Day to Day Life

In response to Abe’s comment I thought it might be a good idea to write about my routines, now that I have them.

I usually write my posts sitting either inside or outside of Kava Kava Kava, an internet cafè right in the middle of the city. I found out about it from a post on Free wireless internet with purchase of a drink. They have a full selection of typical coffeshop beverages, as well as the usual little pasteries and such. The owner is a Canadian guy and likes to keep the atmosphere relaxed. Case in point: Otis Redding just came on over the stereo. Some cafès around here enjoy piping in music that I think just falls into the category of “American.” This can mean anything from Britney Spears to Eminem to Slipknot. One after another. Quite random. But not Kava Kava Kava. They have the official Tom Sartain Endorsement.

I find myself hitting up Bohemia Bagel quite a bit. Only place that I have found that has halfway decent bagels, not to mention bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches. They also offer a Philly Cheese Steak, but not much is to be said for those. Aside from the bagels and fresh squeezed orange juice, one of their two locations has computers available for use, but no wireless, so I don’t tend to frequent that location. But the one by Ujezd is wonderful for my needs, and I can work it so that it is on my way into town.

I live in kolej Komenského, an official dormitory of Charles University. It is the official dorm for the ECES program, which means that the large majority of the residents are American college students. Which has its benefits and its detriments. Coming into the program, I was under the impression that it would be much more of an international affair. As it is, the ECES program consists of all Americans with the exception of a Finnish Girl, an Armenian guy, and a Mexican guy. Charles University also has a program called Erasmus which is for students from other universities in the European Union. I think this was closer to what I was thinking I would be enrolled in. I was hoping to be rooming with a French guy, hanging out with a Brit, studying with a Turk. But unfortunately, this is not the case.

I know that for some people, this situation is ideal. Living in a foreign country, seeing the sights, experiencing the culture, but never having to worry about speaking anything but English. There are some people in the program who have this exact mindset and it works for them. Of course, on the other side of things, you have people that are looking to learn the language, absorb the culture and make the Czech Republic their own. There are people in the program who have this mindset and it works for them too. I guess you get out of it what you want.

Moving on, I just finished my second full week of classes, even though I start one of my classes this monday. The registration process was a bit odd. In the paperwork I submitted, I put down a list of classes I would like to take. At the time, I sort of had this mindset that those would be the classes I would take. Even though the logistics of it made no sense. I had no idea when the classes met, so for all I knew, all of my classes met tuesday evening, and three of them met simultaneously.
During the orientation the first monday, I found out that to register for classes, we had to go to the ECES website and enroll. For those of us that submitted our courses ahead of time (which I did) we had been enrolled in the classes automatically. However, in some cases, more people pre-registered for a class than there was room in the class, which meant that before we even got here, there was a waitlist. To make matters more difficult, the order of registration appears to be nearly arbitrary. Whether I submitted my paperwork in January or in June, it had no effect on my class selection. I honestly do not remember what my initial schedule was like, but I know that I was waitlisted for quite a few of my classes. Since I am basically taking classes to earn credits, I was not particularly stressed about which classes I was in. This is not the case for all, obviously, and I am fortunate that I didn’t have to worry about not being able to take a class I need.
Class selection for me was a matter of finding out what classes met at what times, and choosing the ones that interested me. It was a relatively short process and I managed to get into classes that had no waitlist and seemed remotely interesting. Those classes follow, as well as a short bit of text about each.

Czech Film: Eastern European Cinema
We tend to think that movies only come out of Hollywood, along with a Brit film once in a whie, or maybe even the occasional film out of East Asia. However, there are a great many films that have come out of East Europe that deal with issues completely foreign to us in America, and deal with them with a style and grace unseen in American cinemas. This class consists of a weekly meeting that involves a breif discussion on the topic at hand (“Slovak Cinema”) and then a screening of a film that exemplifies the topic. Students also take turns presenting on the previous week’s film, researching each film and bringing up research points with the class. My roommate and I are actually presenting this tuesday on Juraj Jakubisko’s Birds, Orphans and Fools. Should be an interesting presentation.

Czech Music
A brief history of Czech Music from the middle ages to the twentieth century. While focussing on Czech composers, attention is also paid to the important composers from each era. Each class consists of lecturing followed by a healthy amount of listening. One of the two instructors for this class also works in the National Library’s music collection, and brought us to see some of the original sheet music in the collection, including books that are over three hundred years old. It was quite the experience.

Literature: Emblematic Reductions: Czech, European and American Pop Culture
I haven’t had this class yet. Starts on monday. The official course info from the website:
This course focuses on semiotic interpretation of popular culture emblems, e.g. entities produced by intentional reduction of meaning. It will cover discursive practices that produce semantic reductions, be it mass media, pop-culture industry, as well as mediating chains of exchange between distinct nations. The course should offer an overview of stereotypes of re-presentations of distinct cultures and nationalities within the European Union and U.S.A. The materials covered and interpreted will include popular music, TV broadcasting, book presentations and re-presentations, advertising, internet presentations of national web pages, as well as sociological sources that offer data on the ways distinct nations treat the others. The course is based on cultural studies perspective, stressing semiotic methodological approaches.

20th Century Central European History: A Personal View
This is quite possibly my favorite class. Taught by Jan Wiener, an 85 year old man who has been through war, holocaust, Communist invasion, work camps, as well as any number of other adventures, this class offers (as the title suggests) a personal view on European History of the past century. We don’t just hear about the Nazis coming into Prague, we hear about how Jan went to school one day, and all of a sudden the Jewish children were on one side of the room and the non-Jews were on the other. Even the events that he does not have a personal anecdote for, Jan shares personal stories from other people, offering background on not just the facts of the matter, but also how the people took to it. In addition to the weekly classes, there are also trips where Jan brings us to certain historical locations. Look for a post on the trip to Terazin, the concentration camp, coming soon. Beyond just visiting these places, we are treated to Jan’s wealth of personal knowledge, going in depth into topics the museum describes in a sentance or two. The man has been through a lot, knows even more, and, most importantly, has the desire and the skill to potently pass this knowledge on to students.

I had also enrolled in a class called “All Aboard! Armchair Traveling through the Czech Republic” which was a first year offering, and according to various sources might also be the last. The title is a bit ambiguous, and sounded interesting, so I figured I would give it a try. However, when I got to the class, I learned that it would actually be a literature class, with a lot of reading, and no travel. At the very least, I had assumed that there would be optional trips that we could go on, or perhaps some movie screenings or something. I misinterpreted the “armchair travel” portion of the title. Apparently the instructor meant sitting in an armchair, reading a book. Right up some people’s alley, but for me, I didn’t need the class, and I didn’t think I would be getting a lot out of it, so I made the executive decision to drop it.

So I hope this addresses Abe’s questions, and anyone else who wanted to know. If not, feel free to leave a comment with your questions. I will try to get a picture of the dorms sometime soon, interior and exterior.

On the dorm topic though, I will mention that there is a great variety as far as rooming goes. I am in a suite with 10 other guys, some have singles, some have doubles. Everyone’s room is a different shape and size. In other parts of the building, some suites are two double rooms. I am fairly certain we are the largest suite though, so it only gets smaller.

Speaking of getting smaller, I wonder if I will ever be able to write shorter entries…

Czech Lesson
Large is velký (vell-key)
Typical Czech Usage:
Prosim, jedna velký pivo, prosim.

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1 Comment

  1. Nancy

    My daughter is studying at Charles University and sent me an email telling me about her class “emblematic reductions”…although I know what both those words mean independently I had NO idea what they meant together…a Google search led me to Tom’s blog…I’ve learned more about the Czech study abroad experience here than I will ever hear from my lovely daughter! I am coming to Prague in November and am more excited than ever having read what Tom thinks!

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