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Back in session: Open Air University to welcome students for free classes in Brooklyn’s Backyard

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Open Air University classes will take place at the lawns near the Prospect Park Boathouse, starting Sept. 8.
File photo by Susan De Vries

People say New York City is a melting pot of cultures — and, according to a 2020 census count, more than 36 percent of the Big Apple’s population is foreign. But how much do we really know about the life experiences of our neighbors?

With this in mind, experts from around the world will share their knowledge during a free, immigrant-taught “pop up university” in Brooklyn’s Backyard this September. Organized by the Brooklyn Public Library in partnership with the Prospect Park Alliance, University Open Air will take place from Sept. 8 through 18 at the lawns surrounding the Prospect Park Boathouse, offering more than a dozen college-level courses completely free of charge.

Led by professors and experts from across the globe, including Tibet, Ghana, Pakistan, Israel, and Taiwan, curious Brooklynites can register for courses on art, traditions, literature, wellbeing, sustainability and more.

Organizers hope the outside classes will inspire participants to put down their cell phones and step away from the screens that have become the center of learning for many amid a pandemic-related shift to online learning.

“We are happy University Open Air is back in session,” said László Jakab Orsós, vice president of arts and culture for the borough’s book-lender. “With instructors from around the world, we invite the community to explore new perspectives and ideas — from literature to art and science — in beautiful Prospect Park amid nature and one another, far from the screens which have occupied our attention for the last few years.”

This is the “university’s” fifth semester at Prospect Park and the summer program has welcomed some 1,000 students since its inception in summer 2019, according to organizers.

Some of this year’s talent includes Julia Adams, a Chinese educator at the Museum and Academy of Public Health; Alon Andorn, from Israel, a multidisciplinary artist who works with collage, sculpture and video installation; sociologist, researcher and anthropologist Marcelo Arroyave from Spain, and Hungarian-born, DJ Adrian Patino.

Adams will impart a class on traditional Chinese tea culture and tea ceremony and a second course on Feng Shui, an ancient Chinese art of arranging space to project harmony while Andorn’s class will explore nature drawing, and Arroyave and Patino will teach the history of Salsa music.

Pakistani immigrant Nadia Batool Bokhari giving a lecture during University Open Air’s premier semester.File photo courtesy of Brooklyn Public Library

Also included this year’s syllabus are Brooklyn Poets fellow Nadia Bongo, yoga and mindfulness instructor Dr. Chok Tenzin Monlam and Eugene Opoku-Mensah, an assistant professor in Middlesex’s College department of computer science.

Bongo, from France, will examine perceptions on beauty and ugliness in francophone literature. She will also offer a course about how writers of color make room for enjoyment and pain in their work.

Tenzin Monlam, from Tibet, will center his courses around a nine-round breathing meditation, simple yoga movements and a healing ritual, and Opoku-Mensah will talk about talk about identifying and preventing cyber-attacks and protecting your own devices.

Veteran Open Air University educator Nadia Batool Bokhari, of Pakistan, will also return to address the discrimination of female South Asian journalists, how companies are exploiting working from home, and economic recessions and depressions. She previously led courses on health reporting in journalism and the 2020 Census.

“As a gathering place for many immigrant communities, Prospect Park is the perfect backdrop for University Open Air’s enriching and enlightening programming,” said Maria Carrasco, vice president of public programs at the Prospect Park Alliance. “The Alliance is proud to partner for another season with the Brooklyn Public Library to bring accessible community events to the park with this exciting lineup of free classes.”

For a full schedule of courses and to register, visit bklynlibrary.org/university-open-air. Please check the website for the most current schedule and health protocols.

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