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A student’s week: US sociology student plans to learn Czech

From Los Angeles over London to Brno – that was the way of Joshua Baum to cultural sociology at the Masaryk University.

Joshua found new home for at least the next two years close to Lužánky park, where he goes for a run at least once a week.

Joshua Baum comes from Los Angeles but is currently pursuing his dream and studying to earn a master’s degree in cultural sociology at the MU Faculty of Social Studies. The first year of his studies, which is a joint project organised together with three other European universities, has been marked by a lot of compulsory readings. Nevertheless, he still finds time to discover Brno and has already fallen in love with the city.

The workload of students in master’s programmes usually cannot be described by summing up the number of classes on their schedules. Joshua Baum’s Cultural Sociology programme, which is taught in English, is no exception. “I’m in my first semester and I have four classes a week. It’s not many, but I also have to read about 250 pages every week and write several texts,” he explains.

The core class, taught every Tuesday afternoon, is general sociology, where students learn about the basic sociological theories and approaches as a general introduction to the field of sociology. These lectures go together with a seminar, where students discuss the concepts from the lectures and try to interpret their compulsory readings.

Then there is a class on research methodology; as Joshua says, “It is an important class because the insights we gain there are key to writing our diploma theses. We mainly learn the specifics of quantitative and qualitative research methods.”

Joshua’s last class this semester is Introduction to Cultural Sociology, which focuses not only on culture and its semiotic analysis, but also explains concepts such as materialism and collective memory.

Readings are key

Almost all the classes that Joshua attends ask for an essay every week, which is usually focused on critical reading of the compulsory literature. “I guess I spend the biggest part of every week reading at my desk. That’s the perfect place where I can really focus. Sometimes I also read at the faculty library, especially when I need a library book that I can’t take home,” he says.

There are not many students in Joshua’s study programme and even fewer of those who regularly attend the same lectures and seminars: the group consists of six people. “Because we are so few, it was very easy to make friends quickly, especially as almost all of us already met during the orientation week before the classes started last September,” says Joshua, adding that he and his friends like to try out new cafés in Brno. One of his favourites is the Podnebí café close to the faculty.

His new home for at least the next two years is an apartment on Bratislavská, close to Lužánky park, where he goes for a run at least once a week. It is also not far from the faculty, so unless he is in a hurry or the weather is bad, he always walks from Bratislavská to Joštova.

Joshua values the friendly and open nature of Brno and the local people – and that does not mean only students. He thinks Czechs actually underestimate themselves when it comes to this. He has ample experience in this respect: his path to Brno took several years and began in Los Angeles, California with a stop in London.

From the US to London

“In the US, I started out as a student of political science, but in the end, I completed my bachelor’s programme with a specialisation in marketing. The reason was that I worked on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 and afterwards, I found out that all the ideals that led me to study political science fail in real-world politics. And once I graduated, I got a job in the finance industry,” recalls Joshua.

And there was another unpleasant event back home: one morning, he woke up deaf in one ear. For Joshua, this was a clear signal to change his whole life. He moved to London and decided to switch from finance to something more creative.

“I got a job at the British Museum, where I worked for over three years. However, the onset of Brexit significantly changed the atmosphere at my workplace and even though the staff were a very international mix, it stopped being a pleasant place for those of us without UK citizenship. I decided to go back to school and earn a master’s degree,” says Joshua.

He knew he wanted to go back to study humanities and even though he looked at programmes all over Europe, Masaryk University offer was the clear winner. “I didn’t even apply anywhere else. Cultural sociology is exactly what I’ve been looking for, and as an added bonus, the Czech Republic has a great location right in the middle of Europe,” he adds.

The study programme he enrolled in is a joint degree run by the Faculty of Social Studies in cooperation with universities in Graz, Zadar, and Trent. This means that similar to Erasmus students, Joshua regularly visits the study office and the office for international relations to deal with the administration of his studies.

Learning Czech

“I haven’t had time so far, but now I want to really start exploring the city and go on trips in the area. Brno is great in that it’s so close to other cities. I also want to start learning Czech this winter, as soon as the exam period is over. While the people in Brno are friendly and I’ve had no problem talking to them in English, I don’t want to stay in this position where I don’t have any other option,” says Joshua about his plans.
Joshua also wants to start working in Brno next semester as a teacher of English. He has the prestigious CELTA certificate for teachers of English as well as experience in working as a private tutor in London and wants to put them both to work. “After finishing my master’s programme, I want to go on to do a PhD. But I really like Brno, so it’s quite possible that I’ll stay here for my PhD studies as well,” he concludes.