Mutual Benefits of Studying Abroad

Twenty-two NOVA students traveled with film production faculty Bryan Brown, Chris Stallings and Josef “Pepi” Lustig to participate in a summer study abroad program with the Czech Republic’s Film Academy of Miroslav Ondricek, also known as FAMO.

“This was amazing for our students,” Stallings said. “They are still digesting what they learned. Four of them had never been on an airplane before, much less to another country!”

Initial introductions between the two schools were made in Spring 2017 by NOVA Adjunct Professor Josef Lustig (AN), which resulted in a site visit by five NOVA faculty and staff to FAMO. Lustig has extensive connections to the film industry in the country, and, once the initial discussions happened, it was evident to educators on both sides that this would be an excellent opportunity for NOVA’s film and cinema students and the Czech students and faculty with whom they would interact.

The program is unique to community colleges in general, and to most other film programs in the US. It is directly tied to NOVA’s new Associate in Fine Arts in Cinema program. The summer program met the requirements for two NOVA courses required for that degree. The program has several goals for students, which include:

  • access to industry professionals through FAMO;
  • collaborate with Czech film students while working on intensive projects;
  • work with professional actors for their projects and
  • access to materials and set experience in one of Europe’s major film studios.

In addition to formal academic benefits, there is also the life-changing effect of studying in a different culture and country, an opportunity not always available to community college students.

During the four-week program, students had direct access to working professionals at the highest levels (the Czech equivalent of Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese). They collaborated with Czech film students on intensive film production projects. The Czech Republic asks their professional actors and actresses to “give back” once they have achieved success. Therefore, students had the opportunity to work with actors of the caliber of Anthony Hopkins and Meryl Streep; and these Czech actors are featured in the students’ portfolio work they produced during the program. Students had access to state-of-the-art equipment and materials, and the opportunity to experience Barrandov Studios, one of Europe’s major film studios, located in Prague. This level of access is nearly impossible for students to achieve in the US, even in some of the most prestigious film schools.

In addition, students experienced valuable cross-cultural settings by working on mixed Czech-US production teams.

“I learned that, on bigger crews, there will be lots of different personalities that all have to mesh with one another,” said NOVA Student Eugene Rose. “Getting everyone on the same page and trusting each other can make or break a film.”

Overcoming creative and cultural differences seemed to be a recurring theme. Tyra McKinzie is in her first year of the program. She expects to graduate with her AFA in Cinema in 2020, move on to complete a four-year degree and then explore careers in editing, directing and screenwriting. For her, the benefits included historical lessons she learned and intercultural and interpersonal ones.

“I thoroughly enjoyed learning how great an impact Czech cinema had on film, learning from Professor “Pepi” Lustig and getting firsthand knowledge and training on filming, lighting and color-grading techniques from top Czech Cinematographer Marek Jicha was outstanding,” McKinzie said. The trip also “reinforced the importance of respecting other cultures, teaching styles and creative differences; especially when there is a language barrier.”

“It’s important to remember the students are getting real-world industry experience here,” said Dr. Bryan Brown. “When you are working with filmmakers, here or anywhere, you butt heads with the producer. You butt heads with the director. And you have to work it out.”

In addition to the importance of inter-personal relationships and learning to work together as a team, there are many ways the workplace can differ across different cultures.

“Czech students just get it done,” professor Stallings said. “US students want to stand back and look from every angle, to analyze situations, to make everyone feel good. Czech students just get it done. Conversely, the US students helped slow down the Czech students.”

“Students also learned how to overcome language barriers,” Brown said.

“At one point, a Czech actor finished delivering his lines, and the US students triumphantly yelled, ‘Cut! That’s a wrap!’ The Czech students stepped in and said, ‘Wait! He didn’t say anything even close to what was in the script!’”

These are lessons rarely learned by way of lecture in a classroom. They are opportunities occasionally available to students fortunate enough to land an internship in their field of study. Add in the international and multi-cultural components, and it is impossible to quantify the value of the experience for community college students who, at other two-year schools, can only dream of such an opportunity.

“Both sides in a study abroad program — the sending country and the receiving country, get mutual benefit in an amazing way,” said Syedur Rahman, NOVA’s associate vice president of International Education and Sponsored Programs. “That mutual benefit sets the ground rules for the next program, and the next and the next. It is important to remember that ‘slowing each other down’ does not actually mean ‘slowing down.’ It means moving together.”

The Czech Film program is a new model of study abroad for NOVA and will be a regular offering as part of the AFA degree. Any AFA student from NOVA can apply to the program, which will run again in Summer 2019. For further details, contact Stacey Bustillos, associate director, Office of International Education and Sponsored Programs

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