American students, who once saw a year in Paris or Berlin as a chance to escape the straitjacket of their culture, are increasingly turning to study in Europe for sound economic reasons.
The introduction of a single currency and the emergence of Europe as a competitor trade zone to the United States is spurring the awareness that the globalisation of the world economy will be the key movement of the 21st century and career development will depend on knowledge, understanding and world networks.
Students at New York University's new branch in Prague come for a semester to study the history, architecture, art, politics and literature of Central Europe, along with intensive courses in Czech, German or Russian.
Jiri Pehe, director of NYU in Prague, the only American university to have established its own centre and infrastructure in the city, said: "Young Americans today are very interested in European issues: the courses we run on European integration are really very well attended. They understand intuitively something that maybe politicians do not - that the process of globalisation over the next 20 years or so will lead to some kind of American-Europe free trade space or economic union."
Professor Pehe, a former political exile and dissident and until May this year chief political adviser to Czech president Vaclav Havel, believes the NY network of satellite campuses, known collectively as the "global university", reflects the trend towards a more expansive academic ethos in the US. The number of US students doing academic work abroad increased 14.6 per cent in 1997-98, the latest figures available.
NYU's core European sites in Paris, Madrid and Athens had existed for many years before a new wave of expansion began 18 months ago. Centres in Florence, London and Buenos Aires have been opened to enable students to "go and live and study in a foreign culture for a semester within the same academic setting they find in New York, albeit with the emphasis on the politics and culture of that region", Professor Pehe said.
Teaching at the universities combines staff professors on secondment from New York with visiting lecturers drawn from leading regional intellectuals.
John Ushman, a politics student from NYU, said: "Americans can no longer afford to ignore Europe. Once this place begins to compete on a level playing field with America, any knowledge of languages and cultures is not just going to be a plus, it's going to be a necessity."
Jo Dixon of NYU's Law School's Institute for Law and Society, in Prague as a visiting lecturer, said the university's model was becoming increasingly popular among other American institutions, where a year abroad was no longer viewed as an expensive luxury.