Cross-Cultural Psychology in Prague

18 October 2021

A Discussion with Faculty Director Ken Abrams

Clock in Prague, Cross-Cultural Psychology in Prague
Ken Abrams

What inspired you to propose and plan the Cross-Cultural Psychology in Prague program? What did you want to accomplish?

Before I attended graduate school, I lived in the Czech Republic for two years. It was during my time living there that I came to understand and appreciate the fascinating approach that the Czechs take to addressing mental illness. 

Upon coming to Carleton, I decided that I wanted to share these insights with my students, so I proposed a study abroad program that would 1) focus on the field of cross-cultural psychopathology in the Czech Republic and 2) analyze the many culturally-informed assumptions about mental illness in European countries and beyond. The program, titled Cross-Cultural Psychology in Prague, is a fall-term program that will run again in Fall 2022.

What makes this program different from other programs like it?

The Cross-Cultural Psychology in Prague program is a truly unique program. There simply aren’t very many faculty-led Psychology programs out there. 

But in addition to that, Prague program students will have the opportunity to engage in meaningful, authentic interactions with individuals involved in the fields of psychology & psychopathology. They will visit psychiatric hospitals and speak with clinicians and patients alike. Some of the types of patients that students have had the chance to meet include individuals with eating disorders, schizophrenia, gender dysphoria, and convicted sex offenders. Through these interactions, Prague program students will learn about the many ways in which the Czech Republic addresses the sensitive subject of mental illness. 

Mental illness is indeed a sensitive subject. In the past, how have students responded to meeting psychiatric patients? What are the benefits of these interactions? 

Visiting psychiatric hospitals and meeting with psychiatric patients can be difficult and emotional for Prague program students. Yet students have overwhelmingly reflected that it is during these raw interactions with the psychiatric patients that they learn/grow the most. They learn about the patients’ life stories, ask questions, and acquire an understanding for how the Czech Republic utilizes rehabilitation and reintegration (rather than punishment and retributive justice) when treating individuals with a mental illness. 

We have realized that sometimes, the most optimal learning occurs when students step out of their comfort zone and away from their cultural assumptions. 

What does a typical day look like on your program?

To answer this question briefly, there is no “typical” day on the Cross-Cultural Psychology in Prague program. The coursework portion of the program includes courses taught by local Czech professors and courses taught by myself. These courses are supplemented with visits to local psychiatric hospitals, where (as mentioned before) students meet with clinicians and patients. 

There is also an exploratory, excursion-based portion of the program that provides students with opportunities to experience/appreciate Czech culture. Some past outings have included trips to see Czech operas, ballets, and soccer games; hiking excursions in Slovakia; and in-house movie nights. 

What advice would you give to students to encourage them to study abroad during their Carleton career? What benefits do you see to the experience in general?

One piece of advice that I would give to Carleton students interested in studying abroad is to begin thinking about what you want to get out of your OCS experience earlier rather than later. Utilize the incredible resources available to you (the Off-Campus Studies webpage, for example), and you will find a program that suits both your academic and personal interests. 

Studying abroad is a valuable experience for any undergraduate student. It forces you to take a step back and reflect on the ways in which you regard the world. You will undoubtedly gain perspective, you will have the opportunity to immerse yourself in an unfamiliar culture, and you will forge friendships/relationships that will last a lifetime.

Check out the Fall 2021 PragueBlog to read about what the current Prague program students are doing!

Ken Abrams is a Professor of Psychology. He has been teaching at Carleton since 2008.