STUDY Abroad…

“It’s called Study Abroad. Although you are here to be abroad, you’re primarily here to study,” said Dr. Philip Woods, teacher of British Life and Culture.

Knights Park

Yes, school has begun! I’m enjoying my modules a lot (modules are what we call classes in America) and my tutors (professors) are great. I’m taking “Parisian Art World”, “Italian Renaissance Archticture”, “Art of Renaissance Florence”, “British Life and Culture”, and “Shakespeare: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”.

Next week, I will be presenting an actual Monet painting to my “Parisian Art World” class at the Courtauld Institute of Art in central London! What a humbling and daunting task! I have presented slides of paintings before, but never the real thing! Perhaps I’m on my way to a career as an art museum tour guide?

The Italian Art History modules are exciting as well. During spring break, I am going to Florence for an onsite Art History course! I’m really looking forward to this opportunity having studied Florentine art and architecture in depth for so long.

“British Life and Culture” is full of study abroad students like myself. Our tutor is a lovely man who slightly resembles Paul McCartney. We discuss our cultural similarites and differences, and also take field trips to other parts of Britain. This weekend, we are going to Oxford, the oldest university in the English speaking world!

“Shakespeare: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” is great to take while in England! It seems so authentic here and I have learned a lot more about Shakespeare than I previously knew.

All of my classmates are very friendly, as are the tutors. It is funny that the British accent isn’t as noticeable to me anymore, perhaps because it is no longer a novelty but the norm here. One of the great rewards of my experience so far is that now I can finally listen to what British people say rather than how they say it!

Three days and counting…

It wasn’t until just this morning that I realized how little time I have left here in America before I head down to live with the Kiwis for five months! Three days and whole wonderful medley of excitement, nerves and lists lists lists. Lists of what I have yet to do, to pack, people to contact, blogging… However, throughout the listing process, I’ve realized that there is only so much that I really need to bring with me, and only so many times that I can say goodbye to people before it seems like I’m never going to leave.

My excitement is on-going as I’ve spoken with people about my upcoming journey, hearing about other’s experiences in New Zealand- or abroad in general, and gaining associations and connections one after another! It’s the times that I talk with people about my trip that I forget about every one of my nerves, and then I just can’t wait to be down there- living in a city for the first time in my life! It’s rather the times when things are more quiet and New Zealand is not the first thing on my mind that provokes a feeling of nostalgia of what I‘m going to miss before I‘m even gone: playing with my dog, eating dinner with my family, hanging out with friends in familiar places here at home…

This past weekend I was in New Paltz for four days to visit, say goodbye to some good friends before I leave, and to go through Orientation. Goodbye, New Paltz! It was so strange (and made me feel so lazy) to hear people talk about their classes and work, and what the semester feels like so far and to know that I’m not and won’t be a part of it all! It’s those times that I’ve found it’s best to consider how much I will be experiencing soon rather than what I will be missing out on here. It makes for a much more positive outlook on the distance I’m soon to be traveling.

So overall, I can’t wait to arrive to the land beyond down under, but as it’s gradually gotten closer, the nerves have been growing and the trip itself has been feeling more and more real. But to think! The next time that you hear from me, I’ll be a day ahead of you and all ready have New Zealand experiences to share!

Keep in touch!

“An American Student in London” and my own “Brighton Beach Memoirs”

Hey everyone!
Me in London

This past Friday, I ventured into the great city of London along with some of the other study abroad students. The train ride in only took about twenty minutes! We wandered through Westminster, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, and Piccadilly Circus before heading east to see the Tower of London. I was surprised by how quickly I remembered my way around the city from my trip last year (London Theatre Seminar). The group somehow established me as their tour guide, which made me feel silly yet proud.

Although the entire day was great, there was indeed a highlight: a usually stone-faced horse-guard broke into a slight smile! Such a rare occurrence, indeed! A couple of the girls decided to take a picture in front of the horse-guard, when the horse proceeded to nibble and tug at one of the girls’ jackets! It was such a funny and absurd sight that even the horse-guard could not help but stifle a laugh. So, the guards do have a sense of humor after all!
Horseguard

The next day, all of the visiting students took a bus ride down to Brighton, the popular seaside resort city. Brighton is the equivalent of Atlantic City, but with more history and elegance. We took a tour of the Royal Pavilion, the residence of George IV, established during his days as Prince Regent. The building is like none other in Britain, as it resembles the Taj Mahal. George IV’s fascination with Eastern art and architecture resulted in a home with a glorious, illogical and inventive mixture of Indian and Chinese styles. The tour guide was this enthusiastic Viennese woman who was almost as much of a character as George IV himself.
Brighton Pier

After the tour, I explored the Brighton Pier. Complete with rides, games, and a fish-and-chip shop, it is the boardwalker’s paradise. Even in the cold of January, the Pier was bustling. I can only imagine what it will be like when the weather gets warmer! The Pier really offers amazing views of the sea and the shore that I took advantage of with my camera. Only an hour from London by train, I plan to visit Brighton again.

I plan to visit you all again soon as well!

Over 4,000 miles and more than a month later

It’s been over a month since I returned home from the Czech Republic. It’s been a rather drastic change for me and I have to say that I miss Prague a lot.

One of the first major differences I was confronted with coming home was volume. I first encountered this in Frankfurt, when I was waiting for the flight to JFK to board. The waiting area was packed and loud. Not just loud, but noisy. The majority of people on the flight were Americans returning home after a short visit to Europe. It’s a marked difference between Americans and (what I can only assume) the rest of the world. Americans are loud. Even now, I am amazed at how loud some people can be when there is no call for it.

I had gotten to the airport in Prague with entirely too much time to spare. Better safe than sorry I guess. I took pictures of the airport while I was waiting. Just bored pictures, nothing special. Something to occupy my mind while I waited for the counter for my flight to open up. I took all sorts of pictures throughout my Prague airport experience. Nothing of interest, really, and I didn’t think anything of it. Nobody cared. When the plane arrived in JFK and we all queued up in the massive customs lines, I saw a sign that made me think of my flight over to the Czech Republic as well as my flight down to Rome. The sign had to do with the added security measures that non-residents had to endure. Fingerprinting and mugshotting or something. I can’t recall exactly, and I lack a photo of it because right above the sign, but below one of the TVs showing a Giants game, was a sign yelling “No Photography” and a big picture of a camera with a big red X through it. When I flew down to Rome, I walked from the plane, straight out to the waiting area. The first person I talked to was Mike. I didn’t need to have my fingerprints or mugshot taken, and, if I wanted to, I could have taken a whole bunch of photos of Mike waiting for me. It got me thinking about what we, as a nation, are so afraid of. Here I was, returning from a former Soviet bloc country, and right away, I couldn’t take pictures. If I were Czech, I’d be booked before I could enter the country. I realize that there are justifications for these measures, and I don’t want to turn this into a political post. I’ve made it an entire semester without being political. But comparing my experiences flying into the Prague and flying into New York, I really wonder what sort of impression people get when they come in to America.

I miss smazeny syr. That fried cheese delight that (in my opinion) is best served on a bun, on a little rectangle of paper, in the middle of the night.

I’ve definitely grown from my experiences abroad, and plan on returning to Prague for some extended period of time. It’s not just that I miss the fried cheese, but I miss the city itself. All of the decent guidebooks will tell you that while Prague has a couple of big interest sights (Old Town Square, Prague Castle, Charles Bridge) the true magic and beauty of the city is found just by wandering. Prague isn’t about a single attraction. You can’t have a single photograph and say that it defines Prague. The attraction is the city itself. The experience is what makes Prague worthwhile. The tourist attractions are nice for a short visit, but I miss the side streets, the alleys, the basement bars and crowded trams. I even miss waiting for the night tram at five in the morning as the wind off of the river makes it feel like it’s only a few degrees above absolute zero. That is what makes Prague for me.

I never got to Prague Castle.

Greetings From London, Mates!

Well, I’m finally here! It’s my third full day in Kingston and it has been quite an experience so far. The flight on Virgin Atlantic was great; I had a row of seats to myself, watched Wallace and Gromit, and had an amazing view of the atmosphere. My arrival at Heathrow aiport was smooth and I got to my place residence in Kingston rather quickly.

Middle Mill

I live in a student housing complex called Middle Mill which is in a great location. It is close to the town centre as well as my classes. There are eight people to a flat in my building, and all of the rooms are singles. I live with two other American girls, two British girls, and three British guys. They are all very friendly, inviting and good company! I have joined them on social outings to the pub where we’ve played pool and discussed our humorous cultural differences.

These past few days have been a lot to take in! Still somewhat jet-lagged, I’m slowly getting settled in. My emotions have been up and down, as they should be, with such a life altering experience. The concept of “Study Abroad” suddenly became a reality. I’m not just in London for a visit, but here for five months. That realization, often called culture shock, was a little bit frightening at first but I’m becoming more comfortable with it.
Talk to you all again soon!

Freebird

Earlier this week, it hit me that I leave Europe on the 17th. Which is next week.

Kind of scary.

I still need to get over to Prague Castle. I’m a bad tourist. But in my defense, I knew I’d be here for four months, so I spaced out my tourism.

This past week has been filled with school work. Of the End of the Semester variety. I still have a few more papers to do and then an actual exam in Czech Music.

On Wednesday, Jeff and I made the executive decision to make it an evening of differences. Mainly, the difference between TGI Fridays and the National Theatre’s Opera. (Note: My rationale for going to TGI Fridays, McDonalds, Subway, KFC, etc is that they are Czech businesses… I see them as part of the offerings of Prague, even though they are American companies. I do not frequent them often, but see no reason to avoid them like some might be tempted to do)

Tickets for Smetana’s “The Bartered Bride” at the National Theatre: 40 Kč (approx $1.60)
My Drink at TGIFridays (Long Island Iced Tea, just for kicks since I am from LI): 170 Kč (approx $6.90)

There is something delightfully wonderful about a city/country where tickets to the National Theatre’s production of a national opera costs less than a drink in some schmoozy restaurant. If, somehow, the production was magically transported to NYC, it would cost me more to get there ($2.00 for a Metrocard) than it would to see the show. And this is not some community theatre, this is the National Theatre. Just as basis for comparison, to see Les Miserables at the National Theatre in Washington DC, tickets comparable to ours would have cost $36.25. You have to love federal subsidization of the arts.

The visit to TGI Fridays was a nice little visit into “Americana” but I wouldn’t want to stay there. It was by and far the most expensive meal I have had in Prague, and though I enjoyed the food, it wasn’t that great. But the experience was worth it.

No big plans for my last week… just do some last minute Christmas shopping in the Christmas Villages that have popped up, and hit up Prague Castle. Beyond that, no objectives beyond making the most out of the next seven days.

Random Things

  • The outlets here look like this. Which means that if you have a power transformer, chances are you will need an extension, which is easily bought at Tesco
  • Google is your friend.
    • Google Earth
      I hope to be posting my Google Earth Prague file when I get back, which will let you see where everything that I have talked about is located. It’s a great tool for becoming familiar with the city, or anywhere else.
    • Google Currency Conversion Even if it may seem a bit awkward, searching for 100 czech money in american money can help out a lot.
  • Beer here is cheap. Anything more than 30 Kč is too much. Due to government regulations, prices for beer were capped for a while. Apparently these have been lifted but prices are still ridiculously cheap. A half-liter of beer (a velke, or large beer) is anywhere from 17 to 27 Kč. And it is the best beer I have ever tasted. Enjoy your beer responsibly. The Czechs are serious about their beer, so don’t make a fool of yourself by drinking too much. Don’t get ripped off in a tourist pub that charges too much for Czech beer. Imported beer will be more than 30 Kč, but you don’t want imports, do you?
  • Be Quiet. I don’t mean to belittle you, but chances are, you talk louder than most Czechs. It’s an American thing. If you want to blend in, speak quietly. It’s one of my favorite parts of being in Prague: anywhere I go is much more peaceful than an American equivalent.
  • Try to at least learn Czech pronunciation as soon as possible. Jeff got some very odd looks his first week, when he would go into a business and ask if they speak English (“Mluvite Anglicky?“). He pronounced it “Mloov-it ang-licky-ee.” The actual pronunciation is “Mloov-it-ay ang-lits-key.” The letters of the Czech alphabet are pronounced differently, and one of the best things you can do for yourself is to pick that up as quickly as possible, to save yourself some weird looks. It also helps when you are trying to find a location and you have to ask someone where a certain street or metro stop is. They might speak English fluently, but the name of the place is going to be in Czech, so it’s better not to butcher the name.
  • Familiarize yourself with public transport. The trams and metro are your best friends. You can get a map of Prague from Lenka your first couple of days here, and you would be wise to familiarize yourself with the metro lines and (at least) the 22/23 tram lines. While you can walk anywhere in Prague (just like you can walk anywhere in the states) sometimes it is just smarter and safer to hop on the tram.
  • Keep your tram/metro pass on you at all times. Going along with the above, always keep this on you. You should get one of these as soon as you come over from Lenka and never leave home without it. Even if you are just planning on walking around, you never know when you might want to just hop on the tram to get home. Better to be safe than sorry. Also, be aware of the fact that the pass that you get in the beginning of the semester is a 90 day pass. So you will need to get another, or start paying for per-trip passes when that pass runs out. I recently went and got a new 30 day pass to last me through December, so that I don’t have to worry about being nabbed on the tram without a ticket.
  • If you bring a laptop, invest in a lock. While I don’t mean to instill fear in any of you, and I honestly do feel safe here, petty theft is a problem. Wallets, iPods and (unfortunately) laptops have a habit of finding legs. Within the first couple of weeks, several people had laptops and iPods nicked from their rooms. Whether that is due to leaving their doors unlocked, or a crack team of expert thieves repelling off the roof and swinging in through open windows, I don’t know, but one way or another, they’re gone. So I advise any sort of security you can muster for your valuables. And always lock your doors.

This is just a short, short list of helpful hints. There is obviously loads more to share, but there are also some things that you should discover for yourself. But if there are any other Prague-ers reading this, please leave any advice you have in the comments and I will add them to the list.