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Study Abroad
Western Michigan
University

1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo, Michigan
49008-5245 USA
Phone (269) 387-5890
Fax (269) 387-0630

Location

2425 Ellsworth Hall
WMU Mail Stop 5245

Julia Valentine--Czech Republic

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Julia Valentine
Czech Republic
2008

Studying abroad in the Prague Summer Program is an experience that not only changed me as a writer but on a personal level as well. As a creative writing major at WMU, I chose to be a part of the Prague Summer Program because of the amazing writers the program attracts. Former PSP faculty include Pulitzer-Prize winning fiction writer Robert Olen Butler, the National Book Award winner in 2004, poet Jean Valentine and WMU’s own Stuart Dybek, a MacArthur Genius fellow.

 

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Prague Summer Program students choose from fiction, poetry, non-fiction, and playwriting workshop classes. The program also offers literature and photography classes. I chose a fiction workshop taught by Stuart Dybek, the author of the novel, “I Sailed with Magellan” and the shot story collection “Coast of Chicago.” Stuart Dybek has been called ny some of his contemporaries the master of the short story. His passion for the craft of writing is undeniable and something I knew would benefit me greatly. In his class, each participant workshopped two stories along with short shorts we wrote during our stay in Prague. Stuart spent a long time combing through each students work really focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of each piece. He is a careful reader and his comments were always constructive and valuable. In my stories, he taught me the power of word choice and the impact of simple concrete sentences. Since working with Stuart, I have become a more mindful writer, because I am more particular about each word used; I notice how a single word can mean more than an entire sentence.

 

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In addition to my workshop, I attended lectures presented by both Czech and American authors and professors. The lectures were centered on the theme “The Myth of Innocence: Childhood as Cultural Phenomenon.” Listening to the Czech writers was an amazing experience. Arnost Lustig and Petr Bilek discussed their experiences in both Czech and American culture. The way they related literature to childhood was so interesting. Petr Bilek demonstrated through the lecture how literature ideologies are placed onto children. He cited a novel by Kundera to show how children are often a product of the media. Petr Bilek also showed popular Czech cartoon programs, like “The Mole,” to help us better understand how the Communits, while occupying Czechoslovakia, promoted their ideologies through media.
Arnost Lustig’s lecture gave us an opportunity to learn about the experiences of a Jewish child during the Holocaust. Being a survivor, Lustig told us about how growing up during World War II affected his life. We had a question and answer session with Lustig, where he was willing to answer any questions we wished to ask. He was very effective in connecting the horrors of the Holocaust to the Jewish children who endured it.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the program hosts faculty readings where students get a chance to hear faculty read their work, followed by a question and answer session. These readings featured all literary genres and offered us a chance to hear what the faculty are working on or have recently published. Arnost Lustig and Ivan Kilma, both fiction writers and Holocaust survivors, were featured readers. Their work was inspiring and moving, as they read about the hardships they lived through during and following WWII. There were also student readings each week, where we presented our work to each other, Prague Summer Program faculty and any Czech who may have been at the venue.

 

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Being able to live in such a beautiful city is something I will always cherish. We were able to wake up every morning and take a short tram ride to class or famous landmarks like the Charles Bridge or Prague Castle. Prague offers amazing architecture and a deeply rooted history around every corner. Old Town Square, just a short walk from the building where classes are held, hosts concerts almost every weekend. It was a great experience to hang out in the heart of Prague with locals and hear music and shows presented by amazing European musicians.

Many people have asked about the language barrier; I do not speak Czech and had very few difficulties communicating while in Prague. Most young people in the Czech Republic speak English and many restaurants offer English menus. The people in the city were very kind and willing to help.

 

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I made lifelong friends through the Prague Summer Program. Between the WMU students and other students from across the country, there was never a dull moment. We put on open mic nights, where we just relaxed and listened to music. We also made sure to try all of the famous Czech beers the country has to offer. I learned so much as a part of this program and recommend it warmly.