Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Prague: language classes, dissertation research, & Pilsner.....or a day in the life of a graduate student in history

Greetings once again from the Center for European Studies.  Those of you have been following the blog know that today we should have a "Turkish Tuesday" post, but alas, our Turkish traveler requested extra time for his post.  So today we bring you a nice vignette from Elana Thurston-Milgrom who is presently in Prague refreshing her Czech language skills and scoping out possible dissertation material.  Elana is a graduate student in history whose work focuses on the place of Czech Jews in Czech society and culture prior to the Holocaust.  Please be sure to "czech" back for further posts from Elana's travels.  Also, later in the week we will have a post from Erin Zavitz who has recently conducted research in England and in France.  And lastly, we will have a post from Rachel Rothstein from the fantastic port city of Odessa!  But without further ado, here is Elana:

I arrived in Prague for my summer FLAS at the height of summer (beginning of July). The city was just recovering from some pretty serious flooding—the same that Johanna mentioned in her post about Budapest—but the water had receded and the city mostly cleaned up. The Czechs are not unaccustomed to floods! There were still a few closed metro stations and some of the parks were still partially closed, but the weather was beautiful and everyone was in good spirits. The beer gardens were packed and there was live music by the river, where you could watch people (mostly tourists) out paddle boating. Beer is the national drink of the Czechs, and in my opinion, the best in the world! The word ‘Pilsner’ comes from the name of a town in Bohemia, Plzen.

My schedule in Prague was busy, but great. In the mornings, I had Czech classes at the Albertov campus of Charles University, which is close to the city center, just a 10-minute walk from the Vltava River. Afternoons usually found me in the National Library reading room where I was collecting potential sources for my dissertation. The building is an UNESCO site, which dates from the 11th century and used to house a Dominican monastery. As you can imagine, the reading room was beautiful—vaulted ceilings and frescos on the walls. I couldn’t imagine a better place to do research!
I’m lucky enough to have family in Prague. I don’t have any Czech background, but my Uncle owns a futon shop there and my cousin, his daughter, is half Czech. Most of my evenings I spent with my family cooking or hanging out in the Bubenec neighborhood of Prague, which is close to the castle. We took a couple of day trips out to the countryside on the weekends as well (more on that later!) I also got to catch up with some of the Czech friends I have from when I lived in Prague 8 years ago. 

It has been so much fun to speak Czech again. I was feeling really rusty, but most of it came back pretty quickly. After three weeks, I came to Brno, where I am taking more classes at Masaryk University’s summer school of Slavonic Studies. Another blog post about that to come!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Adventures in Danish Translation: Purgatory = Funhouse?

And now for something completely different!  Today's post comes to us from Missy Molloy, a grad student with the English Department's Center for Film and Media Studies.  She is currently working on a dissertation on the the Danish film industry and Danish efforts to cultivate international co-productions.  Presently Missy, and of course Leo, are in Copenhagen, and below are her thoughts on not only summers in Copenhagen, but also on interesting translation choices:

Leo and I are trying out some typical Danish summer activities. On Friday, we met my Danish language teacher at Tivoli, an amazing amusement park right in the middle of Copenhagen, and Leo played at their deluxe playground while Hanne and I talked about a Danish TV series recently adapted for U.S. audiences (I’m studying Danish media). The blue sky and the city skyline caught my eye while Leo was climbing; he’s like a black hole in the middle of interesting shapes.

After Hanne left, we walked around Tivoli, and Leo convinced me to pay for his entrance into Skærsilden, which literally means “Purgatory,” but is translated for English-speaking tourists like us as “The Fun House.” The image on the left was my point-of-view for the nearly two hours I sat and read my Danish “krimi” (crime novel) while Leo was in purgatory.  The purgatory/fun house translation was consistent with what I’ve observed about the tendency to translate uncomfortable Danish titles into something “upbeat,” such as a recent Danish film title’s evolution from The Bald Hairdresser in Danish to Love Is All You Need. As if English speakers can’t appreciate irony!      

Once July 1st hits, most Danes go on extended vacations; all over Copenhagen, businesses hang signs announcing their sommerferie. This year, we got the chance to see what they are all doing at their summerhouses… We are in Northern Zealand at an unbelievable quaint Danish summerhouse (picture on the right)

I just took a cycle tour along a narrow path with the ocean to my left and luxury ocean-view cottages on my right. I think I will spend the week cycling, picking strawberries, playing badminton, and watching Danish films. Paradise!! Vi har det rigtig godt i Danmark lige nu…

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Turkish Tuesdays - "Why study Turkish?"

Greetings from the Center for European Studies and welcome to our second Turkish Tuesday post.  Please come back later this week for new posts from other CES grad students who seem to be flung as far as the four corners of the Earth.  

Today's post comes from Greg Mason, a graduate student in history who is working on Turkish guest workers in Germany in the post-WWII period:

In Spring 2013 I finished my sixth semester of Turkish at the University of Florida. Learning Turkish has not only been a lot of fun, it has also opened a lot of doors for me.  There are only a handful of universities in the United States that offer Turkish language classes, and this means that the Center for European Studies at UF is truly exceptional as their program offers not only language classes but also courses on Turkish culture and history. 
I am a graduate student at UF specializing in German history. My research focuses on Germany’s post-WWII Turkish guest worker communities. It was therefore an obvious choice for me to take advantage of the opportunity to learn Turkish here at the University of Florida. For those of you for whom Turkish may not be such an obvious language of choice let me provide a few reasons to consider learning the language. For one Turkish is considered a “critical language” by the U.S. government.

What does it mean to be a “critical language?” It essentially means that for strategic and security purposes the U.S. government considers knowledge of Turkish to be a valuable asset. As such, having learned Turkish at UF is an excellent thing to have on one’s resumé for any person considering a job with the US State Department or any other federal agency. Second, because Turkish is a critical language several funding opportunities are available for those interested in learning the language. For example, the UF Center for European Studies partners with the US Department of Education to provide Foreign Language Area Studies (FLAS) fellowships for the learning of lesser taught foreign languages. While this fellowship is not limited to languages on the ‘critical languages’ list, priority is given to applicants applying to learn a ‘critical language.’  (For information on FLAS, see the CES website at  The US State Department even sponsors a program for critical language learning, which offers students a chance to enhance their Turkish language skills in intensive summer programs.  (For summer scholarships in Turkey, see the Critical Language Scholarship Program’s website at


I have been lucky enough to receive a FLAS for summer 2012 and for the 2012-2013 academic year. The summer of 2012 was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I did a 2-month intensive intermediate language course at Boğazici University in Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul is a vibrant and historically rich city of 15 million people, whose cultural diversity and love of tea is readily apparent! Boğazici University is an absolutely beautiful campus nestled against the Bosphorus.  In addition to improving my Turkish skills by leaps and bounds, I also made close friends with whom I still communicate regularly. One of my proudest moments while in Istanbul was at the Grand Bazaar where I was able to use my Turkish language skills to barter an item down to a 1/3 of the price of that being paid by the Americans standing next to me.

While Turkish is in many ways a difficult language chock full of idioms and cultural eccentricities, the challenge of learning the linguistic quirks of the language while navigating an unfamiliar vocabulary and set of grammatical rules has been provided a fascinating window into Turkey and its people at large. In my experience the language instructors have been great about making the language fun and engaging rather than intimidating. Whether it be through a game of Turkish scrabble, watching the Turkish version of Game of Thrones (Muhteşem Yüzyıl) or a lesson in culture through delighting in Turkish cuisine, Turkish class has generally been a case of ‘fun while learning.’ I have not only enjoyed the reward of learning a language that not many Americans know, I have also made a lot of friends in a small, relaxed language setting. Whether you plan to use Turkish to help you in your professional career or simply want to enjoy learning about a language and culture different than your own, I highly recommend learning Turkish at the University of Florida!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Turkish Tuesdays

Today, as it is Tuesday, the Center for European Studies invites you to read a blog entry by our Professor of Turkish Studies, Emrah Sahin.  Professor Sahin's entry will be the first in our "Turkish Tuesdays" series which will highlight an element of Turkish culture, politics, society, or history, on, you guessed it, every Tuesday.  Professor Sahin teaches Turkish language and a wide variety of Turkish area studies courses with a special interest in Turkish encounters with the "wider world."  For more on Professor Sahin's work and courses, please see the CES website at:

In the meantime, Professor Sahin is currently in Turkey and sends us the following entry:   

Trending Topics by Location: Turkey

With PhD obtained and a little one born, I am in Turkey with a sense of accomplishment and bewilderment. I changed for good, but how about Turkey? Fellow Turks pose sharp questions about my health coverage and salary at UF. They mind wellness and wealth, the two pillars of my existential universe. I presume this can also be viewed as a vignette of the collective Turkish psyche. The Turkish culture that I know of is self-oriented to the pursuit of happiness—recall this when another flight takes modern Turkish politics around the orbit of a “Turkish voluptuary.”  

Back to where I physically am, the Istanbul Airport. A colleague proudly presents the updates: Times are a changing in Turkey! The new Istanbul bridge (read the third bridge between Asia and Europe) is underway and the biggest airport of Europe will be constructed in Istanbul (in the next 42 months)… By the way, a bunch of guys will take it to the streets tomorrow. “It” is a multi-layered pronoun in his lexicon, referring to numerous possibilities: the government’s position to confront Syria’s al-Assad Regime, the decision to curb alcohol sales, and the determination to reshape urban landscape. “It” might help to sell his Turkish news stories, but “it” does not add to my understanding of how or why these events are happening, or, what in fact remains the same in Turkey.

            Dare to enter the Taksim Square amid tear gas and pressure water. You see that Taksim is still the epicenter of popular interaction. People make political statements in this space and fight to claim it. Here police intercept protesters when the latter cross “the red line.” Here, too, politicians and activists showcase their stature with festive fast-breaking meals (Holy Ramadan kicked off last week with a record-breaking marathon of 17-hour abstinence!). On one side you see people sitting around nicely decorated tables, waiting to eat and drink, and on the other side people are sitting on the ground waiting to do the same. 
 This is it, but not the same “it” as I previously mentioned. Rather, “it” in this instance is what is at the heart of Turkish culture and life, despite all apparent differences.  Even in Taksim Square amidst protests and confrontations with law enforcement, where different sides vehemently oppose one another, religion manages to unite the hungry nation when politics would see it splintered.   Need proof?  Check old trending topics by location on Tweeter or befriend a Turk on Facebook. Those who are not present on social media will be the silent majority who are too busy at work and living their everyday lives to show off in the streets furiously chasing liberty.

The Turkish nation has endured far worse - wars and famine, ropes and coups. Each time, doomsayers at home and abroad invited Western interference as a panacea because it was assumed that Turks were incapable of dealing with matters on their own. What they do not know is that Turkish version of democracy is not identical with other democracies. It operates on a delicate symbiosis between Western and Turkish-Islamic ideals, and tends at times to subordinate one to the other. The case of the Hagia Sofia serves as an example of this symbiosis.  The Turks first converted this magnificent medieval basilica to a mosque, but then did not know what to do with it, and finally made it a world heritage museum, keeping intact whatever remained of both its Christian and Muslim legacy.  The case of the Hagia Sofia also highlights Turkish ambivalence about material identity and how this ambivalence prevails across time and space.

Turkey’s intricate politics, vibrant communities, and altering landscapes promise to intrigue minds and eyes for years to come.  And Turkish Studies at CES will offer students and those interested in Turkey and Europe with a unique perspective on these changing landscapes and how they might affect the modern world, all the while keeping a keen eye on the past to better understand the present. 

Turkey Lost and Found
Turkey captured headlines this summer. The determination of a few to survive Istanbul’s Gezi Park (the Turkish analog to NYC’s Central Park) united many to protest the prime minister’s scheme of redefining people and spaces. Media agencies requested me to clue them in on what is happening in Turkey. Their hot questions awaiting qualified answers included: do the police torture dissenters in Turkey? Does the government pursue a hidden agenda? And the gunshot… is this a Turkish Spring? My typical response underscores that Turkish democracy has been plagued since day one by structural flaws, such as the lack of checks & balances in practice and of competent opposition in the parliament… Turkey is more European than most of Europe and more Muslim than most Arab countries (this in and of itself makes Turkish Studies interesting and rewarding), and we should discuss it in its own right. This intimation of reality may not register on the media but UF students can learn about these and more this Fall in Turkey and EU: History.”    

Note: Our faculty and students will regularly contribute to this blog. Your comments are sought and appreciated.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Hungary in the Summer: Flooded Danube, swimming at Lake Balaton, and Budapest's Pride Parade

Today's post comes from Johanna Mellis, a graduate student in Modern European history and a recipient of a Summer FLAS award for Hungarian language.  And did I mention that her dissertation topic is very interesting?  Johanna is looking at the lives of Hungarian athletes during the communist period and their place in a society supposedly governed by communist values.  Here's what Johanna writes for us:

This summer I have had the wonderful opportunity to continue studying Hungarian in the nation’s capitol city, Budapest. Why Hungarian, you ask? As someone with no Hungarian background or family connections, Hungarians are almost always curious about why I chose to study their language. I am learning Hungarian so that I can continue working towards my PhD degree in Modern European history at UF, with a focus on Hungarian history. After initially beginning Hungarian while earning my Master’s, I grew fascinated with the nation, its people, culture, and history. It was only after first living in Budapest that I really grew to love the country and its people. Fortunately for me, the summer is the best time to be in Budapest. The architecture, culture, and the people come alive during the summer. Once the temperature starts rising after the long winter you see people walking everyone, enjoying the city and its weather!        
When I arrived in Budapest at the beginning of June the weather was particularly interesting. The Danube, the river that runs between the two major sides of the city, Buda and Pest, was experiencing the largest flood in several decades. Although the side streets closest to the Danube flooded, the city luckily did not experience much damage. Other cities and villages in Hungary, as well as Prague in the Czech Republic and some places in Germany, endured much worse damage from the flooding. In Budapest both tourist and locals alike flocked to the streets closest to the Danube to witness and take pictures of the flooding. Needless to say, until the floodwaters began to recede a few days after it reached its peak, the flood was quite the spectacle in the city!

During the day I am attending Hungarian language classes at the Debrecen Nyári Egyetem, or the Debrecen Summer School. Even though the school is based in Debrecen, a city in Eastern Hungary, they have a smaller branch in the capitol. When I am not in class, I am oftentimes doing preliminary research for my dissertation on the everyday lives of Hungarian elite athletes in the Communist period. In my free time, I am usually hanging out with a mix of both Hungarian and non-Hungarian friends. From my point of view, it is very important to have local friends, so that you can practice your language skills. In mid-June when my friends suggested that we take a trip to Lake Balaton, I jumped at the chance to see another part of Hungary, and to practice speaking more Hungarian. Lake Balaton, sometimes called the “Hungarian Riviera,” is the closest thing that Hungary has to a beach. In the summer it is the most popular place for Hungarians to go for vacation, if they stay in within the country. It is basically a large lake that is encased by rocks on the shore, and with grass all around it. For Floridians, it may be a little odd because there is no sand at all. Despite not being a beach comparable to any of the ones back home, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay. We stayed in Alsóörs, which is one of the first small villages that you can reach by train from Budapest. In an attempt to save money, we stayed in very small camper in an RV park. For the four of us, the camper was extremely cozy. Yet we were surrounded by native Hungarians from all over the country, which is something that would not have been true had we stayed in a hotel. Lake Balaton is also interesting because in the Communist period it was a very popular place for East Germans to vacation. In fact, in 1989 the first people to leave the Eastern bloc en masse were the East Germans from Lake Balaton, to Austria! Even today you can see signs in both Hungarian and German, and sometimes in English. Even though we were in a small town, there were quite a number of Germans that were sitting near us by the lake. In all, it was a fantastic trip. I would recommend that if anyone has the time while in Hungary, that they visit any of the towns along Lake Balaton.
This past week June 30th-July 6th, was a special one in Hungary, as it was Budapest Pride Week. Since I was busy all week with school and research, it was not until Friday that I took part in the festivities. On Friday night I went to a showing of the 2008 film Milk, an American film about Harvey Milk in the 1970s. Harvey Milk was the first openly gay American politician that was elected to office in the United States. Harvey milk’s nephew, Stuart Milk, was at the film showing and he answered questions about his uncle’s life after the movie. He is an LGBT human rights activist who runs the Harvey Milk Foundation. I was very excited to see him, and at the end my friend and I met and chatted with him for a few minutes. The experience was very neat for both of us. Then the next day, Saturday the 6th, my friend and I marched in the Budapest Pride Parade. Although I had never seen or marched in a Pride parade before, I am very glad that I decided to do this one. The first gay parade in Budapest occurred in 1997. In years past however, there have been incidents of protestors who broke through the police barricades and threw eggs and rocks at the marchers. So I was unsure of what to expect when I decided to join. Thankfully, the local police kept a tight lid on the protestors, who did not seem to be very menacing anyways. The parade lasted about 3 km, and it took about two and a half hours. While walking in the parade my friend spotted Stuart Milk, and we decided to reintroduce ourselves to him. Lucky for us, he asked us to join his team in the march. Mr. Milk was very happy to see an American take an interest in the LGBT cause while abroad. After talking with him for awhile, I saw a Hungarian couple and talked to them as well. They were happy to see people from all over the world participating in their Pride event. Needless to say, it was event that was full of joy and celebration. It was an opportunity that I was lucky enough to have been able to participate in.  I just happened to be in the right place, at the right time!
I have about two and a half more weeks left in Hungary. I hope to visit at least one more place in Hungary outside of Budapest. I am also going to see my Hungarian friends as much as possible so that I can practice my language skills until the day I leave. It has been a wonderful trip so far. Budapest is a welcoming city that is full of life and history. I am looking forward to seeing what other adventures I will have between now and my return to the States.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Greetings from the Center for European Studies at the University of Florida

Welcome to the inaugural post of the Center for European Studies at the University of Florida (  We are very happy to have you join us, albeit virtually, and look forward to sharing information about our upcoming events, students, and faculty.  As a Title VI Center, our primary goal is to assist in the development of area and language skills among the country's best students by fostering rich academic and cultural environments, including broad language and area studies courses, degree options, and study abroad opportunities.  And naturally, as we are a Center focused on Europe, we seek to promote greater understanding and awareness of European culture, politics, and society.

This upcoming year should prove to be a very exciting one for the Center as we have a number of significant projects in the works.  The Center received a "Getting to Know Europe" grant from the European Union delegation and as a result we will be working with local area high-school students on an oral history project that highlights the European roots of many Alachua county residents.  Also as part of this grant we will host a Russian and Polish photography exhibit at the Harn, in addition to several conferences and talks.  The Center will also be sponsoring some very interesting new courses developed by our graduate students and faculty.  So please be sure to check back frequently to see what's happening here at the Center.  

Each week we will feature guest bloggers from among our faculty and students that will highlight their research, work for the Center, or travel abroad.  We look forward to your comments and hope that you will find our entries engaging, intriguing, and even entertaining.  

Until the next post then, cheers and happy travels!