Arrival: Host Country & Cultural Immersion (post #2 of TWP)

  • What are your favorite things about your host location thus far?
  • Tell us about the university, academic experience, the classes, student life, and clubs or activities you are involved with? How are the locals, are there any differences or similarities that have surprised you based on your expectations?
  • Did you experience culture shock when you arrived in your host country? How did your expectations about your experience compare with the reality of your day to day life? Is there anything you wish you would have done or researched more to better prepare you for your experience?”

While packing for Prague, I still didn’t feel like I was actually going to be leaving for a foreign country for nearly 5 months. When I boarded my flight, same feeling. Arriving at my new apartment, nothing. I still don’t think it has hit me that I’m in the Czech Republic with the chance to experience something I never expected to have an opportunity for. I’ve always wanted to travel, but until now I have had school to finish. Although I still have classes while I am here, it’s not quite the same. After finishing my first week of classes I am expecting a somewhat difficult semester academically, but with the help of Prague’s charm I think I will make it through just fine.

So far, I love that even on a cloudy day (which has been most days), the colors of the buildings and the graffiti on nearly every available surface brightens up the streets of Prague in the most bewitching way. As I said earlier, I don’t think it has hit me that I am actually here, so everything just seems so surreal. Many of the buildings here are bright green, yellow, or pink; colors that if you saw them in the states you would cringe and wonder why anyone would voluntarily paint their house that way. But in Prague, and many of the smaller towns we’ve visited so far, the combination of all these colors is so beautiful and unique. Getting around the city, whether with a destination in mind or simply wandering, you see a rainbow of structures along the way.

For the first two weeks after arrival, everyone in the program took an intensive language class so get us some useful phrases and learn how to pronounce  the different letters of the alphabet. I’ve waited until now to post this response since, as of now, we have finished our first week of classes that we will be taking for the rest of the semester. I chose the classes I am taking based on the outings we do in class and their time frame (I only have class Tuesday-Thursday, more time for adventure!). I am taking Art & Architecture, which involves a little town field trip everyday to identify time periods of buildings within Prague, and Czech language on Tuesdays. Wednesday is my 6 hour day of Image of Prague, which is more literature focused than I was expecting, and European Integration, which goes through the timeline of the formation of the EU as well as other important historical events. I am most excited about my Thursday schedule. Beginning at noon I have another day of Czech language then in the afternoon I have my cooking class. It’s a very small group of students and we will be learning how to make traditional Czech cuisine over the next 7 weeks. The best part is the left overs we will get to take home! All these classes are in the same building, The Christian International School of Prague. I don’t know the details, but USAC has partnered with this school and our classes are taught through Charles University. I am not involved in any clubs, but USAC has quite a few organized tours and events that I, as well as many other students, have participated in during the last few weeks.

The most noticeable difference I have seen here thus far is the lack of pleasantries exchanged between strangers. In the US, if I walked past someone or accidentally made eye contact I would smile, maybe wave, and be on my way. Here, the smiles are a lot harder to come by. Our professors have all told us that Czech people can always identify an American by how much we smile or laugh while we are out in public. It’s not that the people here are mean or unfriendly, it’s just not as culturally “normal” to smile at or say hello to strangers.

As for culture shock, I don’t know that I would describe any of my feelings as such. There are certainly differences between life here and life back in the states, and I definitely catch myself thinking, “This is not the way we do it back home,” but I have been trying to embrace the differences and not think that those differences are better or worse than anything else. I do wish that I had done a bit more research on the recent election that was held in the Czech Republic before I left, but it’s nothing that I can’t do here. So far, I have been doing nothing but enjoying my time in Prague and learning what I can about the city through class, exploration, and talking with others.

Here’s to many more great weeks in the Czech Republic!