discussion will be the Central European region and the phenomenon of fear which serves as a seed for hatred and extremist tendencies.  In her keynote speech, Professor Regina Polak from University of Vienna will talk about ethical issues of migration, about the impact of the fear as well as about the revival of stereotypes (nationalism, Shoa, and World War II). 
 
The Western perspective on migration and refugees was historically formed by Christian morals and modern concept of human rights. Eventually, in the aftermath of World War II, it found its expression in the Refugee Convention. Over the last few years, nevertheless, the phenomenon of migration has moved from the humanitarian domain into a public discourse and became a powerful tool of political campaigns. Moreover, it fuels a new wave of populism, nationalism, and racism in many western countries, including those, which have been considered resistant to these trends.
 
The panel discussion will consider pressing questions, including:
  • Why has migration theme become such a powerful instrument for today´s populists and nationalists?
  • Does this represent a new trend or is it rather a revival of similar stereotypes from the 20th century?
  • What should be an appropriate response of democratic societies?
  • How does this situation vary in different European countries and in the United States?
  • Why is there so much fear and hostility towards migrants and refugees in the Central European countries which are not typical targets of migration? 

Panelists:

Regina Polak, University of Vienna

Tomáš Lindner, Respekt

Martina Mašková, Czech Radio

Salim Murad, New York University Prague

Moderator: 

Jiří Pehe, Director of New York University Prague