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Czech Republic: Arts and Social Change

Czech Republic: Arts and Social Change

Study with a dynamic community of visual, performing, and literary artists, where art and creative dissent have played a decisive role in shaping social and political change.

This program immerses students in the Czech Republic’s contemporary art scene and explores the country’s rich artistic heritage. Students are challenged to consider the relationship between art, politics, and society in the country’s historic and contemporary contexts. Students can choose either a field-based academic experience at NGOs and community centers or an arts-based research project that integrates creative writing or visual or performing arts practice.

Major topics of study include:

  • How the roles of artists and civic leaders have transformed in a new democracy
  • Critical challenges associated with liberal democracy and the legacy of communism
  • Art in relation to open borders, consumerism, and the free market of post-communist Europe
 
Through experiential learning opportunities such as attending dance performances and art exhibits, discussing underground theater and literature with my professors, and casual conversations with my host-mom, I observed and experienced firsthand what my classes were teaching about Czech culture and history. The Independent Study Project allowed me to explore my topic of interest, mental health care, in the Czech cultural context — a very unique experience that has strongly shaped my future academic and career paths.

Betsy Davis, Southwestern University

Prague (program base)

PragueWell known for its stunning architecture, this program brings students behind the Prague façade. Students attend cultural activities, festivals, and art shows, which are off the beaten track and represent an alternative and creative culture.

In Prague, students live with host families and take part in lectures and seminars on topics related to the arts and social change in the Czech Republic. Students enrolled in the arts studio course will conduct independent studio work during this period.

Students also participate in civic initiatives that draw upon the creative legacy of Czech underground culture. These could include Car-free Day and European Mobility Week or arts events that raise awareness of marginalized groups, such as the multicultural festival Colorful Planet and the Babi Leto festival at Prague's psychiatric clinic. Other cultural activities such as theater projects for refugees, contemporary dance, art, and photo exhibitions help broaden students' understanding of Czech history and contemporary life.

Choice of focus

Through the program’s foundation seminar, students examine contemporary arts in the Czech Republic as well as the role art played as an agent of social change throughout the country’s twentieth-century history. Students are then able to delve deeper into these themes through the continuation course or, alternatively, students can enroll in the program’s Arts Studio course, specifically customized for students of visual and performing arts and creative writing.

Educational excursions in different artistic and cultural contexts in central Europe

During the first month of the semester, students participate in educational excursions to rural Czech villages in Moravia or Bohemia to learn about the art culture and social reality beyond Prague. Students interact with local residents, community leaders, and artists involved in initiatives for cultural revival and community development. Later in the semester, students travel outside of the country to Slovakia, Poland, and the former Sudetenland, to conduct comparative studies of these neighboring countries' arts and civic initiatives.

Independent Study Project

ISP ProjectDuring the final month of the semester, each student pursues an Independent Study Project (ISP). The project gives students a unique opportunity to critically examine a topic, situation, or community related to the arts or social change in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, or Poland.

Artists, civil society activists, professors, and specialists help students in the development and implementation of their ISP, which may include daily work with an organization or school or a creative component in visual arts, creative writing, or film.

Sample topic areas:

  • Roma identity in the Czech Republic
  • Slovak language laws and ethnic marginalization
  • Artists working outside the official realm under communism
  • Memories of Holocaust survivors
  • The experience of Czechs and Germans in post-war Sudetenland.

Creative projects have included:

  • Sculpture and ceramic vessels inspired by the Celts of Central Europe
  • A screenplay inspired by Czech absurdist literature
  • A graphic design project inspired by Czech cubist architecture
  • Creative non-fiction work and films drawing upon the social reality of life under communism
The breadth and range of people and lecturers we were introduced to in the context of the thematic seminar was incredible — people in circles connected with the Velvet Revolution, people involved in incredible NGOs, people who were experts in their field…all willing to share their knowledge with us!

Program alum

Explore the Czech Republic's contemporary art scene and the role of art as a social change agent throughout the country's history. 

library of prohibited literatureStudents study the country's communist past, its post-socialist transition, and the new challenges facing artists and communities today as a result of globalization and tourism. Site visits to artists' studios and theaters, NGO offices, and community centers expose students to the country's beleaguered arts infrastructure as well as the initiatives in place to protect and promote the arts and social initiatives.

The program consists of three main components:

  • An eight-week homestay in Prague. During this period, students have lectures, participate in roundtable discussions with leading specialists in the arts and post-socialist society, visit NGOs and artist studios, and engage in the cultural life of Prague. This includes attending gallery openings and theater performances and joining Czech participants in visual arts, dance, and other arts classes.
  • Ten days of educational excursions in the Czech Republic, Poland, and central Slovakia. The program also includes an excursion to the former Sudetenland.
  • A final four-week period during which students focus on an Independent Study Project (ISP).

Each facet of the program exposes students to different perspectives on the role and evolution of art throughout Central European history and the impact of post-socialism on the contemporary arts scene.

Prerequisites:

For visual arts, photography, and dance studio work, background in the area of study is required. Students enroll¬ing in creative writing must be majors or minors in writing. For all students, previous survey courses in European history or arts history are recommended, but not required.

Access Virtual Library Guide

The interdisciplinary coursework for the Czech Republic: Arts and Social Change program focuses on the complex cultural history of the Czech lands and the lasting impact of communism on Czech society. Students participate in intensive language instruction and field-based activities that offer unique insight into 20th-century Czech society and culture and the challenges facing the long-celebrated Czech tradition in the visual and performing arts, film, and photography. During the final month of the semester, students leverage their field study experience and research skills to complete an Independent Study Project (ISP) that critically examines a topic related to the program theme. Students have the option to produce creative work for their independent study, such as painting, sculpture, photography, or writing a short story or theater script inspired by their experience and studies of Czech arts and society.

Links to syllabi below are from current and forthcoming courses offered on this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

Czech History, Arts, and Civil Society I - syllabus
(EURO 3000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
This course examines Czech society and national identity in historical and contemporary contexts through visual and performing arts, film, and literature. The seminar is built around the rich and well-known intersection of arts, politics, and social change in Czech post-war history and the legacy of communism as it plays out in cultural expression and institutions today. The seminar includes required readings and lectures, as well as discussions, film screenings, music and dance performances, and site visits to artists’ studios, theaters, NGOs, and community centers.

Arts Field Study Seminar - syllabus
(ANTH 3500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
A course in qualitative research methods focused on learning across cultures and from field experience and includes topics such as cross-cultural adaptation and skills building; project selection and refinement; appropriate methodologies; field study ethics and the World Learning/SIT Human Subjects Review Policy; developing contacts and finding resources; developing skills in observation and interviewing; gathering, organizing, and communicating data; maintaining a work journal. The course introduces arts-based research (ABR) methods in which the creation and analysis of art is utilized as primary mode of qualitative inquiry. Students review the different kinds of arts-based research methods (narrative, poetic, dance, and visual forms of inquiry, for example), the debates surrounding the use of arts-based methodologies, and gain practical experience for integrating creative work in a social science research contexts, which may be used in the Independent Study Project.

Intensive Language Study: Czech - syllabus
(CZEC 1000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Emphasis on speaking and comprehension skills through classroom and field instruction. Students are placed in beginning classes.

Independent Study Project - syllabus
(ISPR 3000 / 4 credits / 120 class hours)
Conducted in Prague or in another approved location appropriate to the project in the Czech Republic, Poland, or Slovakia. Projects may include a creative or artistic component in the visual and performing arts or creative writing. Sample topic areas: Czech cubist architecture and design; legacy of Czech underground music; Roma ethnic and cultural identity; sustainable development in North Bohemia; the former Sudetenland today.

In addition to taking the above-listed courses, students will also need to enroll in one of the following two courses:

Czech History, Arts, and Civil Society II: Creativity in Context - syllabus
(EURO/ARTS 3005/ 3 credits / 45 class hours)
This course provides a deeper analysis of the development of democracy and civil society following the end of communism, with an emphasis on the nexus of contemporary politics and civic initiatives where the arts and creativity are key components for impelling social change. The course is introduced with a workshop dedicated to ways in which we read and analyze art and examines the position of art and creativity in contemporary society in the context of Czech history. The seminar includes readings, lectures, and roundtable discussions on the evolution and defining characteristics of civil society in the Czech Republic today; as well as visits to NGOs and festivals and with former dissidents and activists engaged with topics such as youth support, alternative culture, human rights, or the integration of social and ethnically-marginalized groups. The class provides firsthand observation and analysis of the social legacy of communism and critical issues in Czech and post-socialist European society today.

OR

Arts Studio - syllabus
(ARTS 2000/3000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
This course is geared toward students in the visual and performing arts and literature and requires independent studio work in inter-media visual arts, digital photography, dance/ physical theater, or creative writing. The objective is to connect students more deeply to artists and projects related to their field of study, through a combination of studio work, site visits, and personal discussions with Czech artists. Creative writing students work under the guidance of a Czech writer. Inter-media visual arts and photography students as well as dance students work in a studio setting with established artists and dance instructors. Please note that inter-media studio and photography students do not work long hours in a physical studio or darkroom, as may be required for more conventional studio courses at their homeschools, but rather work conceptually, in the field, developing ideas for possible in-depth exploration during the ISP period. Depending on the student’s area of focus, attendance at theater or dance performances, reviewing visual arts exhibitions, or readings in contemporary Czech literature will be required.

The course culminates in an exhibition of student creative work in-progress and an evening of readings and performance and creative-arts journals documenting reflections and analyses of dance or theater performances, visual arts exhibitions, or readings in contemporary Czech literature, respectively.

The choice of focus for the course must be requested at the time of application. For inter-media arts, photography, and dance studio work, a basic course or background in the area of study is required. Students enrolling in creative writing must have completed at least one course in fiction writing or poetry. Students are enrolled at the 2000 level or 3000 level with additional course requirements, if the course is in the student's major.

Browse this program's Independent Study Projects/Undergraduate Research

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

Students participate in educational excursions during the semester to broaden their perspectives on the connections between art and contemporary society in the Czech Republic and its neighboring countries. Students experience firsthand the cultural and geographical differences that define the former Czechoslovakia.

They also have the opportunity to observe and participate in the activities of local NGOs and cultural centers serving as models of creativity in a post-socialist context. Excursions are designed to complement classroom study and field-based activities such as the ISP.

Bohemia and Moravia

TelcDuring the weeklong excursion to regional towns and villages in Moravia and/or Bohemia, students stay with host families or with regional NGOs to gain a better understanding of rural life and observe community initiatives. They will interact with civic leaders and artists devoted to regional development, cultural revival, and environmental conservation. Students also conduct interviews with local residents and specialists and participate in community activities such as town markets, conferences, or theater productions.

Ceský Krumlov

Students visit the historical city of Cesky Krumlov, a UNESCO protected landmark, where they observe the challenges associated with the city's historical restoration. During this excursion, students also discuss the contemporary reality of life in the former Sudetenland.

Slovakia and Poland

In Slovakia, students spend time in villages nestled among the stunning mountains of the country’s central mountain region.

Highlights of the Slovakia excursion include:

  • Witnessing the region’s confrontation with the past and present through visits with a dynamic group of NGOs devoted to cultural and ecological sustainability of the mountain region.
  • Participating in traditional crafts and activities and observing the creative work of members of the community devoted to saving the landscape and cultural monuments.
  • Attending a performance or participating in a work day at one of the emerging Slovak cultural centers, such as Stanica, a remarkable example of cultural and community innovation in Slovakia today.

In Krakow, Poland students learn about the social and political context for the fall of the communist regime and visit contemporary arts projects such as an alternative theater in Nowa Huta, the city’s famous Stalinist industrial district.

Seminar discussions on the Slovakia and Poland excursion focus on comparisons of the fall of communism in Central Europe and the vastly different social and political contexts for the Czech, Slovak, and Polish artists before and after 1989.

The program will also travel to the former Sudetenland to discuss Czech-German cultural relations, with a stop on the way in one of the so-called lost villages.

Sarah Brock, Academic Director

sarah brockA native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Sarah Brock received her MA in art history from Syracuse University and her BA in art from the University of Massachusetts. She has worked in Prague as an art history lecturer, an advisor to Czech NGOs, an arts critic, and a manager of the US Embassy's nonprofit portfolio and grants program. She also served as co-curator of the exhibition of Czech and Los Angeles artists entitled "Certain Traces: Dialogue 2004." Her primary research interests are alternative arts spaces in Central Europe and arts-based research methods.

Having lived in Prague during the vital post-communist transition period, Ms. Brock's work with the SIT Study Abroad program has been greatly influenced by her affiliation with Czech civil society leaders and artists. In her words, "There is no better way to learn about the social and cultural complexity of the post-communist period than to speak directly with specialists or to join them in arts and community programs."

Ms. Brock became academic director of the Czech Republic program in 2005. In her role as academic director, Ms. Brock oversees every aspect of the program. In addition to giving lectures, coordinating seminars, and structuring educational excursions, Ms. Brock works individually with students to ensure that they develop unique, creative, and academically relevant independent study projects drawing upon the wide range of academic advisors, artists, and NGO activists available to the program.

Lenka Krenková, Program Assistant and Homestay Coordinator

As program assistant and homestay coordinator, Ms Krenkova supports program implementation and homestays, providing essential communications support to students and families. Having worked in Scotland with the National Piping Association and with Czech NGO projects such as Youth and Evironmental Europe, Ms Krenkova brings a unique and relevant experience to her role with the SIT program. She has degrees in Humanities and Theatre Anthropology.

Dr. Lída Holá, Czech Language Instructor

Dr. Holá is a specialist and innovator in the field of Czech language study whose series of text books, Czech Step by Step I and II and Czech Express , are used as an essential resource for Czech language learning in Europe as well as in American university courses. Dr. Holá holds a doctoral degree in English and Russian languages and early in her career was twice awarded the Young Translators Competition of Jirí Levý. She has been a member of the Association of Teachers of Czech as a Foreign Language (AUCCJ) since 2002 and served as a vice president of the executive committee from 2005 to 2009. In addition to teaching and publishing activities, Dr. Holá has published numerous articles on teaching Czech as a foreign language, given papers at conferences on her topic in Europe and the United States, and translated books such as Hidden History by Otokar B?ezina (Twisted Spoon Publishers, Prague, 2000) and the English sections of The Correspondence of Karel Capek (NLN, Prague, 1995).

The homestay was easily the best part of the program. My host family members were angels and I believe these feelings of friendship and love were reciprocal. They welcomed me whole-heartedly but also gave me alone time when I needed it.

SIT Study Abroad Czech Republic program alumna

Homestays help students understand the realities of living in a particular country and serve as an invaluable tool for language development and cultural immersion. The Czech Republic program includes two homestays: one in the capital city of Prague, and one with NGOs and families in the rural villages of Moravia or Bohemia. These homestay experiences allow students to observe diverse living conditions and social realities while also broadening their understanding of the country's communist history and the post-socialist transition.

Other accommodations during the program include hostels or small hotels, private homes, and arts and NGO centers.

Prague homestay

homestayStudents live with families in Prague (both urban and suburban areas) for eight weeks in order to experience the Czech lifestyle, culture and language. Families are chosen based on their interest in the program theme, and many are affiliated with the Prague arts scene as artists or social activists. Students often cite their homestay experiences in Prague as the highlight of their semester, and relationships between host families and students often last long after the program's conclusion. Students conducting their ISP in Prague remain in their Prague homestays for 12 weeks. Those conducting ISPs in other locations are also placed in homestays or accommodations of local organizations. 

Bohemia/Moravia homestay

As part of their one-week educational excursion to rural towns and villages in Bohemia or Moravia, students live with local families or at NGO facilities. Students interact with NGOs and arts centers and learn about the challenges to social and economic development in the former Sudetenland of Bohemia, in regional industrial centers, or historic towns such as Olomouc and Brno. This regional experience exposes students to grass-roots social initiatives and arts projects outside of Prague.

Program Dates: Spring 2015

Program Start Date:  Jan 31, 2015

Program End Date:    May 16, 2015

The dates listed above are subject to change. Please note that travel to and from the program site may span a period of more than one day.

Student applications to this program will be reviewed on a rolling basis between the opening date and the deadline.

Application Deadline:   Nov 1, 2014

 

SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to all students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding; this award can be applied to any SIT semester program. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.

Tuition: $14,950

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • Czech history, politics, and society
    • Arts and cultural studies
    • Nongovernmental organizations, civil society, and community revival
  • Arts Field Study Seminar on research methods and Human Subjects Review
  • Intensive language instruction in Czech
  • All educational excursions to locations such as Bohemia and/or Moravia, Cesky Krumlov, Slovakia, and Poland, including all related travel costs
  • Independent Study Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food)
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board:$3,800

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period. This includes during orientation, time in the program base (Prague), on all excursions, during the Independent Study Project, and during the final evaluation period.
  • All homestays (eight weeks in Prague and one week in regional towns of Bohemia or Moravia)
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly or through a stipend, or through the homestay.

Estimated Additional Costs:

International Airfare

International airfares vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.

Visa Expenses:$150

Immunizations varies

Books & Supplies :$200

Discretionary Expenses

Personal expenses during a semester abroad vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region.  See a full list of our alumni contacts.  Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited. varies

Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.

 

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SIT was founded as the School for International Training and has been known as SIT Study Abroad and SIT Graduate Institute since 2007. SIT is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc. (NEASC) through its Commission on Institutions of Higher Education

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