Elizabeth Shribman, Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, & Muzička
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I am an American who has been living, studying and working in Prague for the past two years thanks to the generous support of the Rotary Foundation and Dartmouth College. Both of these organizations granted me scholarships to continue my language and music studies and to pursue opportunities for cultural exchange in the Czech Republic. Over the course of these two years, I have done my utmost to avoid the expatriot „safety bubble,“ and instead challenged myself to master the Czech language, to lead my life in Czech, and learn as much as possible about Czech culture while integrating myself into the community around me. As a result, I have become fluent in Czech, traveled to the remotest corners of the country, and have come to understand the culture and customs of the Czech people.
As a violinist, it seemed natural for me to use music as a bridge into the Czech world, and about halfway through my first year in Prague I found a Czech folk ensemble, Muzička, and asked if I might be able to play with them. Such folk ensembles exist all over the country, proudly upholding the music, dance, and „fashion“ of past tradition. I am the only foreigner in any of these ensembles – that said, I am extremely lucky and grateful that this group welcomed me among them even despite my American birth.
Thanks to the incredible willingness of the members of Muzička to share their culture with me, I have had the opportunity to appear on stages across the Czech Republic and Slovakia wearing traditional Moravian dress. I have been exposed to an entirely new genre of music and style of playing which has led to immense personal musical growth and a deeper understanding of the importance of keeping folk tradition alive. I have become intimately familiar with the intricacies of Czech folk culture from regions all over the country, and, most importantly, I have been given an entirely unique and authentic glimpse into Czech culture, past and present, that most foreigners never pursue or have the chance to experience
My experience with Muzička has immeasurably enriched my life in the Czech Republic and is something I could not be thankful enough for. I am partnering with Friends of VIA, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit which supports the preservation of Czech cultural heritage, to fundraise for and organize Muzička’s first tour in the United States for the following reasons:
First, to give back to my fellow musicians who have so generously opened their culture and their world to me. I have taken so much from this experience but I believe that true cultural exchange is multidirectional, and it would mean so much to me to have the opportunity to share my own culture with them. For each of the musicians in the ensemble, this would be their first trip to the United States.
And second, to give and share what I have learned and experienced to my fellow Americans. I also believe that there is a direct relationship between the size of the network of people touched by cultural exchange and the benefits of such exchange. My experience with Muzička has greatly broadened my perspective, but I am just one person, and it would be selfish to consider my own enrichment the end of my work. To bring this music and this culture that I have come to love to my own country to share with friends, family, and fellow Americans would bring full circle the multidirectionalism essential to real cultural exposure and exchange.
This is not the first time I have undertaken such a task. In December 2008, after two years of hard work and overcoming steep political and economic obstacles, I single-handedly did the planning and work necessary to lead the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra, which had never performed outside of Hanover, New Hampshire, to three countries in Europe for the first tour in its history. One last testimony to the power of cultural exchange: Thanks to this experience as a college student, I visited the Czech Republic, was transfixed by its culture and allured by its musical traditions, and decided to apply for scholarships to study and live there. The rest is history – one I would like to share in my home country.