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American Studies Today Online American Studies in the Czech Republic

by Stepanka Korytova-Magstadt and Jitka Ramadanova. Zapadoceska University - Plzen, Czech Republic

Stepanka Korytova-Magstadt

Stepanka Korytova-Magstadt (left) and Jitka Ramadanova (right) are lecturers in English and American Studies at the Zapadoceska University in Plzen, Czech Republic. They recently visited the Centre, and here they write about the successes and challenges of the American Studies program they run.

Jitka Ramadanova
 

Introduction

The American Studies Certificate Program at Zapadoceska univerzita (ZCU) entered its fourth year in 1997. It was only natural for ZCU to develop an American Studies program given the proximity of the school to the West and Pizen's special historical links to the US. The leadership and encouragement of Eva Valentova, Director of International Relations at ZCU were a key factor in starting up the program. We have also benefitted from the ongoing support of the United States Information Service (USIS) office in Prague and from the continued interest of British and American scholars—in-residence who have lectured for varying periods at ZCU in recent years..

American Studies is now an established program, offering at least five courses every semester with an average of 18 students per course. The program is a result of the university's commitment to enrich and broaden the educational experience of students at ZCU. While American Studies at other schools is part of an English— language program, students in the American Studies Certificate Program at ZCU take technical, economic, and law degrees.

The program is open to all ZCU students, who may receive a certificate upon completion of 12 credit hours of course—work. To fulfil the requirements of this program, all students must, in addition, submit a 10—page written project based on secondary materials and sit for a comprehensive examination.

All courses are taught in English by native and some non-native English speakers. We have always been fortunate to have Fulbright and Civic Education Project (CEP) scholars teaching in the program. Besides regular teachers and Fulbright scholars we have had visiting lecturers from time to time.

Our permanent staff consists of a co-ordinator, three Czech lecturers and two native—speaking lecturers. The participation of foreign lecturers is a necessary component of the program, but we also need the kind of continuity that can only be insured by relying on some permanent Czech staff. Nonetheless, native speakers have been vital to American Studies at ZCU and will continue to be.

Teaching Philosophy And Program Content

Actively involving the students through discussions and individual projects is one of our main objectives. The Quality of class participation is directly related to the topic of the day. Among some of the topics that generate good discussion have been the Vietnam War, Hollywood and the American entertainment industry, the mass media, sports in American society, and civil rights. To enhance student participation we are currently reviewing the structure of the program with a view to introducing projects which require students to do independent research and writing around an assigned topic primarily using English-language materials.

The interdisciplinary character of the American Studies Certificate Program dictates that we should offer lectures in a wide variety of areas, including history, geography, linguistics, political science, micro—economics, law, and psychology. Core Course I is a basic introduction to the United States stressing history, geography, government, and law, plus such key topics as education, family and religion. Core Course IT reflects contemporary issues of modern America.

One of the offerings for the American Studies Certificate is a course entitled Language in America I and II, which is acomparative study of British English and American English, Part II is a more specialised course which stresses dialects and their social implications. Other offerings include two courses focused on American business: "Entrepreneurship: US arid Czech Perspectives" and "Introduction to Marketing." Synopsis of US Government and Legal Institutions" present the students with basic facts about American commercial, legal, and governmental structures. In addition, we offer the following: "The USA at Home and Abroad since 1945," which examines the key figures and events of the post—war history of the USA; "Regions of the USA" which compares and contrasts six major regions; and "Introduction to American History Since 1776."

The Importance of Networking

We are cognisant of the importance of networking on both the national and international levels. Our staff greatly benefited from attending the Salzburg seminar workshop on Resourcing and Supporting US Studies Abroad, and from conferences in Lodz and in Brno in the past few years.

A grant from the Fund for University Development enabled us to expand our library with books and with a journal. Jitka Ramadanova, the co-ordinator of the program, and the present writer were able to visit the American Studies Centre in Liverpool and talk to our colleagues there about resources and syllabi. Such on—site visits and interactions with colleagues in English—speaking countries are extremely beneficial to the program. The visit to England also made possible a fruitful discussion with Professor Jay Kleinberg, head of the American Studies Department at Brunel University.

The fact that former Fulbright scholars have kept in touch and revisited our campus has been a valuable asset to American Studies at ZCU. Indeed, we are currently planning several projects together, the newest of which was initiated by Helen Cox, an American Studies scholar from Salt Lake Community College (SLCC), who came originally as an exchange professor. As a result of that tie, we now have a summer student exchange with SLCC. This reciprocal arrangement is intended on both sides to be ongoing, but the funding of such projects is always a problem.

Conclusion

Our main goals for the future are to strengthen the program. The program is to offer new courses aimed at providing a liberal arts dimension to the predominantly technical orientation of the University. Through the courses offered within the American Studies program students at Zapadoceska univerzita will be better able to meet the challenge of adapting to a rapidly changing workplace, society, and world.


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The views expressed are those of the contributors, and not necessarily those of the Centre or the College.

© 1998, City of Liverpool College, Liverpool John Moores University and the Contributors.

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