Skip to main content

Off-Campus Study: Academics

Fátima details what a Carleton trimester looks like abroad.

Fátima details what a Carleton trimester looks like abroad.

During this past fall term, I had the fantastic opportunity to participate in one of Carleton’s many off-campus study (OCS) programs: Cross-Cultural Psychopathology. Ken Abrams, a professor of the Psychology department, has been running the program for over a decade and has become nothing short of an expert on the topic (as well as the Czech language and culture).

Like any other Carleton trimester, we were required to fulfill a total of 18 credits during the program. In addition to Ken’s class, we took another six-credit course, a four-credit one, and got the last two credits from a directed reading course that we completed over the summer. Here’s an overview of each class.

Students hard at work at Cafe Louvre.
My friends were hard at work at Café Louvre, which became one of our favorite places in Prague. (Photo courtesy of Tin Nguyen).

PSYC 290: Directed Readings in Psychology

This was the two-credit course that we completed over the summer. Ken assigned us a selection of readings that were meant to introduce us to the field of psychopathology and get us thinking about the ways in which culture has influenced it throughout history.

My favorite readings were from Ethan Watters’ book Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche. Through a review of five different diagnoses in five different non-Western countries, the author explores how well-intentioned psychiatrists from the US have spread their clinical conceptions of mental illness, often to detrimental effects for those on the receiving in. It was a fascinating insight, and a great way to get me even more excited about the term’s course.

We were evaluated at the very beginning of our stay in Prague, through an open-book exam that encouraged us to summarize what we had learned from the readings. Because this is a forced S/Cr/N, we all passed with flying colors and proved ourselves more than ready to jump into the term.

PSYC 358: Cross-Cultural Psychopathology

Students going into Bohnice Psychiatric Hospital.
We went to Bohnice Psychiatric Hospital to meet patients and doctors. (Photo courtesy of Harald Lundberg).

As I have mentioned before, this course is the main attraction of the program and the only one taught by Carleton faculty. The course centers around the ways in which the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses can vary greatly across time and place. We were constantly discussing the ethics of certain diagnoses and treatment methods, the role of politics in psychopathology, and trying to evaluate how our own cultural and medical experiences reflect what we were learning. Ken was great at asking thought-provoking questions and playing devil’s advocate, challenging our preconceptions and ideas.

In addition to what you might have come to expect from any Carleton course (discussion-based seminars, reflection and position papers, and the like), the course took advantage of our location. We dove deep into the contrast between psychopathology in the US and in the Czech Republic. We had several guest lecturers, including Czech sexologists, transgender rights activists, and psychiatrists. We also had the opportunity to visit clinics to talk directly to patients being treated for a variety of ailments or conditions. All of these opportunities wonderfully complemented what we had read about and, most importantly, allowed us to humanize the scientific terms and ideas we were learning about.

Students at the Center for the Treatment of Eating Disorders
Early in the term, we had the chance to meet renowned Dr. Hana Papežova at the Center for the Treatment of Eating Disorders. (Photo courtesy of Anna Weller).

EUST 278: Politics and Culture of Central Europe in the 20th Century

This was the other six-credit course we took. The professor was Czech historian Tomáš Bouška, who also teaches at NYU Prague! Tomáš is very passionate about the recent history of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic and makes sure to demonstrate that passion throughout the course. He inspired us to think critically about how the major socio-political forces of the twentieth century molded today’s Europe.

In an evergreen forest, the guide lights a candle next to a wooden cross with a pile of rocks in front of it.
We visited Jáchymov for our history class. We learned about the town’s history of labor camps and lit a candle in remembrance. (Photo courtesy of Anna Tomenendalová.)

As part of the course, we read extracts from a number of books, both fiction and non-fiction, and other relevant texts. The authors ranged from political figures like Madeleine Albright (whom you might know as former Secretary of State) and Václav Hável (the first president of the Czech Republic) to magnates of modern literature like Milan Kundera (his book The Unbearable Lightness of Being has become a favorite of mine). We also visited a couple of significant historical locations, such as the uranium mines in Jáchymov, where political prisoners were forced to work during the early Communist regime, or the memorials around Prague to Jan Palach, the young university student who immolated himself in political protest.

LCST 101: Elementary Czech Language

We earned our final four credits through an elective course. Our options were an art history course focused on Prague’s architecture and this one. Though checking out some Medieval churches and art museums sounded fun, I have always enjoyed being able to talk to people in their language, and I figured the combination of a structured class and real-life interactions would make for the ideal stage to learn a new language. Moreover, Czech is barely related to any languages I already know, and I thought it would be interesting.

The course was also taught by a local professor. Maria has been teaching Czech to international students for over a decade now, and she’s become really good at it! (Something particularly impressive, since I’ve always believed that teaching a language you were never actually taught is harder than teaching one you also learned). My favorite part was getting to use what we learned in class in the real world. I couldn’t have been more excited the first time I ordered food in Czech, or when I finally managed to understand a menu without using Google Translate.

Students at the entrace of Vyšehrad.
On one of our last days, our Czech professor took us to Vyšehrad, where we practiced our Czech skills by presenting fragments of the castle’s history. (Photo courtesy of Anna Tomenendalová).


Overall, I really enjoyed my classes last term! The workload was still comparable (perhaps a bit lighter) to that of a Carleton trimester, but because all of my courses prioritized outside-the-classroom learning and encouraged us to experience the Czech Republic through an academic lens, the learning never stopped!



After a trimester abroad, Guatemalan sophomore Fátima (she/her) is looking forward to continuing her pursuit of a SOAN major and an Educational Studies minor. In addition to blogging, she works at the Admissions Office and the Spanish department. Outside of class, Fátima can be found watching cartoons, poorly playing the piano, attending Bible studies, or desperately missing her dog, Cosmo.  Meet the other bloggers!