I live in the neighborhood of Žižkov in Prague 3. I love all the things that are near us, but in regard to school the location is a bit of a hassle. There are three buildings used for housing through our program. Two of them are located a 30 second walk from the metro we take to school, the grocery store, busses, trams, you name it. The last building, where I live, is located on the top of a hill a 15 minute walk from the metro and grocery store. While this does ensure I get a little bit of cardio, it is frustrating when others from our program can hop off the metro after a long day and already be home, and the rest of us have to go for a hike. To get a bit more off my chest about the living situation, we are also right next door to some very noisy neighbors who play the strangest music. It’s so loud and clear it’s almost as if they are in our bedroom. On the other side of us, they have been doing construction starting around 6:45am almost everyday, ensuring we do not have the chance to be lazy and sleep in.
Now that my rant is over, there is so much I love about our neighborhood. We are right up the hill from a park that’s great for running and also has a really spectacular view of city. Also at the bottom of the hill is my absolute favorite place in Prague. It’s a little bike shop called “Bike Jesus.” They’ve got a really great alternative vibe going on in there, the decorations are fun to decipher, and there are usually dogs playing around the shop. Now that the weather has been getting nicer, I’m also really excited to check out the outdoor patio that hasn’t gotten much use yet. When I’m not having a coffee at Bike Jesus I am usually at school or exploring Prague with my friends. A typical day would start out with me snoozing my alarm 10 times, then finally scrambling up to get to school. I have class for a few hours a day, then I’ll usually grab some lunch with classmates. The food in Prague, especially near all the housing and the school, is very cheap, so we eat out very often. Depending on the day and the weather, we will either wander around finding new places to try out, or we will revisit places we know are well suited for whatever we are doing that day. There really is no set schedule or “typical” day I suppose; we really just take what the day gives us and make it work to our advantage.
There have not really been any surprises that I wasn’t ready for other than how quickly this trip has gone. We have done so much nearly everyday and seen so many amazing places. As for my goals, I don’t think I have talked to as many locals as I would have liked. It’s very intimidating to know hardly any of the language and try to make conversation. Czechs also do not always have the most friendly exterior, but as I mentioned in my previous posts, it is just a cultural difference I don’t think I will ever get used to. I have been doing a lot of really fun and adventurous activities though, and, so far, do not have any regrets or anything I haven’t done and wished I had or anything of the sort.
The community engagement aspect is really just about putting yourself out there. This goes for anywhere you are. A lot of people do appreciate when you at least know how to say a few words in Czech, such as please, thank you, hello, and are much more receptive to you than if you just came up and only used English. While I don’t have any regrets, I do think if I did this over again I would try to learn more Czech before my arrival. This is also my advice to others studying abroad. Try to learn a few words or phrases in your host country’s language, and don’t be afraid to ask someone how to say something. They are almost always more than happy to help you learn. Other than that the only advice I can offer is to be ready to anything and always try to see the fun side of every situation (I could stand to get a little better at this).
I am so happy with everything I have seen and accomplished on this trip and can’t wait to see what the last of it holds!
“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!
This posting will be the first of five required for the TWP (discussed in my first posting) through WWU EdAbroad. For a more detailed account of the TWP you can visit/.
“Pre-Departure: What are your goals for your international experience?
- What do you hope to gain and how much research have you done on your host country and culture that will better prepare you for this experience?
- What are you most excited about? What are you most scared or nervous about?
- What strategies have you implemented that will allow you to overcome these challenges and take full advantage of your opportunities?”
The above questions, taken directly from the posted link, will be the focus of my posting today.
From my previous posts you may have noticed that research is something I have been struggling with. I’ve done some broad reading on the history of the Czech Republic through Nazi occupation, the Soviet era, and the separation of Czechoslovakia. I still have a lot to learn about the Czech Republic’s past, but for now I at least have a little bit of background. I stumbled upon someone’s personal blog who seems to have married into a Czech family and offers a lot of practical advice about the dos and don’ts in Czech culture. From what I have read so far, punctuality, being polite and non confrontational, and somewhat reserved are some important social norms in Czech Republic. The author of the blog mentions on many occasions that he found his information from either committing a “social don’t” or simply asking locals what their opinion on a certain behavior was. Again, I still have a lot more to learn, but soon enough I will be learning first hand and it’s nice to have some knowledge on what is acceptable and what isn’t.
I will post all the links to websites that I have found helpful at the end of this posting.
I don’t have any one thing that I am particularly looking forward to. I am just excited to have the chance to experience something not available to me here in the USA. Each place on earth has their own history and way of life and I am excited to be a part of that. and Learning about the importance of and emphasis on different norms and practices will be a fascinating way to expand my knowledge. My main concern right now is my ability, or lack thereof, to communicate in the local language of Czech. I am enrolled in a two week kick starter language class that starts when I arrive in the Czech Republic, but, obviously, I will not be fluent in such a short time. From everyone I have talked to that has been to the Czech Republic, they have all said most people speak English. That being said, I don’t want to be that traveller or tourist who comes into a foreign country and expects everything to be catered to my inability to communicate or my lack of preparation. I’ve had some trouble finding Czech language learning apps/websites/etc that work for me so Rick Steve’s handy dandy phrases are all I’ve got to go on right now. Communication is overall concern, everything else I am worried about comes along with this concern.
I am handling my concerns in the same way that I handle all other situations: lists. You can ask anyone and they will tell you I love my lists. Having everything written down in front of you makes anything you have to do a matter of following the steps and checking off those boxes on the list. While I don’t have a specific plan for overcoming my barriers at the moment, I know that if I write it all down I will be able to “connect the dots” and follow the steps I will lay out for myself to handle whatever is thrown at me. And, of course, I have a wonderful network of friends and family who I know will always be there to back me up if there is something my lists can’t handle.
Any tips, tricks, or concerns you have or I should know I am always looking for more info I will do my best to update my blog in a less erratic fashion while I am away. For more frequent updates, I have started an Instagram page for a more image focused account of my travels found at @acrosstheshiftingseas directly from Instagram./ or
The next time you hear from me I will have made it to the Czech Republic!
Uvidíme se brzy!
Czech History: https://www.britannica.com/place/Czech-Republic