I’ve barely been abroad for a week and my mind has been blown so many times I’ve lost count.
I’d like to go over the literal “what I did” this past week before going into the lessons and reactions I’ve gleaned from these experiences (at least what I’ve been able to process so far).
WHAT I DID:
Two days in London:
-Saw many of the main sites like Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Hyde Park, etc.
-Visited four different historical and art museums (Tate Modern Art being my absolute favorite).
-Stumbled into a carnival followed by a fab food truck festival (best doughnut experience ever).
-Talked to lots of happy locals and foreigners.
-Eaten at hole-in-the-wall Lebanese and British fish’n’chips places.
-Dozed off in a museum because of how jet-lagged I was.
First four days in Prague:
–Saw many of the main sites like the Old Town Square, Charles University, countless cafes/restaurants, Tyn Church (absolutely breathtaking, Baroque-style), Charles Bridge, and so many more.
–Took a river boat trip along the Vltava. This featured food, drink, and a spectacular view of the town from the upper deck of the boat.
–Gained a competent understanding of the public transit system (bus/tram/underground).
–Learned a few phrases like thank you, hello, good bye, etc. As one friend said, I have learned “enough to be polite.”
–Been to seven different bars/clubs at night, only one of which I’ll probably ever go back to (there is an ex-party tour guide among our student body here who has gladly taken us around). Sadly, my nightlife experiences here thus far have reminded me a bit of the threatening and hedonistic bars and clubs at home in Orlando. Though I’m glad to have at least gone to them once, I will probably only hang out at places quiet enough for conversation from now on (unless I really feel like going dancing).
–Visited Tesco, a giant four-story supermarket, where I bought cooking supplies for the tiny kitchenette in my dorm (pictures coming soon). It was truly a cultural experience to see all of the Czech packaging on the shelves and imagining what was inside.
–Attended the first class of my two-week intensive language course. To be perfectly honest, this is the one thing that I am most nervous about. Not that I won’t be able to learn the language (Prague is an English-friendly city), but I am pretty afraid of getting a poor grade in this class—the teacher is INCREDIBLY demanding and the work is very rigorous. As soon as she handed out the booklets, she immediately started asking each of us questions in Czech, expecting Czech responses. This went on for five hours, with a half-hour break, which is the structure for the following two weeks (four days per week). At first, I was considering switching to the easier class (which most of the students are taking), but I feel that by this class’ end, I will definitely have a huge leg up in navigating and understanding this country’s culture and its people.
–Walk around wandering. A lot.
PRAGUE LESSONS AND REACTIONS:
Here are a few of my favorite things:
–How cheap everything is (2.00 USD or ~40 CZK crowns a beer; 2.50 USD or ~50 CZK for breakfast, which includes yogurt, two pieces of bread, three hard-boiled eggs, and tea; I also went to Tesco today [the Walmart of Prague] and stocked my kitchen with a sauce pan, silverware, three days worth of vegetables, fruits, and cheese, cooking oil, two beer pints, chips, pasta, and seasonings–all for only 32 USD [677 CZK]!).
–The dorm pub that is *literally* a twenty-second walk from my suite door, two floors down. Yes, I did say that there is dorm pub and yes, it does sell some of the cheapest beer in the city.
–How much eye-contact people make. I truly believe that a lot can be said without words and I’m grateful many Czech people see that too.
–The amazing staff members of the American Institute of Foreign Study and the Eastern and Central European Studies department at Charles University. They are incredibly open, honest, and intelligent people who are genuinely interested in my welfare and happiness. Even though I haven’t started most of my classes yet, I’m already incredibly impressed by the administrators. I’m excited to see what the upcoming activities and excursions are like.
–Walking the city on my own. Riding the public transit and feeling comfortable. Eating bread with cheese for every meal. The feel of light rain on the way to the underground station. All of it. All of it. All of it.
–Some things I’ve yet to do: jazz clubs, cinema visit, Prague Castle, meet with my Charles University buddy, start taking non-language classes, and like a million more things.
A few “cultural moments”:
–People don’t smile at strangers here unless they are showing genuine interest. Although, since I didn’t learn this until today, I’ve realized that I’ve been *accidentally* flirting with lots of people on the street and at school. Of the people who smiled back, I wonder which of them pinned me for a foreigner and smiled out of politeness or actually smiled out of interest. Hmm…
–The process of going through a supermarket: there are very few plastic bags. You pack up your own groceries. People are pretty stern-looking (this actually applies to all places). The packaging on typical name brand things like Lays chips or Nestle hot chocolate looks totally different than in the US. Some brands even have their own translated names. I’m thinking I will buy a Czech cook book (written in Czech) and then translate it by hand, so when I go to the store to buy stuff, I’ll be ready for whatever language the packaging is written in.
–It is pretty touristy in Prague. I often run into other Americans or overhear people speaking in lots of different languages. Sure, I appreciate the diversity, although the touristiness definitely impedes the sense of complete cultural immersion I seek (particularly when I am walking through the expensive, touristy parts of town and get bombarded by vendors). Though secretly, I’m probably just sad that I’m not that special here for being a foreigner. Probably. Maybe not.
–Vegetables. As someone who has suspended my veganism in exchange for vegetarianism abroad, I have been in a desperate need for vegetable in this meat/cheese/bread-loving cuisine. Though until I start to find more vegetarian places and/or learn how to order the right dishes at Czech restaurants, I am happy to be able to cook my own dishes in my own home. It is also one of my favorite ways to relax anyway.
My favorite part so far:
–I’ve already connected with at least five incredible fellow students and dorm mates who I can already tell I am going to grow very close to. We all share the intense desire for connection and honest, open communication—the two characteristics of a group of that really knows how to take care of itself. Two days ago, I went with one of these friends (Tori, a pescetarian) to a vegetarian Indian restaurant; we really opened up about ourselves having barely known each other. Later that night, we both met up with another friend, Britanny, and found a place to sit outside a cafe and shared some pretty intimate details about our lives back home. Yesterday, Tori, Reed (the party guide), and another new friend Georgia (a fellow photographer) all went to one of Prague’s great parks (Letenské sady) and laid on the grass for over an hour. It was such a beautiful park. Georgia did yoga. Tori lied down (and slept?). Reed read a book. And I did a little bit of journaling. Because we are all mostly introverts (and had talked about our need to have alone time), we were able to share that silence together in a deep way that fulfilled our needs for both internal reflection and connection with other people. We didn’t feel pressured to speak to each other; but if we wanted to, we did. We also didn’t feel pressured to listen to each other, but if we wanted to, we did that too. Can you tell that connecting with people really matters to me? I’m happy to have this home base of people that I feel safe with; it’s made the adjustment process so much easier. However, as soon as I’ve settled in a little bit more, I am really looking forward to connecting with some locals in a similar way.
All of this to say, I have still probably spent most of my time alone and I couldn’t say which time spent has been more valuable, being alone or with people.
Biggest challenge so far:
–Prioritizing. So much is going on. So many people. So many activities. So many classes. And that is just in Prague. There is are also dozens of other countries that are closer than ever before that hold just as much diversity and experience as the one I’m in now—and I’ve got less than a hundred days to take them in! For now, I’ve put aside thinking about going outside of this country. For now, I’m focusing on adjusting to the Czech language, getting to know the people closest to me, getting around the city, and preparing for classes. I am hopeful. In fact, having too many things to do is probably the best problem one could possibly have.
Thanks for tuning in. Many more experiences and lessons to come.