Someone once said that traveling means nothing if you have no one to share the experience with. Well, that’s one of the most depressing things I’ve ever heard especially since almost all of my traveling has been done alone. I want to break that stigma that you need to travel with someone, that you need to make friends abroad. Traveling alone, living abroad alone, teaches you so much about yourself. Maybe it’s things you don’t like, things you need to improve, but don’t ever let anyone tell you that traveling alone doesn’t mean anything. It may mean more than traveling with people, honestly it takes a lot to be able to spend 5 day alone in a country you’ve never been before. So, take that leap.
You learn to love yourself more, even if you think you aren’t. Making international friends is such an amazing feeling that shouldn’t be played down because making connections all around the world is something of value. But it’s easy to fall into this idea that you must make friends, hey you might not vibe with everyone around you and that’s fine, this is your time. Spend it with those who matter.
Hey there, it’s been a while. This whole experience has been incredible and it’s flying by. I find myself saying, “write a blog post now” but my time abroad is fleeing and I want to take as much of it as I can.
It’s finals week here, well more the middle of finals which is crazy to think about because it feels like just yesterday I was sitting in my two week language course thinking, “this never ends” and now it’s ending too soon. Luckily for me, I’ll be staying an extra month to volunteer and I’m so thankful I was able to find a way to stay because once you’re here you don’t want to leave.
But let’s get to my title, one of the best things about studying in Prague is how central in Europe it is. This is a major advantage to traveling across Europe because it’s so easy to get to other countries for a very nice price. So far, I’ve visited:
- Budapest, Hungary
- Barcelona, Spain
- Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Berlin, Spain
- (and this very weekend, TOMORROW in fact) Paris, France
it’s been my dream to do this, it’s such an amazing opportunity that I can’t even really believe that I’ve been to all these places that I’ve only ever looked at through photos. I will not say that some places were better than others, everyone has personal opinions, but some put me under this enchantment and I found it hard to leave.
It’s amazing seeing different cities, the people are the best. You can witness how the culture is in different places not even that far from each other. And even though NYC will be there when I come back, I find myself looking for it in the cities I visit. Berlin especially reminded me of NYC, it felt like home and if I could I would study abroad there next maybe.
It’s hard trying to express the amount of feelings that I’ve experienced. Seeing the Berlin wall, something that brought so much devastation to so many lives; biking around all of Amsterdam and the Van Gogh museum after years of dreaming of seeing it. Or walking through the city that inspired Gaudi and Picasso, I could cry because I spent my whole life learning about these amazing things that some never get to experience for themselves. So passing through historical cities like Dresden where you know how bad things once were, you feel humbled.
I travel alone, partially because I don’t mix well with others and because alone you can do anything you want whenever. I enjoy putting myself into a situation where the only option I have is to step out of my comfort zone, for instance I always try to talk to locals and get a sense of what the cities are really like, not just my tourist-y version of it. That’s what I would say is one of the most important things, get a sense for the true city and not the one made for tourists. Don’t spend your whole time on the phone taking pictures; take pictures of course but make actual memories.
As for traveling within the Czech Republic, this country is overall so charming and special. I’ve gone to Pilsen where the famous beer is made and I was able to get a tour of the brewery which taught a lot about the history behind the beer. I’ve also gone to Kunta Hora earlier in the semester and saw the famous Bone Church, I’ve seen a concentration camp town, and I’ve gone hiking in their Bohemian Paradise (Česky Raj). The hike was the most memorable so far because it’s truly a paradise for hikers and people who love forests. But when I went, it was pouring hard and hailing, so it makes for a funny story.
I should get back to working now, I’m not sure if anyone reads this, but if you’re like me and you’re incredibly anxious you want as much information as possible. I hope I can help.
The semester has been going for about a month now and things are falling into place. Luckily I got into the classes I wanted and I’m thoroughly enjoying the material I’m learning as well. My classes are relatively small and we meet for 3 hours once a week. Because it is so long and full of information we take a small break. We are all foreigners in the classes, but most of the people are American. In New Paltz, there is a comfort that I know what is expected of me and that I can reach it. Here, I feel like I don’t know what the professors expect or want, I’m doing all my work but I’m never sure if it’s any good. I only have class Tuesday and Thursday so it really isn’t bad. For every class, we usually do a part of the day’s work outside in the field which is really nice. I feel like I’m learning the information differently; I supposed that’s possible because of the location. I’ve been going to museums and famous, historical locations. I’ve been learning about the time and history preserved all throughout Prague.
And the cherry on top of it all is the constant view I have from anywhere I turn.
If there is one thing to know about me, it’s that I absolutely love to eat. I am a picky eater, but in the last year I have become a cook and decided to grow up and try foods that normally I would say no to. Well, to no surprise, Prague has a lot of amazing, quality food. Most of my money probably goes to the food here. If you travel anywhere, I would say that it is a rule to have to signature dish of the country in a local restaurant. The first night here I tried goulash with bread dumplings, a classic Czech dish. It was really good, but extremely heavy. The breakfast here is very different; in America we have a mixture of carbs, sweets, and meats. In Europe, it’s meat, meat, vegetables and yogurt. Breakfast here hasn’t been my favorite since all I tend to have are the pastries, but wow are they good. Other than breakfast, I find the meals here to be amazing and Prague has amazing variety in all honesty. My favorite cafe, U Zavesenyho Kafe (where I am currently writing this) has casted a spell on me. From the sausages, chocolate tarts, and classic pivos, I think about visiting almost every day. The staff gives this charm where you want to become a regular, I hope I do.
Kolej Komenskeho is a great dorm! From the pictures that I saw and the descriptions I read, I wasn’t really excited to live in a communist style building. But when I first arrived, I felt this charm I couldn’t kick. My room is huge, I am in a double bedroom dorm where there are two single rooms with a little outside/kitchen area. It isn’t a full apartment, but for some reason it feels like an apartment that is yours. My windows are huge and fully open to reveal the cutest view. My room mate is sweet and it doesn’t feel uncomfortable. The staff in the building is also interesting, they are helpful and nice, but if you treat them badly, don’t expect any kindness in return. The weekly breakfast we get in the dorm is different, but it makes it feel more like home. And one, if not the best part about living in this dorm is the dorm mother, Zuzana. This woman is so amazing, influential, so full of spunk that I feel it is impossible to write about her. She goes out of her way every day to make our experience the best it can be. Because of her I have signed up for volunteer work, I’ve gone to the Opera, I have gotten to meet Czech people, discovered amazing places, and learned wisdom that could only come from someone who has lived through enough. The building might not be modern in the slightest, but it does have it’s charm.
The food in Prague can also be bad, in a sense. There are these famous desserts called “trdelnik” and boy is it a CON. A good con at that so my advise is yes have ONE, and don’t pay over 60 crowns for one either. It isn’t Czech in the slightest and it is just a capitalist scheme that someone came up with the idea of and has become rich off of it. If you do any research, you will find that this treat has only become popular within the last couple of years and that it has no ties to Czech culture at all. I tried one because hey it’s food and I’m curious, $2 is worth my curiosity. I personally enjoyed it the first two bites and then it became “too much”; it had way too much of well everything. Try it once, but don’t try it again. Instead try the honey cake, a original Czech dessert that will honestly be 200% better than any trdelink.
One more note, everything in Prague seems CHEAP. And it is to Americans, but ask the Czech questions. When you do, you will begin to realize that truly amazing food can be even cheaper. Czech people live differently than Americans do. Where $5 to Americans is nothing, especially if you are from NYC, it can mean the world to a Czech. This isn’t bad, if you ask around you will find places where you can get a spectacular Czech meal for $3 (like the cafe I am currently in). A great pivo can only cost you a single dollar if you go to the right place. If you stay in the tourist areas and where there aren’t any Czech people, expect to pay A LOT more than you should for anything.
Have the beer, it’s the culture and a given, have the goulash it’s also a given. There are many other Czech traditional dishes like fried cheese and hot wine, but my advice is give everything a try at least once. Coming from a picky, cheap eater; I must say that food is one of the only cultural doors that are always open.
It’s now been three weeks, almost four since I moved to Prague. Researching culture shock and reading all the charts can’t really prepare you for it. Writing this is weird and I don’t mean that in a bad way; it’s just that I’m trying to reflect on things that just happened but feel like a lifetime ago. Getting used to Prague isn’t hard or bad, it’s absolutely beautiful here. The amazement hasn’t really passed either, I continue to be amazed at the history and beauty that I discover every day. The hard part is home: thinking about how it is back home, what your friends are doing without you, what your family is doing, what your significant other might be feeling and not telling you. It has been hard. I try to not to sit in my room because when I do I just scroll on social media waiting for it to update. Thinking about my parents at home working for me to be able to do this makes me sitting in my room even worse. I’m not sure if there is a way to break the shock or not feel it, but whenever I find myself sitting at home sad, I just put my jacket on and walk out the door and go anywhere. Sometimes, i’s better to be alone in public than at home.
I feel like the first two weeks, everything felt magical and unreal. I had no actual concerns and then reality set in. I’m surviving in Prague alone. I have to be smart, I can’t spend crazy amounts of money because everything is cheap, it adds up. I can’t be alone nor can I be surrounded by people all the time. I haven’t been able to find a middle ground. I’m constantly thinking about when I get home how life will be so odd and there’s this thought that maybe I don’t have to go back home. Maybe I can find happiness here even though “it’s not a destination”. And as sad as it sounds now, almost all of the times where I have felt so lucky to be here is when learning about the tragic history this country has. Last night I saw the film Anthropoid, it was so moving and it’s hard for me to believe all those events happened where I walk by every day. It really puts things into perspective.
Adjustment is hard, I would be lying to you if I told you I haven’t spent nights lying in bed unhappy and being unhappy because I am unhappy in such a beautiful city. It’s a paradox I hope to break soon.
I’ve been non stop busy since I got here. The first couple days were purely dedicated to orientation. We took care of basic orientation stuff and were given time to walk around Old Town Square. There was also this nice trivia night at a café with the International Students Club.
Culture shock is real people! And it’s not necessarily bad either. Everything in Prague is so cheap compared to NYC. I can buy a nice dinner for $8. I feel rich here, and I don’t mean money wise. I feel rich in the opportunity to see and feel how it is to live another life. Getting a huge caramel latte for $25=59 crowns, sitting down in a cafe with the bustling life around me and amazing sights, I feel full of light. I thought I’d be a lot more sad than I am. Buying groceries for $35, going home and cooking dinner every night with some friends. I feel like a somewhat actual adult for once.
It hasn’t been a complete walk in the park. Living in a building with so many people is hard because every single person is unique and has a set of different values. The first week I was here, I automatically got attached to a group of people. Friend wise, I put all my eggs in one basket. A week and a half in, I HIGHLY ADVISE AGAINST THIS. As hard as it seems to be give every one a chance and opening up, that’s the key to having a smooth transition into making friends. If you stick to one group and something goes wrong, its very hard. Stick to people who make you happy when you start to get sad, stick to those who offer you anything even when they can’t afford to. Those are the ones who will save you from the bad side of culture shock. I’ve only had one sad day, but it passed fast and I’m ready to continue to be happy.
My Czech intensive language course has been so interesting! Yes, it is five hours a day for ten days, but I got an amazing teacher and class. At first I felt nervous to learn, but as she spoke to us the entire class warmed up and before you know it we were speaking Czech! She takes us out into Prague to really teach us the culture and that way we actually use our Czech and learn through interaction. On top of all that she’s like a mini tour guide who knows the city very well. I’ve had the best time in that class even though it isn’t easy. Today was my midterm, but I believe I passed (I hope!)
A year ago, if you asked me if I would study abroad I would have told you that it’s impossible. Last summer I thought, why not just try and then its quickly became a reality that I couldn’t fathom to be real. Coming from lower middle class, studying in another countries university was merely a dream. I remember the day I was accepted it felt as if the moving day was too far, but that day is quickly approaching now. It is a little stressful; I have never left the United States before. Actually I’ve hardly traveled outside of New York. I have never been so far from my family before either; all of this is on my mind. I can’t help but want to focus on the positive, the incredible fact that I am about to move and study in Prague.
It’s a little daunting yes, but I can’t begin to imagine how amazing it is going to be. I know my family and friends will still be home when I get back. When I think about how it’s going to be living in Prague, I get giddy inside. In Prague I’ll be considered an adult; I’ll have to be mostly completely independent. I’ll have to learn the Czech, learn their culture and assimilate myself. All I know is life in New York City, but I am so ready to go through this change. I feel that this trip is going to change me a lot as a person. I hope to come back more mature and grounded and I don’t think staying somewhere where I am comfortable will help me with growing. SO here’s to the big leap across the world 🙂
The other day my friend said to me: “I can’t believe you won’t be here next semester; I remember two years ago when you told me you were thinking of studying abroad and now you’re really going.”
Ever since I was young I would daydream about what it would be like to live in a foreign country: to live in an old city and be one like the locals. And now here is my chance: this is actually happening. All those extra hours I put into my summer job, all that research, all that paperwork is now going to show for something. I could not be more excited— I chose to study abroad in Prague because people only raved about all this city has to offer: the culture, the history, the location, the beauty. And now here I am, sitting at my kitchen table in New York, wondering how I am going to make the best of my four months abroad. How much traveling is too much? What do I need to make sure I do? Will I truly be able to integrate into the local culture and be seen as more than just a tourist?
These are questions I constantly think about, but I also have way more immediate concerns, like, how am I going to pack my entire life in two suitcases? Not only how, but what do I pack to be truly prepared? What can I expect to happen during my time abroad?
The answer to the last question is nothing. I can expect nothing. No matter how many travel blogs I read or Rick Steve episodes I watch, I will still experience a few shocks I could have never imagined. Living in Prague is going to be completely different from the American suburbia I lived in for the last 19 years; and with this one fact in mind, I know I need to keep an open mind during my time abroad.
And that’s kind of the fantastical part of studying abroad, right? You’re really not too certain what you are getting yourself into, but you know you will learn so much in the end. What you will learn is yet to be determined, but you know it will make you a better person. It will turn you into the person you are meant to be.
Once I get off the plane in Prague I’ll have my two carefully packed suitcases, a couple of Czech korunas, and the uneasy feeling of not knowing what I will be doing in the next month, week, or even that night.
Anything can happen and anything is possible. And in my opinion, that is the true beauty of adventure.