When I told people I was going to be studying abroad in Prague in Spring 2014, most responses from my friends and family were along the lines of “Where is Pray-g?” During my first conversation with my parents about the trip, my dad still thought Prague was in Czechoslovakia. Upon initially discovering the program, I’ll admit I had a similar reaction (and my own share of pronunciation mistakes). I had come across the program almost by chance – before then, I hadn’t given much thought to the Czech Republic aside from having vague memories of trying to figure out how to say “Czech” in high school while was learning the capitals of Europe.
These days, if someone asks me about Prague they will need to settle in for a long conversation about its history, art scene and unique culture- especially the beer. I came back to the US a changed person: someone with newfound independence and knowledge from living and travelling abroad, and also as a total beer snob. I look back at my decision to study in Prague and consider myself extremely lucky that I made the choice to travel to somewhere less well known, tempting as it was to go to Australia or England.
I remember one of the first nights of my trip, my study abroad group went out for dinner with our dorm advisor. I’ll never forget the seriously dirty look my dorm advisor gave one of my classmates when she ordered wine instead of beer. Beer culture was one of the easiest differences to spot between Prague and the US. On one of the last nights of my trip, my professor took us out for drinks while we went over our exam study guide. At first it was kind of weird – albeit, the good kind of weird – to be able to order a drink without even thinking about showing my ID, but I quickly adjusted to the freedom of being able to order a beer with dinner (or any other meal).
To be honest, I had more freedom in Prague than I knew what to do with. I could get on a bus for 30 dollars and find myself in a different country 2 hours later. It was all a bit overwhelming in the beginning, so I tended to stick close with my friends and follow the crowd; I was fine just going along with whatever everyone else wanted to do. But after a few trips with a dozen or so students, I found that travelling with a big group wasn’t really my style. Trying to coordinate with so many people was exhausting, and I was getting tired of the strict itineraries the others seemed to favor – my favorite part of exploring a new city is wandering around and getting lost (while mentally thanking Vodafone for its free location services on my smart phone so I could find my way back), then figuring out what I wanted to do once I got to know the place. Unfortunately, it was difficult to convince my classmates to nix the museums in favor of wandering around all day in the chilly Central European winter.
I found a few people who I was more compatible travelling with and it made a world of difference. I also got the opportunity to travel with someone I’d never gone travelling with before: myself. I decided that I wanted to try going on a trip alone.
Getting on a bus to Vienna by myself was pretty terrifying, but I made it out alive and changed. Travelling by myself was one of the most challenging and nerve-wracking things I’ve ever done, but also one of the most rewarding. When I was with with a group, it was easy to stay in my safety bubble where you don’t have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable or interact with anyone outside the group.
When I was in Vienna alone, I had to do something I never had to do when travelling with a group: talk to people. It wasn’t easy since I’m usually pretty introverted, but the interactions I was forced to have ended up being one of the coolest experiences I had while abroad. I shared a room in my hostel with three other twenty-something year old women, two of them traveling together and one of them by herself. I connected with the woman travelling by herself – a Portuguese nurse – and we shared stories about our lives and our travels. On the way home, I ended up chatting with a German guitar player about the Big Bang Theory. In the end, I was grateful for being forced out of my comfort zone because it made me more comfortable with the world around me.
Devon Tull, firstname.lastname@example.org
Semester Abroad in Prague