I was truly quite nervous for my semester aboard in Prague, Czech Republic. This was mainly due to the fact that I have never left the United States before now. The idea of spending over three months away from home immersed in a culture that I had no prior knowledge of was quite daunting and nerve-racking to say the least. Yet, I was still excited and anxious to get the whole experience started. A comforting aspect about Prague is that most people speak English, and though at varying levels, it makes going to the grocery store or restaurants much easier than you would think. We have been taking intensive Czech language classes for over a week and though we are learning a lot, it is hard to say more than hello and thank you when going about our daily business. Something I have noticed though is that native Czech residents really do appreciate the effort we make when trying to communicate in their language. In our first few days here, we were extremely careful to not be disrespect or rude when in public places, yet we found that many people were giving us dirty looks for no apparent reason. We then learned that the reality is Czech people do not really care for tourists, and particularly American tourists. Rarely would we sit down at a restaurant and get a smile paired with a hello, how are you? It was always harsh, straight and to the point, and honestly rude because we were starting every conversation with hello in English. Once we learned the basic Czech words necessary to say hello, how are you, etc. we immediately were greeted with smiles and a more accepting nature. It was quite amazing to witness the difference despite the fact that we were only using a sentence or two to break the barrier. This was something our UPCES faculty emphasized throughout orientation; they explained how we would be much more welcomed once our Czech language courses began and we could operate on a basic level in Czech. The reality is that we are foreigners here; this is something I am obviously not used to nor did I really think about it before I got here. Now that I have had some time to take it all in, I realize that it makes sense that residents of Prague may not love hundreds of American college students running around the city for three months.
Nonetheless, I am very pleased with our time here thus far. As I mentioned above I had never been outside the U.S. until now, and I had a lot of goals and aspirations for this entire experience, but all of them revolved around immersing myself in as many different European cultures as possible. I am no expert on Czech culture, but I feel as though my friends and I are making an effort to learn as much as possible. This includes going to historic Czech landmarks such as the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle. We are eating in Old Town (the oldest part of Prague with many historic sites) at restaurants that are known for being the best native establishments in the whole city. We’ve eaten goulash (the most common Czech meal) and have tried all sorts of foods that prior to now, I had not even heard of! In all honesty, the entire experience has been a bit of a whirlwind. Like I said, I was extremely nervous but also excited for this experience to begin and I feel as though we have definitely jumped in head first. It was been a lot to handle, but our program has done an excellent job maintaining our schedules and ensuring we are not too overwhelmed with everything. For me, it comes down to making the most of this entire experience; this means embracing every opportunity when it comes to cultural differences, travel opportunities, classroom experiences, etc. It truly is off to a great start and I look forward to sharing more of our day-to-day experiences once we start our regular class schedule and begin settling in fully.