written by Brenna Cox (Drake University)
Czech Saying: Kdo hledá, najde.
Translation: He who looks, finds.
I want to take a moment to shed some light on why I chose Prague as my study abroad destination as it relates to my studies in sociology and economics at Drake University. I wrote this piece for the Honors Program at Drake to explain how I will pursue an interdisciplinary learning approach during my abroad experience. I am very passionate about my chosen fields of study and I hope this paper reveals these passions as well as my academic ambitions for this adventure:
The Mutually Constitutive Role of Economics and Sociology in Shaping a Nation
As a double major in economics and sociology, I am particularly interested in how societies design and interact with their economic systems. Human interactions are instrumental in how economists theorize about economies and discover new economic models. Cultural attitudes in tandem with political realities are greatly influential in the economic development of a country. Equally, economic systems born from certain historical and geographical contexts have tremendous influence in the development of certain socio-cultural attitudes. Individuals within a society are the architects, participants, and recipients of economic systems. Therefore, I believe that the study of economics can be greatly enriched when examined through the lens of sociology.
I specifically chose to study abroad in the Czech Republic because the country provides a unique case study for investigating how society and economics are mutually constitutive in shaping a nations past, present and future. Before it was the Czech Republic, Czechoslovakia was one of the first Eastern European countries to experiment with democratic government. While abroad, I would like to study how democratic policies implemented as early as the 1800s wielded new social norms as the economy became increasingly industrialized. By the early twentieth century, democratic ideas flourished in Czechoslovakia, with Prague acting as the cultural and political epicenter of the country. The shocks of the first, and more importantly, second World Wars interrupted the economic, social and political growth of the country. In the aftermath of World War II, communist economic philosophies and polices deeply altered the economic landscape. The democratic revolution of the late 1980s and the Czech Republic’s decision to join the European Union have again changed the economic and social landscape of the country. Examining these historical transitions will demonstrate how economics and sociology merge when influencing the overarching culture of a nation. I expect my CIEE courses to delve into these social and economic changes that occurred throughout the Czech Republic’s growth as a nation. I plan to do my own analysis of these classes to determine where the two disciplines intersect and reveal specific patterns between the development of social norms and changing economic systems. I believe that the experience of studying Czech economics and society first hand in Prague will provide me with a deeper understanding of how Czech society adapted amid changing economic realities.
I am also taking a course on art and architecture in Prague. The buildings in Prague hold a great deal of Czech history in their walls and design. Discovering how people interact with their built environment and the historical significance of these buildings will shed light on the social and economic forces that shape modern day Czech culture. Understanding historical and modern art will illuminate social attitudes that correspond with different economic periods. I am eager to see what unique insights this third area of study can add to my exploration of social and economic systems in Prague.
In addition to my coursework, I anticipate studying the Czech Republic’s economic and social systems directly through my daily interactions with the citizens of the Czech Republic. In sociology it is important to gather ethnographic data to understand the nuanced inner workings of a society. By talking with peers, professors, guides and other Czech citizens, I hope to enrich my understanding of how the Czech people perceive the influences of the economic shifts in their country on their social and cultural interactions. One of my Drake peers who studied abroad in Prague mentioned the feelings of shame that many older Czech citizens associate with the Czech Republic’s submission to communist rule. I would be interested to pursue this observation and analyze the different affects that economics has had on both the older and younger generations of the Czech Republic. I am optimistic that my extended stay in Prague will provide the opportunity to develop friendships with a variety of people so that I may ask these questions and build an understanding about how current attitudes in Czech society have been influenced by the country’s economic history to create a distinctive culture in the Czech Republic.
From a broader perspective, I believe that traveling in general provides an interdisciplinary aspect to academics. Learning how to adapt to a new culture and learning how another culture studies certain disciplines like sociology and economics is necessary in order to succeed in our increasingly globalized world. The merging of sociology and economics can provide a multifaceted understanding of different nations and cultures across the globe. As economies across the world become more globalized and interdependent, it is essential that we understand the way in which societies make economic decisions. Studying economics from a different cultural perspective builds cultural empathy and fosters positive collaboration between states and societies. Studying in Prague will broaden the lens in which I view the world, better equipping me to cooperatively and empathetically tackle important sociological and economic questions as I continue my studies at Drake University.
Hopefully this provides a better sense of how I have come to perceive this wonderful opportunity and the goals I have set for my program.