Prague changed me. “It humanized the world – they’re people, not just countries.”
Study Abroad Interview in the Czech Republic.
By Christian Buck, Johnson & Wales University
Meet Alexis, a senior psychology major at Colorado State University minoring in criminal justice. In the of summer 2013 she was able to fulfill class credits through a 6 week study abroad to Prague, Czech Republic. Alexis shares some of her experiences through her studies and the additional travel she did outside of class.
1) Why did you choose this study abroad location? What are the top 5 sites to see?
The location really just came with the program. I didn’t pick the location because it was somewhere I really wanted to go. Instead, it was the only one that gave me credits for two classes I needed in my criminal justice minor. They were basically comparing the general archetypes of USA to Czech criminals. The bonus was that I’d never been there and I love to travel.
As far as sites to see:
- Charles Bridge – it’s BEAUTIFUL! There are three bridge towers, two of them on the Lesser Quarter side and the third one on the Old Town side. The Old Town bridge tower is considered to be one of the most astonishing civil gothic-style buildings in the world
- The Astronomical Clock This 1410 clock is the oldest one in the world still working.
- Old Prague Castle – It’s the largest castle in Europe that’s still a residence! (The Czech President lives there)
- The Jewish quarter – It was very interesting. An area completely surrounded by the old city, it was a walled section of the city that became the ‘Jewish Ghetto’ after the first crusade in 1096.
- “Bone Church” – The “Sedlec Ossuary” or Kutna Hora Bone Church is entirely decorated with human bones/remains. This sounds entirely disgusting but the architect did such an amazing job! It’s located about an hour outside of Prague.
2) How did you live like a local in your study abroad city?
The trip was sponsored and organized by CSU. They arranged an apartment for us to stay in, and it was large enough for 10 people. The apartment was located above a coffee shop where we ate breakfast every morning but for lunch and dinner we were on our own. This allowed us to do our own grocery shopping. Grocery shopping in another language is… interesting.
Additionally, we had to figure out the metro system and locate restaurants nearby on our own too. There was lots of getting lost and then getting ‘un-lost’! The coffee shop was run by locals so we spent a lot of time sitting and talking with them. They gave us ideas and tried teaching us some of the language. Talking with locals will push you out of your shell! It’s not something I normally do, you know the “hey stranger, talk to me about stuff”, but step outside of your comfort zone you’ll get some amazing stories.
3) What was the most amazing cultural experience you encountered while studying abroad?
Learning the Czech culture! The most moving thing was the site of the 1989 Velvet Revolution. It was about the same time as the Iron Curtain falling. Our guide grew up there and her emotion was very impactful. It opened a window into what it was like living behind the Iron Curtain and then navigating through the changes to the Czech of today being a capitalistic system.
Taking the effort to learn some of the Czech language made my interactions with the locals much more fulfilling. Sometimes learning a few simple phrases can lead to a whole discussion (weather you understand or not).
4) How has this study abroad impacted your personal growth?
It has made me realize my place in the world. My time abroad has helped me realize how big the world is, but how little it is at the same time. It made me want to get out and see everything – to travel. But it also made it clear to me that other places deal with the same things – they get up, go to work, their car breaks down – they have the same problems. It humanized the world – they’re people, not just countries.
5) What advice/tips did you get before you went abroad? What about what you’d give now?
Advice received – do the touristy things as soon as you can because you can get bogged down on the day to day and miss out on those attractions.
Now, I’d say don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone. If you don’t, then there’s no reason to go. I will guarantee something will make you uncomfortable – there are different cultural norms and such. I feel like if you don’t get out of your comfort zone then you’re not doing it right. Also don’t be afraid to ask questions. Talk to other people! Ask them about themselves – what are their stories?
6) So you were in the Czech Republic for 6 weeks and did other travelling, what did you do/where did you go?
Our program was set up in two sessions. Classes were always Monday – Thursday or Monday – Wednesday so we always had a long weekend and we could travel.
Krakow, Poland. It was an 8 hour train ride and we didn’t pay the extra for the sleeper car and it was over night – I would say don’t do that! The seats are dead upright and so uncomfortable.
We went to Auschwitz, which is actually 2 camps. Auschwitz is the labor camp and it wasn’t as emotional as I expected it to be. Birkenau is the death camp. It was so intense, I can’t describe it. The textbooks don’t do it justice.
We stayed at a hostel and visited the Wieliczka Salt Mine. This is one of the oldest in the world. It is an underground cathedral made pretty much of all salt and wood.
Vienna, Austria. This was the most expensive weekend trip. We did a bike tour and mostly walked around the city. We visited Freud’s apartment, which to me, a psychology major, was really cool!
Croatia. It’s so pretty there! It was very relaxing – we didn’t do much and that was the beauty of it – exactly what we needed. Our hostel was right on the Adriatic Sea so we could just go jump in for a swim whenever we wanted. Here we didn’t have a guide so when we walked about the ancient ruins we didn’t have a clue what we were looking at, but it was still great.
Budapest, Hungary. This hostel didn’t have air-conditioning and it was REALLY REALLY hot! Here we did try the Turkish bath – it was kind of like a giant swimming pool which was nice to cool off in. We also did another bike tour. I almost died in the heat!
Berlin, Germany While I was in Berlin I stayed with my cousin. I saw the Holocaust Museum and Brandenburg Gate among other things. My cousin left the day before I did so I felt like I was a local living in her apartment!
A great tip to get around a new city is a Segway tour, it was awesome! Very fun and I totally recommend it… except in a city with steep hills – like Prague!