The following interview was conducted by Tisch Center student worker, Haley Park.
Why did you select Prague as a study away destination this summer?
Prague is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world, located in the “heart of Europe.” It has been called the “City of a Hundred Spires” or “Magical Prague,” based on its architectural and spiritual richness and outstanding cultural and natural resources dating back centuries. I have visited Prague since 1989 when the Iron Curtain fell and the Czech people gained their personal freedom. I have taken Tisch Center students to Prague for approximately 15 years as part of the summer study away experience to share what makes the city and the countryside so special.
What will the students see and do in Prague?
Students will be very busy touring the medieval stone Charles Bridge, the Old Town and the New Town which include the Old Town Hall, the famous Astronomical Clock, Church of Our Lady of Tyn, House of the Black Madonna, Powder Tower, Wenceslas Square and the National Museum. The second day they will tour the Jewish Museum and view Maisel Synagogue Pinkas Synagogue, the historic Jewish Cemetery, Spanish Synagogue and learn about the history and traditions or the Jewish community in Prague. Students will have the opportunity to view some 40,000 religious objects that reflect Jewish customs and religion. The third day we will plan to visit the Czech Tourism office, stroll through the Mala Strana neighborhood, take photos at the John Lennon Wall before taking the tram to tour the beautiful Romanesque Strahov Monastery with rooms filled with 17th century books. This will be followed by a tour around the Prague Castle district with a special visit to Golden Lane. On our fourth day we take a bus to the city of the Terezin Concentration Camp Memorial. This fortified town was build in the 1740’s but in 1941, the Nazi’s removed the local inhabitants and brought in 60,,0000 Jews to create a concentration.camp. Terezin was considered the Nazi’s model Jewish town but was used only for propaganda purposes as unfortunately, 155,000 Terezin Jews either died or were sent to extermination camps. Of the 15,000 children who passed through Terezin between 1942-1944, fewer than 100 survived. Although this is a difficult subject, our students remember the experience as very educational and impactful on their lives. When students are not touring, they have class assignments related to the Prague experience. I allow some free time for the students to work on their research projects. We also have several group dinners together and the opportunity for a 3 hour river cruise the night before they leave.
Prague is a very popular tourism destination, yet many people may not be familiar with Czech culture. What do you wish more people would know about the Czech Republic?
Prague culture is quite different in many ways depending on the age of the people you meet. For the older people who suffered through communism they may appear intimidating and rather distant, but after you know them they are very friendly. In general, Czechs are not aggressive and when you ride on the metro they are very quiet, reserved and polite. Czech people will be very direct if you ask questions. I encourage students to learn a few Czech words which the store owners and sales people appreciate. Beer is a big part of the culture so once you visit a pub you will see and appreciate another side of Czech life and the wonderful personalities.
One of the courses you teach in the MS Tourism Management is Cultural Heritage Tourism. How well would you say has Prague preserved its cultural heritage?
Cultural Heritage is a large part of the Prague and Czech tourism product for visitors to enjoy. The Czech Republic has twelve listed architectural sites and historic centers, five varied cultural traditions and manifestations, six biosphere reserves and one geopark which demonstrates that the cultural and natural heritage is on the prestigious list of UNESCO. The Czech Republic ranks among the countries with the greatest concentration of world heritage sites which means the resources need to be protected for future generations. The culture and heritage is everywhere you look and appreciated by the local people as well as visitors from around the world.