Its hard to think that is was already nearly four months ago that I set off on this amazing experience to study abroad. I still remember my unjustified freaking out about freezing to death after my Miami born and raised self was told that Prague was comparable to the Arctic Tundra, and my fruitless attempt to pack 5 coats into a modest carry-on. I still remember my freaking out after rushing to the airport after my New York taxi got lost, and how I barely made my flight to the Czech Republic. It seems like just last week, I was feeling the flurry of emotions: nervousness, excitement, anxiety. Yet, three months have gone by in what seems like a matter of days, and it is still hard to believe that in mere days, I will be back in my home country. Worse though, is that I’m still unsure as to what I should feel, and what I am currently feeling. Part of me is sad to leave Europe and this amazing experience, as well as the great people I’ve had the pleasure to meet. The other, Americanized part of me however, is eager to get back to New York City and scarf down an extra large cup of Pinkberry frozen yogurt.
Despite the fact that I spent a great deal of the semester lusting after things only available in my beloved New York City, going back partly saddens me. Reflecting upon the experiences I’ve had, places I’ve been, and the knowledge I have gained makes wondering what things would have been like had I not gone abroad almost unimaginable. The amazing experiences that I had with Czechs, my fellow NYU students and the amazing NYU in Prague staff and faculty have made this experience all the more memorable. From my initial difficulty speaking a word of anything in Czech, to my now (almost) effortless skills in ordering food in Czech, I’ve learned that a little bit of effort and patience go a long way. Now, my concern is how bizarre it will be to go back to a country where everyone speaks English. I’ve already envisioned myself uttering “Mluvite Anglicky, prosim?” (Do you speak English, please?) at the Trader Joe’s cashier queue. I will remember the amazing people I’ve met while here more than anything, along with the friends I will have for life after this experience. They often say that things will have changed when you are gone for an extended period of time, but I have no doubt in my mind that it is I that will have changed, and hopefully that change will be for the better.
Oh...my favorite time to write...and say horrible things about Steve! Just kidding. ;) Steve’s course is awesome. I’ve had Steve as a professor for the last two semesters and I have to say that his classes never fail to interest me. Both this course and the previous course I had taken with Steve have challenged my way of thinking in regards to travel, and opened my mind to both new possibilities in terms of career opportunities involving travel, as well as given me new insight in how to be a better traveler and globe citizen. Steve’s experience and global insight from his travels, as well as his vast knowledge of great travel writing pieces and sense of humor make him one of my favorite professors (and I’m hoping to have him present at my senior colloquium). Steve himself is an amazing and caring professor. He’s quite possibly the most caring professor I’ve yet to have at NYU, who genuinely has the student’s best interest at heart, and truly does care about seeing his students succeed (and even pushes some of us to do it, as well!). This class, The Art of Travel, has provided me with the opportunity to start doing something I always want to do, but never have time do: blogging! (And now I have to, because its for a grade!).
I have a bit of a hate/love relationship with forced blogging though. I feel that blogging in this manner sort of forces one to limit himself or herself as to what they want to write about whilst abroad, and sometimes hinders creativity. (But I may just be cranky because of all the work I have to do). However, I also have to sincerely thank Steve and this course for forcing me to do things I wouldn’t have done while in Prague, whether it be a cultural event, exploring new restaurants and venues, or what have you. The class is what I expected, and I felt that it was a great way for Gallatin students to share their writings with one another in a supportive environment full of fellow student travel writers that fosters a sense of a common traveler community. The only suggestions that I would offer the course is that I feel that there should be more open topics available as blog posts, as opposed to usually writing along the constraints of specific topics or issues. Additionally, I would also suggest that the blogs not be necessarily centric to the place in which we are studying abroad, and give a bit more liberty to discuss our travels outside our place of study. Other than that, I highly recommend this course and our professor, as I’ve learned so much in such a short period of times, and will have these writings to treasure long after this experience has come to an end.
Hello all you future NYU abroaders....and Steve. =) So, I’m going to tell you the real skinny on the beautiful city of spires and cheap beer (and awkward and hilarious encounters with Czechs...don’t worry, they get friendlier as the semester goes on, I promise) known as Prague, here in the beautiful (and beautifully cheap!) Czech Republic. To begin with, I will be completely honest: I do have mixed feelings about Prague. Prague is a gorgeous city that looks like something out of a Disney fairy tale. A breathtaking castle, classical architecture and horses (yes, horses!) are more than enough to make you feel as if you’re having a strange dream where you are a royal out of a Disney film after watching the movie Enchanted right before bed. However beautiful Prague is though, I have to say that I didn’t care for the usually dreary and depressing weather and the not-really-all-that-friendly-to-foreign-people Czechs. The weather doesn’t really get half decent until the end of April here (if you would be studying abroad in the spring), and by then, you’re just irritated that it took so long to get nice outside! While this is bad, this is not a Prague bashing post at all. You see, while Prague has its cons, it is also the site I would recommend most for students looking to travel Europe.
Because Prague is smack-dab in the middle of Europe, it is relatively easy to travel almost anywhere, and the other great thing is that flights from Prague are usually relatively cheap when bought in advance, and bus lines such as Student Agency Bus make exploring eastern and central Europe a snap. This, added to the fact that Prague is rather inexpensive (though comparing almost anywhere to New York City would make it seem inexpensive by comparison) means you’ll have more money to save for your travels. An added bonus for those who choose to study abroad in Prague is that the program is one of NYU’s smallest programs, meaning there is a definite sense of community, which is rather difficult to find amongst NYU’s 40,000+ students back in New York. Words of advice to those studying in Prague: watch where you walk, as owners almost never curb their dogs, you will pay for water at restaurants (even for tap!), tipping is a modest 10% (except in the city center, where NYU is located, of course), most of the Czech population still doesn’t speak English, so please do pay attention during your intensive Czech lessons (this will come in more handy than you think!), and have brunch at least once at Radost FX, and you won’t need about 60% of the clothes you initially pack. Additionally, don’t be afraid to explore Prague! Most people never venture from the typical NYU haunts, and there are so many amazing places here! I also recommend taking classes that include excursions to places in Prague, such as Reporting the Arts and Czech Architecture. Lastly, if you want the “nicest” dorms, live in Osadni, which are rather out of the way, but the most spacious. However, if it’s a community you’re after, Czech out (oh yes, I went there) the Machova or Slezka residence halls, which resemble more traditional dorm-like setups. I hope this helps, and feel free to ask anything else!
My advice to future Prague students:
Do not be lazy with traveling or any tourist activities.
My first month at Prague I must admit was very unproductive. I was homesick and did not like Prague thus did not do any tourist activities. And now that I am leaving in two weeks, I’m rushing to do all of them everyday on top of studying for my finals.
Secondly, once I got situated and comfortable at Prague, I lost ambition to travel around Europe. However, traveling too much in my opinion defeats the purpose of studying at a specific site. But also, I wish I’d gone to Slovakia, Budapest, and other countries that are close to the Czech Republic. And honestly, when will I ever go to Slovakia?
Another advice I’d like to share is getting to know more Czech people. Because while abroad, it is very easy to get sucked into the NYU bubble and just remain in the bubble at all times. Thus, it gets difficult to really interact with Czech people. I think it would be interesting to make a close Czech friend, where he or she could show you around to places where only locals go, getting a different perspective on Czech culture.
Another advice I have for future Prague students is to don’t underestimate your classes here at Prague. Although some classes may seem easier at first, surprisingly there is a lot of work for each class and don’t expect to slack off here.
Also, figure out your banking and financial stuff before hand and really make sure you know if you’re bank is a good choice to use abroad. For me, it would have been smarter to use open up a new account with a different bank that was more favorable to students studying abroad.
That seems to be it. Don’t be afraid to experience new things and go out of your way to do so!
Enjoy Prague and live it up to the fullest so that later you wont regret it! Good luck!
The days before I left for Prague were a blur. I packed, met up with friends one last time, went to restaurants and shoved in as much of my favorite foods as I possibly could to stave off cravings. As I did all those things, I remember feeling such a sense of excitement. I was ready for the impending adventure.
And now, it is suddenly all over. I feel like the ends of all semesters are marked with shock but relief as well – you’re both amazed at how quickly time flew by, but when you think about all that was accomplished in between, you realize that a hell of a lot was done and that you could possibly be on the verge of getting burned out.
While I definitely am looking forward to lazy days of doing absolutely nothing once I get home, I still wish I had a few more weeks in Prague so that I could leave without a sense of “Oh, I wish I still did this” or “If only I had more time!” I don’t want my last few memories of the place to be filled with the panic and lists that accompany the end of a semester and moving. And with the summer buzz on the upswing, our departure in two short weeks becomes even more bittersweet.
I’ve had plenty of conversations with friends where someone has said, “In 10 years, when I look back at my time here in Prague, I KNOW I will remember this.” We’ve all met such crazy characters (some of them our professors), explored fascinating places, and stumbled on completely “what the hell” situations. I know a lot of what I will remember won’t be the touristy things I made myself do but rather the small moments, like the many times I was hopelessly lost around town and practically pounced on anybody with broken English for instructions on how to get back home, or when my friend and I sang along to “All By Myself” with a AAA taxi driver. I’ve become so settled here, easily navigating the metro system and becoming a familiar face to the baristas at Coffee Heaven.
I will leave Prague with nothing but great memories, and a great deal of sadness as well. Na shledanou… but I will be back!
There are times when habit is good. Familiarity, routine, some sort of pattern – there can be times when it’s nice to know exactly what’s going to happen, to not be surprised or frazzled by the unexpected because there’s really nothing that would be considered strange or unbelievable.
But while there are days when routine is desirably uncomplicated and free of drama, it can get uninteresting. If there’s no change, then like de Botton says, you become “habituated and therefore blind to” the nuances in the environment surrounding you. Things become so monotonous that even if something striking occurs, the expectation that nothing unexpected will happen destroys the possibility of noticing the change.
The first time I drastically changed my surroundings was when I moved to the United States for college. It was a huge transition. I found myself living in a culture that was unlike anything I was accustomed to, thrust into an unknown world. Things were so different, and the culture shock was severe. While I can draw up a laundry list of the pros and cons, what is certain is that it forever shaped my outlook on the world. And when I flew home for Christmas break, I went back with a newfound appreciation of my home city. I was more observant to what was around and more sensitive to the changes that have been occurring. I was looking at something so familiar with a new pair of glasses on, and that made it suddenly so different. By mixing up the scenery every few months, it all changed.
Prague adds another layer to the experience. The months here have exposed us all to a culture and history that was once upon a time so foreign, and we fly back to our homes having done and seen a brand new side of the world. I know the first week home will be strange – on the one hand, it’s like you never left. But when you think about all that has happened in the span of a few months, it becomes surreal. And although you may have ended up back where you started, it’s not the same. It may look familiar, but I don’t know… all I know is that I’ll be regarding it with a little bit of newfound distance.
Even though this blog is due today, there is still a part of me that is debating whether or not I should put it off an hour.
I am leaving on a plane for Paris tomorrow at 4am and need to pack/confirm my flights, I have to contact(aka continue to stalk their mobile phones) four people for my final international reporting feature, I have another class paper to finish, a Czech final and presentation to prepare, a radio package to record, write, and edit, finish my internship’s final project, not to mention attend the presentation by a speaker that NYU in prague is hosting tonight, research cheap tickets to dublin for next weekend, grab a bite to eat, and call my grandma to wish her happy birthday…and maybe try to email my sister back.
That pretty much defines my semester.
I can’t believe its been four months since I arrived confused in this city where I didn’t even know how to say “Thank you”. Now I “mluvim trucho cesky” (speak a little czech), have a busy academic and social life. I actively juggle staying in touch with those back home, having an internship, traveling and having fun with my “new” friends here. As much as I think of my current “To do” list as daunting and I can’t wait for it to be completed, there is a part of my brain telling me to stop, take a deep breath, and both enjoy and relish every moment of these next impossibly busy two weeks. Because as much as I complain, I will miss this place more than I can possibly think.
Who knows when I will be back? Or if I even will? I will never see my dorm room again. I will never be inside my classrooms of the NYU center, nor will I see my professors ever again. Will I live with my roommates in the future? Will I ever find myself just blocks from where I need to be in Prague, but with absolutely no idea of how to get there? Probably not.
I didn’t visit Prague. I, instead, studied and lived in the Czech republic for four months. Something I will always be able to say, but am still just believing myself. I have begun to understand the effects of Communism on a former Soviet Union country. I have coped, and remained, being a vegetarian in a country known for meat. And, I have lived miles away from all those I love.
And while it was both harder and easier than I imagined, its an experience I will miss. Physically or emotionally, I know I will miss being in Prague. I will miss people not speaking english, I will miss my constant fear of pickpockets. And I will also miss walking down the cobble-stoned streets of Prague and going to my favorite local shops.
And in truth, upon my return to the U.S, a country I actually do miss, I believe I will my miss my (even tiresome at times) position as the constant “foreigner”.
Over the course of a semester this course becomes a sort of a love/hate relationship.
On the one hand, the permission for reflection and forced documentation of your travels is a gift, and one I enjoy and appreciate.
Yet, on the other hand, if you are taking four other courses, traveling on the weekend, grappling with poor technology that differs from your home country, writing epic emails (that might as well be blogs) to friends and family, traveling on the weekends (and often the weekdays), starting skype conversations at 9pm (New york time..[3am in Prague]), and also plain allowing yourself to “go native” in the Prague sense, and letting the Czech procrastination and relaxed work ethic to over come you….the course, can logistically be a struggle.
So frequently I would pass others in the class in the NYU center and who would begrudgingly moan “Oh no…we had a blog due yesterday didn’t we??” And jointly commiserate “My internet just won’t work and I have to do my art of travel "thingy"..”
However, in a way, these grumbling signs of struggle, created a virtual and physical community between us bloggers. Just as much as I loved reading everyone’s blogs and the comments my posts received, I also came to feel comforted by the Prague’s Art of Travel contingent.
For this course, in my mind succeeded in its goals. I wrote (or will write) 18 entries about my time in Prague. That means that among all of the other amazing things I have done this semester, I have learned how to reflect about them on a public platform. In addition, I have learned more about what it means to study abroad by reading about the journeys of my peers. And last, whether its because of borrowing each-other’s laptops, helping to brainstorm ideas, or even just rolling eyes at another deadline missed…This course helped me to form a community in prague.
Four months after I first stepped on Czech soil and I can proudly say, I do not regret my decision to go to Prague. While I have definitely discovered the city’s flaws since living here, I have come to learn that some of what I initially viewed as Prague's shortcomings is, in fact, some of its greatest traits. I would not change my decision in the least. And I would definitely urge others to study abroad in this central European city (Especially if you are like me—and on your first excursion to Europe.)
Come in the Fall Semester:
Prague’s winter is cold, grey, snowy, and all around dismal. It’s empty streets, silent nights, citywide curfew, and overall quiet demeanor make for a harsh change from New York City’s bustling Christmas season. If you are someone who likes to see the sun every day…or even every couple of days, then I would definitely advice against coming to Prague in January and February. That being said, the quiet grey, lackadaisical vibe that exists during Prague’s winter is one of the city’s traits many people also enjoy. However, as I look outside now to see the streets chock full of tourists embracing the warm (actually hot) sunny Prague, I cant help but be jealous of their initial impressions of the city that I had to learn to love. However, since April brings about tourist season (and its more like a flooding in these parts), the tourists in the spring replace the quiet Prague of winter with one loud with German, Italian, Japanese, and shouts. In summary, I would recommend coming in fall so that you can see Prague at its physical beast before learning about its true more interesting, but slightly harsher self. In truth, studying during the fall semester may allow you to see the city’s face before understanding its personality.
Prague’s winding roads easily become recognizable for any person with a decent sense of direction. However, since four months really do fly by…I would advise any student here to try and get lost once a week…sometimes “getting lost” leads you to your new favorite restaurant!
This would have to be my number one reason for choosing Prague. I don’t believe any student on a very fixed budget could go to Europe for 4 months, visit nearly 40 towns or cities, and seven countries…while still eating, and sleeping (most of the time) horizontally. Prague’s currency is 20ish crowns for the dollar. That means groceries are about 15 dollars a week. While London, Paris, and Madrid are all probably fine cities, If you are coming to Europe…for Europe opposed to being culturally immersed in a single city (Which could also be a good thing), then Prague is the best location. For not only is cheap, its central location allows many countries to be an inexpensive bus, train, or flight away!
Make it Your Own City
While I could now list the restaurants, pubs, streets, and shops that have become my favorite in Prague. I think that may defeat the point. For my utmost favorite part of Prague, is that it has become familiar and I have even caught myself taking it for granted. For, I believe there comes a time for every student abroad where you purposely or accidentally call this foreign city home. And for what its worth, it will become one once you allow it to be yours.
I’m only 20, but I’m often made to feel far older because of my absolute refusal to twitter (or is it tweet?) and obsessively update my Facebook status every single second of the day, acts which have been embraced by most of my peers. Now, with even CNN urging everybody to get involved (okay, we get it, you’re young and hip), I’m starting to feel older than ever for refusing to get with the times when crazy congressman and even crazier celebrities are hopping on the bandwagon with such zest.
I thought blogging was even too much when it first took off. Writing about my own thoughts all the time? Oh god, how narcissistic. But it ballooned into such a phenomenon that when I heard about this course, my reaction was “why not?” It would be a nice way to dabble in the new craze, as well as document my time here and my observations of the place.
It was definitely harder than I expected. To come up with something each week, something that was meaningful and not just words, was a task that proved to be more difficult than expected. With whirlwind trips here and there and classes, to sit down, gather your thoughts, and write required intense concentration.
The weekly themes were a great help in stimulating thought. While I may not have been the most punctual when it came to my posts, I often waited because I wanted whatever it was that I was going to write about to come to me naturally. I wanted to wait until I experienced something that clicked with the topic.
And when that happened, it was great. Translating the images in your head into words is the best way to clarify your thoughts.