I have truly been impressed with the courses here at GW during the first week of classes. There is a lot to say about the professors and the material they have planned for the courses. I find myself looking forward to delving into the subject matter and anticipate a rewarding semester that will challenge my thinking and teach me more about American culture, both on and off campus. I think that the university environment is set up in such a way that it allows the students to rationally discuss, assess and decide whether to value or doubt a variety of issues and ideals.
In the last week I have observed so many differences between the classes here and at Charles University, and have always tried to understand their origins and impacts. Firstly, I was appalled when seeing how interactive the classes are expected to be. The next shocking moment came while having a first discussion in class. I must say, I have never seen such a vivid, lively environment for a debate. Students are eager to express their opinion rather than just muttering incomprehensibly to themselves. I had to assert myself in order to be heard. Students here are much more self-confident than in the Czech Republic, which helps to stimulate and move the discussions further.
The next thing I have found interesting and highly inspirational was the concern for up-to-date matters, including recent developments in pop-culture. Both lecturers and students tend to refer to pop-culture quite often. I was so surprised when we were supposed to debate the movie Lincoln, or Beyoncé, and I thought for a minute that the professor was joking. However, it seems that assessing mainstream culture is an efficient way to assess you surroundings. Additionally, it reveals how deeply connected recent theories are with the academic culture here – for instance the works of Žižek or Butler show a very similar attitude. In Charles University, the whole academic culture tends to neglect this. Both the courses and the discussions are very classical, only a few times before coming here I had encountered more recent texts to study, as if only time can prove whether the text is worth reading or not. Lecturers here are thus more progressive and not afraid of possibly dashing debates.
The most positive observation was, however, seeing America in doubts. From the very beginning I have been here, I could see (regardless of the Inauguration) many sign of patriotism. Such signs would have been extremely ridiculed in the Czech Republic. Of course, it is very pathetic when a citizen feels like being a part of the state only when sport events take place. However, this stance also protects us from mindless acting. The star-spangled banners and posters everywhere tells me that something is different here. It is nice to be proud of your country, unless it is at the expense of truth. I was afraid I would not be able to talk to anybody about this, because everybody seemed to have no objections towards America. Nonetheless, once the classes started, I was sure I am in the right place. I could see people objecting and trying to rethink this sort of approach towards your country. And that made me happy again about being here. I can say, I am in the right place, where America can be proud and still able to be critical at the same time.