Brooklyn Public Library offering free, college-level courses

University Open Air 06_11-2R
Pakistani immigrant Nadia Batool Bokhari, pictured here giving a lecture at Prospect Park, will return for University Open Air’s second semester to provide a lesson on the 2020 Census.
Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Public Library

An international cadre of researchers and academics are partnering with Brooklyn Public Library to offer more than 25 college-level courses to curious Brooklynites free of charge.

The instructors — who hail from countries including Pakistan, India, Cameroon, Nepal, Tunisia, and China, to name a few — were regarded as experts in their chosen fields back home, but due to professional and bureaucratic challenges, many were forced to adopt new, often more menial professions upon migrating to the United States, according to the program’s chief organizer.

“It’s the usual New York story, where you get into a cab and it turns out your driver is a philosopher from Russia,” said Jakab Orsós, vice president of arts and culture at Brooklyn Public Library, whose team produces the lecture series.

To take advantage of the city’s wealth of untapped expertise, the library system created University Open Air, a lecture series that offers migrant academics a competitive wage in exchange for brisk, one-hour lessons that introduce students to a wide variety of compelling disciplines, according to Orsós.

Among the many courses on offer include lectures on childhood development, urban planning, photography, futurism, meditation, Chinese tea ceremonies, and Tang Dynasty poetry, along with a very topical lesson on the impact of the 2020 census.

University Open Air’s current semester, which kicked off on Feb. 24 and continues through March 7, follows the program’s debut last summer, when the library system partnered with the Prospect Park Alliance to host three weeks of outdoor classes in Brooklyn’s Backyard, which attracted hundreds of students to lessons accompanied by free coffee, a mobile library, and even live music.

The classes are brief and introductory by nature, but the professors are liberal in handing out their contact information and will provide a reading list for students keen to continue their education, Orsós said.

And while locals will be attracted by the event’s offer of free knowledge, Orsós — himself an immigrant hailing from Hungary — hopes that students will also come to better appreciate the challenges faced by even the most accomplished migrants in their quest for a better life.

“It’s reminder to our community that here are these amazing people, some were professors and some were professionals before they decided to move over here, and reconstruct their careers,” said Orsós. “It’s not easy anywhere, but it’s especially not easy in the US.”

Get a free education at the Bedford Library [496 Franklin Ave. between Jefferson Avenue and Fulton Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant, (718) 623-0012, universityopenair@bklynlibrary.org] For more information visit https://www.bklynlibrary.org/university-open-air