Welcome to Prague!
A medieval cultural capital located in the heart of Europe, yet for decades locked seemingly far away behind the Iron Curtain, Prague has a magical flair like no other. Relatively spared from natural disasters and war, Prague boasts magnificent architecture preserved from its distant past, and is the home to world class theatres (think Mozart), labyrinthine cobble-stoned streets (think Kafka), and tucked-away bars, gardens and cafés where you can contemplate the meaning of it all. One of the things that makes Prague special is its contradictions: it’s both big as well as cozy, it’s rich as well as poor, both “Eastern” and “Western”, quiet and wild, and really old yet unmistakably reconfigured by the communist regime (1948-1989) as well as the capitalist system that replaced it.
The Prague Program, which is the oldest CHID study abroad program at UW (since 1996), is all about immersing yourself in Prague and the other great Central European cities – Vienna and Bratislava, Krakow, Budapest and Berlin, where we will go on 4-day trips each – in order to develop a complex understanding of the dynamic historical, cultural and political life of Central Europe as a whole. The program itself is strongly anchored in the philosophy of CHID: it combines academically rigorous seminar-style courses, international field trips aimed at provoking personal reflection and exploration, and cultural events that transform our program into a living community. We focus on key issues that resonate well beyond Central Europe: the tragedy of the Holocaust, the nature and impact of the communist system, the hopes and tensions of the European Union, and how coming to terms with the past is reflected in the cultural and art scene we witness today.
We also reflect on the very meaning of Central Europe. Does Central Europe even exist? The question has for over a century occupied European intellectuals like Walter Benjamin or Milan Kundera, and continued to be reframed by the World Wars, a divided Europe during the Cold War, and the contemporary European integration. We travel to Vienna, Krakow, Budapest and Berlin to explore the commonality and diversity of Central Europe and to see how, as Christa Wolf expressed it, today is the last day of the past.
The Prague program is intensive both academically and experientially, often at the same time. The classes directly connect, for example, with our talks with journalists at Radio Free Europe in Prague or diplomats at the U.S. mission to the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) in Vienna. We discuss class readings with activists at the European Roma Rights Center in Budapest as well as with lawyers from the Transparency International in Prague. We visit women’s rights activists in Krakow, local artists in Prague, and “green” squatters in the famous wagon commune Schwarzerkanal in Berlin. What might seem abstract at one moment becomes crystal clear the next when we walk through Auschwitz, visit a Stasi prison, witness street demonstrations, or explore the remnants of the Berlin wall.
Thus, to a large degree, the site, or rather the sites ARE the academic content of the program. But we do all of this with a heavy dose of fun: we go biking in Berlin and Krakow (possibly elsewhere), experience Budapest’s Turkish baths, explore Vienna’s Habsburg palaces, and see opera and ballet in Prague’s beautiful theaters. We also encourage students to go on short-term trips to other wonderful places in the Czech Republic during the three-day weekends. Through this immersion, we hope that students in the program not only critically explore the intersections of rich and complex Central European history, society, and politics, but also, in the process, become themselves transformed by the places, people and ideas they encounter.
We believe for this immersion experience it’s absolutely crucial that the students don’t feel like tourists but instead live the same way regular Prague residents do. During the Prague program our students thus live in rented private residential apartments, centrally located in the heart of Prague. 4-5 students share two-bedroom apartments, all with fully equipped kitchens, bathrooms with showers or bathtubs, washing machines, living rooms with TV/SAT, and free internet. (The location of our classroom is within 20 minutes by walk or a short tram ride from all student apartments.)
The program fee covers most expenses connected with the international field
trips (travel, housing, museums and other entrance fees, all breakfasts and
a few group meals, etc.), student accommodation in the above-described apartments,
3-month public transportation pass in Prague, tickets to selected cultural
events (opera, ballet, concerts, museums), and reading packs for all three