Students teach Czechs English

By Jamie Bowen, Staff Writer

Jesse Pugh remembers teaching English to his host family and gazing out at the beautiful scenery of the Czech Republic.

“The Sumava Mountain Range is one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited,” said Pugh, a graduate student in intercultural relations.

Pugh, a study abroad adviser, was one of 17 students who went on the first trip of Project New Eyes in 2007. The project, a study abroad program established by Steven Sternfeld and Michael Polacek, is a four-week cross-cultural experience that goes beyond most study abroad programs, said Heather Hirschi, a co-director of Project New Eyes.

Sternfeld, a linguistics professor at the U, formed the program after traveling to Italy and the Czech Republic with Polacek. The two decided to create the opportunity for students to travel overseas and teach English and other programs students create, such as internships in local businesses for citizens of Susice in the Czech Republic. Susice is a town of about 11,000 people in the southwestern part of the country.

The people of the town value English and the program is a large benefit for them, Hirschi said.

“We try to create an English setting for them there,” she said. “We gather each night in the square, and we go out to dinner and people are able to speak English in a casual setting.”

In the program, students have the opportunity to create their own program instead of teaching English in a classroom setting, Sternfeld said. This year, one student wants to help citizens learn English while teaching yoga classes.

Many of the citizens of Susice begin studying English in the first grade and are able to practice it with the visiting U students.

“Students have studied eight years of English,” Sternfeld said. “You can get involved in huge conversations…(and) you get to go much deeper.”

The program stretches over a five-month period. Students begin preparing for the trip by taking linguistics and writing classes before they leave the country, Sternfeld said. They are also required to take an eight-week online segment where they can work and communicate with Czech citizens before they leave the United States. Then they take an eight-week online “wrap-up” segment upon returning home.

The writing segment is designed to help students reflect on their experience while they are out of the country and put it on paper, Hirschi said.

“Students have in mind a purpose,” she said. “(This) helps students understand the Czechs, their lives and their culture.”

After students have written their reflection, the writings will be collected and compiled into a text that students could use down the road, Hirschi said.

“(There are) many opportunities to learn about Czech culture in English and share American culture,” Sternfeld said.

Project New Eyes applications were accepted Feb. 20, but students can still apply 30 days after the deadline if they pay a $50 late fee.

The program costs are estimated at $3,000, which includes everything except transportation, lunches and personal expenses.

Students will have the opportunity to live with a host family in or around Susice. The family will provide lodging and food in return for lessons in English from students.

For more information, visit the Study Abroad Web site or call 801-581-5849.

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