A Letter to Myself Regarding Study Abroad

Dear Laura,

First thing: calm down. You are panicking thinking everything will go horribly wrong. You couldn’t be more wrong about that. You will come out of this experience more confident and more certain that you can do anything than you have ever been in your life. This is the trip of a lifetime and you are going to love every minute of it. Relax, breathe and enjoy it, it goes by way too fast.

Second: learn a little Czech before you go. I know it seems impossible because there are so many consonants and you have no idea how to pronounce anything you’re reading but the basics (hello, thank you, etc.) are so helpful and there are a lot more resources available than you think. Orientation your first full day will be a lot less stressful if you have a head start on the language portion.

Third: don’t panic about the packing. I know you are worried about it but you actually do a pretty darn good job. Maybe throw a pair of capris in there, I’m not sure what I was thinking not including those, but otherwise well done. And that lightweight suitcase was an amazing investment, never let anyone tell you otherwise.

Fourth: Travel. Just travel as much and as many places as you can. The only thing I regret about this trip is not taking the opportunity to travel even more than I did. And when you aren’t traveling remember that wandering the city is a valid pastime. There are tons of museums and monuments to visit and look at and there are so many beautiful things to see while just walking down the street. Find yourself a walking tour or a list of attractions and get out there.

Fifth: The public transportation system is awesome. I know it seems intimidating and you aren’t sure you will ever understand the tram schedules. It’s way simpler than you think, and you will be able to go so many places you could never find on foot. You will amaze yourself with how well you can navigate without google maps or anyone else’s help. You’ll even end up giving people directions a few times.

Sixth: You can be self-sufficient. You don’t need your family or your friends to do things. You can go out and navigate and visit places all by yourself and nothing bad will happen. Your confidence gets so much better once you realize that. Just go for it and you will amaze yourself with what you can do on your own. And once you realize you can do it by yourself in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, know that it only gets easier when you get home. The extra independence and confidence doesn’t end when you leave Prague.

Seventh, and last: don’t forget to have fun. Sure, you’re there to study and to travel but the underlying aim to this whole trip is to have fun. You will get through the stress and the doubt and you will be stronger for it, but the point isn’t to struggle through it. The point is to enjoy it.

Be safe. Have fun. And enjoy every minute of it. I know I did,


What do I miss most about Prague?

Several months down the line it’s kind of crazy to think about my summer abroad. The places I’ve been, the people I met all seem so close and so far away at the same time. As happy as I’ve been to come home and see my family and friends again there are a lot of things I really miss about Prague and my time there.

  1. The food – not necessarily anything billed as “traditional Czech food” because I really like vegetables and most of those dishes are very meat and bread heavy. However, I had some of the best food I’ve ever eaten while I was in Europe especially when I looked beyond the touristy, heavily traveled areas. There were two Italian restaurants within five minutes of my apartment and a wonderful Thai place that was well worth the fifteen-minute tram ride.
  2. The public transportation system – speaking of the trams I absolutely loved the public transportation system, not only in Prague, but in every city I visited. Prague has a giant system of trams, metros and buses that will get you anywhere you need to go in a very reasonable amount of time. I’ve heard other people who traveled say that they were glad to come home and get to drive their cars again. I was the opposite. I was perfectly happy hopping a tram every day and letting someone else drive so I could just take everything in.
  3. The architecture – I don’t know if that’s quite the right way to put it, but living in a building that’s been standing far longer than I’ve been alive and walking down the street and seeing the beauty of the buildings was a never-ending treat for me. The fact that modern buildings stuck out like sore thumbs was so different than what I’m used to back home. In the states old is a few hundred years. In Prague the “new bridge” (as described by our tour guide) dates to the 1300’s. The weight of history there is much greater than it is in the States and there is so much to learn and to see just in the facades of the buildings.
  4. The quiet – this sounds kind of odd, but Czechs in general are very quiet, at least in public, and there are strict nighttime quiet laws that reinforce that. It was somewhat surreal to walk through a crowded plaza and hear a tenth, if that, of the noise you would hear in a similarly crowded area here in the states. It became incredibly clear very quickly that the stereotype of the loud American is very true, and especially in Prague it doesn’t take a lot to be “that person.” I’m a quiet person to begin with so this aspect of life in Prague really suited me and sometimes now that I’m home crowds here can be a little overwhelmingly loud in comparison.
  5. The travel – I didn’t travel as much as many other people I’ve talked to, but I really loved it. Seeing other cities and countries is a truly amazing experience and it’s so easy and affordable to do so in Europe. My trips were well worth the time and I only wish I had been able to travel more.

I could go on. There are so many things I miss about my time abroad and now that I’m home I’m just itching for a chance to go back.

Hello from Prague!

So I wrote this two weeks ago (ish) and forgot to post it so it’s a little behind but still relevant. Here we go!

I can’t believe it’s already August and I’m going home in less than 48 hours. It’s been an incredible summer and I still can’t believe it’s been nine weeks already. Prague is beautiful and I’m so in love with this city that I don’t really want to leave.

My first week here I was honestly kind of afraid I had made a huge mistake. In orientation they talked about the honeymoon period where everything is amazing and then the low where you might start thinking this was a bad idea and compare your temporary home unfavorably to home in the states. I pretty much skipped the honeymoon period and jumped right into freaking out about the new language, the culture, how on earth am I supposed to figure out where I’m going? And oh god they want me to use public transportation, how on earth do you read the tram schedules?? I was really afraid that maybe study abroad wasn’t for me, and that I shouldn’t have come at all.

Fortunately, that feeling didn’t last long. By the end of the first week I had attended three days of class, was riding the trams with no trouble and managed to successfully navigate a grocery store where none of the signs are in English. I started to adjust and instead of feeling overwhelming I started to enjoy the cultural differences I was seeing. People are people, whether in the Czech Republic or the United States, so it was just a matter of adjusting to slightly different expectations. If you’re willing to pay attention, it’s not terribly difficult to go with the flow and fit into the crowd.

I have really loved living in Prague, but there are some definite differences it might have been nice to know about. So for anyone thinking about studying abroad here or even just visiting, here are some things to remember:

  1. It’s really quiet here – you don’t realize how loud Americans are until you get used to crowded places in the Czech Republic. And?l is a central area about five minutes’ walk from my apartment where there are two tram stops, a metro station, a mall, and a number of stores and restaurants within about 100 meters of each other. I’ve never been there at a time when there were less than one hundred people in view. In the states that many people would be making enough noise to deafen you, but here it’s barely a quiet murmur. And when using public transportation, an entirely full tram car is usually almost completely silent. It takes some getting used to, but I honestly really like it. I’m pretty quiet for the most part so I fit right in. It does, however, make the tourists who aren’t trying to be subtle stand out like a sore thumb. You can spot them immediately just by the amount of noise they’re making. The stereotype of the noisy American makes a lot more sense to me now.
  2. Do use public transportation – It’s amazing. I can get almost anywhere I want to go in twenty minutes or less without having to drive or deal with traffic. There is a huge network of trams, metros, and buses that will get you anywhere in the city and the schedules might look hard to read, but they’re actually very logical once you get over how many numbers there are. Just be aware that Prague’s public transportation system runs on the honor system. You don’t have to buy a ticket in order to ride but if you don’t once you enter the tram/bus or the ticket required areas of the metro stations you are subject to random checks by transportation officials. If you don’t have a paper ticket that you validate when you enter or a valid Líta?ka card (a card you can load with a month or more’s worth of ride credit. Definitely get one of these, it’s worth it and it’ll pay for itself with how much you use public transportation) then you may end up with a hefty fine. So follow the rules and you’re good. Plus, two months of credit was less than twenty-five dollars. And I use public transportation at least two times a day, usually more.
  3. Air conditioning is not standard. And you probably won’t find it most places – honestly, until the last week of the program we haven’t needed it. This week we’ve had temperatures in the nineties, which is somewhat unusual here, and we could have used AC but the rest of the summer I’ve been really comfortable. I have a couple of elbow length sweaters that I have worn a lot because the temperatures have usually leaned a little cool rather than too hot.

That’s all for now! I’m sure I’ll think of other things but those are the big ones anyway. Hope everyone’s having a summer as awesome as mine!