Seven days, seven days. I’m one week out from my return to the States and I feel like I’ve returned to a whole new world (cue the Aladdin song). Well, ok, no not really a “whole new world” that’s an over exaggeration but just like I expected the world went on without me while I was gone and things changed. The one-lane road by my house that was always congested with traffic now boasts two lanes, a new Wal-Mart was built 5 minutes away while I was gone, and my parents sublet parts of our house to new tenants I’d never met. Luckily, I’ve been too busy trying to find a job and getting re-acquainted with life on this side of the world to really dwell on these things. However, today was a slow rainy day, a day in which I stayed indoors and had hours and hours on which to ponder on what I’ve already dubbed “my old life”. I know the trick to getting used to my pace of life at home will be to stay busy and continue doing the things I did before I left. I have to find a job for the summer (or longer), deliver many gifts to friends and family, and try not to start every sentence with “when I was in Prague…” the latter may take a while to get used too.
Last night at around 9 o’clock at night I landed at Dulles International Airport, officially marking the end of my study abroad adventure. My last weekend in Prague was uneventful in a good way. I walked to all of the sites I cared to see and did some shopping too. I’m glad I waited until the very end of my trip to see the sites because I could appreciate everything with “experienced” eyes and laugh at all the Russian Matryoshka dolls (will post picture if you have no idea what I mean) inside the souvenir shops. Fyi, they have nothing to do with Prague or the Czech Republic. A wave of nostalgia hit me hard the night before leaving as I packed and cleaned up in the room, I had to pack all the gifts I bought for friends and family and in doing so I relived the memories of my trips, nights out, and too much drinking. This trip became more than I could imagine, without a doubt, I know I learned more outside of the classroom than in it, I got used to making mistakes, saying the wrong thing, and having to navigate cities without any knowledge of the language. After close to five months in Prague, I left with an understanding of basic phrases “hello” “yes/no” “thank you” and the most frequently used word in my vocabulary “sorry”. I can read and understand the menu (usually) and I can count (sort of). Since I only took two weeks of intensive Czech at the beginning of the program all of the “useless” stuff has been forgotten now. I made it by with just the essential knowledge necessary for my everyday needs, for everything else Google translator would have to do. I will surely miss that crazy language though.
By the time I got home yesterday I was running on about 4 hours of sleep and was going on 24 hours of being awake. I was tired and homesick for Prague…and I just keep thinking about how I will deal with the reverse culture shock. I’m a mega worrywart and even though I’ve been home less than 24 hours “real life” has really started to sink in and I’m in a panic! Does UMW have a “post study abroad” self help group? I think I might need to start one.
Na shledanou Praha. (Goodbye Prague)
I think everyone who studies abroad has a “list” of things that they’re going to do, food they’re going to eat, and places they’re going to visit once they land home. I know I do, I can almost smell the sweet American air, I’m two weeks away from giving my mom and dad a long awaited hug and kiss, two weeks away from pinching my three-year-old nephew’s chubby little cheeks, and two weeks away from being reunited with my boyfriend. In my head, I have an unofficial list of things I can’t wait to do when I get home, at the same time I’m trying to remember to enjoy what little time I have left in Prague. In any case, I figured I would make my imaginary list real by posting it on this blog, this way when I get home I have even more motivation to do these things, simple as they may be. So here goes…..
1. Have a great big American steak with mashed potatoes, salad, and an ice cold coke
2. Walk around Target maybe shop a bit too.
3. Listen to Pandora! It’s not available in Europe.
4. Rent a Redbox movie (also not available in Europe)
5. Go to Cap Ale for $2 Burger Night with my friends
6. Have my first legal drink in the States, maybe at Happy Hour
7. Visit the sites in Washington, DC…I’ve lived in the area all my life and never gone to see all the monuments.
8. On the same note, visit Ben’s Chilli Bowl, another DC landmark I have neglected.
9. Take my nephew to the playground
10. Enjoy my mom’s homemade cooking…and her time (:
11. Have a day dedicated to bonding with my sister
12. Go to a summer concert
13. Relax and be happy!
The picture you see to your right is a representation of what one would encounter if they decided to visit the most
popular sights in the city on a holiday. You would inevitably run into hordes and hordes of people on the street, on the train, on the bus, in the bathroom, virtually any place in the city would be swarmed with tourists and locals who have the day off. Today and tomorrow are bank holidays here, in celebration of Labor Day. If I’m not mistaken this is the equivalent of a federal holiday in the states, which means unless you are one of the unlucky few who happens to work at a place that sells things you have two days off.
I was sitting in my room today, bored out of my mind and I decided I might as well step out and venture into the city and visit the major sites, all of which I have so far neglected to visit. First, I underestimated how hot it is outside today as soon as I stepped out into the sun I thought to myself, “I wonder how long I’ll be able to force myself to amble aimlessly in this unbearable weather”, my answer would come 45 minutes later, but I’m getting ahead of the story. I took the metro towards Staromestska, which is close to the Old Town Square, I’ve been there before but hadn’t participated in the whole “touristy” thing. In the end, I decided that maybe it would be better to go across the river and explore completely uncharted territory. I got off instead at the Malostranska stop and took a tram to Namesti Malostranska (Malostranska Square). Immediately, I was overwhelmed by the amount of tourists I saw and heard all around me. I noticed a lot more Czech school kids who were out and about (how could I forget that they get the day off of school, too?) families with babies and huge awkward strollers abounded all over. I looked around and thought, “I’m not feeling this”. I settled for grabbing some goulash soup in a bread bowl at a nearby cafe and promptly headed home, the Charles Bridge could wait for me to conquer it some other time. Besides, I saw some pictures my friend took of when she went to the bridge at dawn and it looked so beautiful and serene. I think I would enjoy having it all to myself and watching the sunrise, than sharing it at three in the afternoon with a bunch of hot, sweaty tourists.
Tomorrow, one of my professors at school is taking us on a “field trip”, we’re meeting at the Old Town Square and walking around Prague to see if we can find any protests or demonstrations…not that we’re not warned about staying away from political demonstrations while abroad or anything, right?
In any case, at the bottom of this post are a few photos I took today…enjoy. Please note the crowds and babies, I am not exaggerating!
This weekend I was supposed to travel to the beautiful city of Venice, Italy and spend a long weekend traveling across the region and maybe even visit the beach. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control (ok, well partly out of my control) I was forced to forfeit my trip and any visions of me eating gelato on a water taxi. I would have been more upset by the way these events unfolded if it had not been for the fact that I had a final the morning my flight was set to take off. While, I welcome the opportunity to travel, skipping a final is completely unacceptable (stay in school kids!) and so on Thursday morning I took my final exam and brainstormed what to do with all the extra time I would have doing nothing in Prague. I’m lucky because at UMW I never find myself troubled with TOO much extra time, it just does not happen, something else that does not happen is pleasant 80° F weather in Prague. So in essence, if there was one weekend to stay in Prague this one would be it. It seemed like out of nowhere the flowers bloomed, the trees sprouted leaves and the world was filled with color, I think I even saw the native Czechs walk around……smiling?! Even though I was forced to give up one of my most coveted trips at least all my accumilated good karma resulted in incredible weather for exploring a city that I learn to love (or cope with, same thing right?) more everyday.
I’m taking a class here called EU Integration, I signed up for it because I’m an International Affairs major, I’m supposed to learn stuff like this eventually, right? The class meets twice a week and pretty much focuses on how the European Union came to be. Up until the midterm we studied the Maastricht Treaty, and vague terms like the “Enlargement”, “Deepening”, and “Expansion” of the EU. Class always has the same structure and my classmates have picked up the same routine. We were each assigned a country that is a member of the EU and at the beginning of every class period we must provide a brief summary of a news story that is relevant to the state of the EU. We are dubbed “experts” on our respective countries, and from the title of this post you may have gathered that I’m the expert on Italian affairs. What’s funny to me though is that when class starts you can see everybody frantically connecting to the school wifi on their phones or iPods and scrambling for a computer in search of an EU relevant article about their respective country. This routine always amuses me for two reasons:
#1- You know that you have to do this ahead of time, twice a week!
#2- It takes at most 10 minutes out of your life.
I pride myself on keeping up with world events, so I usually don’t have to scramble for some information on my country 30 seconds before the professor walks in the door, but I must admit it has happened before. I think I even read a news headline straight from my phone when it was my turn to share on one occasion. If all else fails, every once in a while our professor let’s us get away with “there’s really nothing going on with [insert country] today” this is easier to do if say you’re the expert for Estonia or the ever neutral Switzerland. Sometimes one of my classmates who (obviously) didn’t read the news over the weekend will fib and say that there was nothing in the news, and the professor will spend 15 minutes talking about all the different news stories related to the country. I never mind because it takes away from the actual course content which is unbearable to listen too. After midterms the class turned to focus on the Lisbon Treaty, and of course the best way to go over the Lisbon Treaty is to talk about every article in the treaty which by the way is made up of 290+ articles. Let’s just say, I started running out of things to doodle in my notebook and started coming up with blog post ideas instead. Upon my return to the States I plan to regale strangers at parties with my extraneous knowledge on Silvio Burlesconi’s prostitution trial, Italian bonds, or the riveting content of the articles that make up the Lisbon Treaty. Do not be jealous if I suddenly become the most sought after figure for UMW social events, you have been forewarned.
Every time I ride a tram in Prague I look for the opportunity to get a window seat. Why? I suppose it’s because it still does not seem real to me how picturesque this city is! It’s gotten to the point where I don’t notice the ugly graffiti letters on the buildings anymore, I just look around and take in the views of the river, the castles in the distance, and the many spires atop churches and buildings across Prague. It certainly doesn’t feel like home but it also doesn’t feel foreign, it’s like I’ve discovered my own little haven away from Virginia, the state I’ve lived in my entire life. I definitely haven’t fallen in love with this place for the people. To start off, Czechs are overall serious and reserved, furthermore, the language barrier has prevented me from really getting to know any true Czechs. The food here, as I think I’ve said before, is not exactly to my liking. However, I’m a sucker for the cobblestone paths and winding roads (even though I’ve ruined my favorite pair of boots this way) and Prague’s history is interesting and impressive. I don’t think I could spend the rest of my life here, there are many things I miss constantly but for now I’m content and I don’t see myself anywhere else.
—-This could be YOU if you lived in Prague!—-
This post is meant to serve two purposes. First, I hope that anyone who might be considering studying abroad in the future takes into consideration my advice and uses my experience as a cautionary tale for their own future endeavors. Secondly, I hope to vent a little steam in regards to my current housing situation.
So let’s begin, in Prague I live in a lovely flat near the center of town with four other girls from the program. I’m used to living with other people, I’ve grown up all my life living with extended family in cramped quarters where I’ve learned the value of sharing and keeping what I hold near and dear far away from any greedy hands. At UMW, I’ve lived in doubles, I’ve had a single, I’ve even stayed in Eagle Landing and shared a “full-blown” apartment. I would like to think that all this experience makes me an AMAZING roommate, ok maybe not, but at least I can stay out of people’s way.
As I researched study abroad programs a year ago, I was very focused on the type of living arrangements available, for the most part my options were living with a host family, apartments with program students, and some universities also had on-campus housing for students. I knew going into my search that I did not want to live with a host family. The idea of living with a family I didn’t know was something I didn’t feel comfortable with and I also realized that I would have to put a lot more effort into making friends, which can be frightening in a new country. A host family is a great way to live and “get local” but I didn’t want to be tied down by curfews or feel like a house guest who overstayed a visit. Call me crazy, but those are the things that came to mind when I pictured myself going home to a host family every night.
Dorms or apartments became a better option for me because I could come and go as I please and I would be surrounded by students who were going through the same trials and tribulations I was facing. Well as most things do, apartment life started out well, I have the freedom I want and the proximity to my peers but there is A LOT more responsibility. This responsibility manifests itself in the many chores that the five of us are required to do in order to keep our apartment livable. As the weeks have gone by I can certainly say that my quality of life has gone waaaaay down.
I’ve always semi-mocked the roommate agreements that we have to fill out when living on campus every year, but I completely regret not having at least a discussion about chores and responsibilities around the apartment at the beginning of the semester. Trust me, communication with your roommates is key! Had we opted to sit and talk about who’s turn it would be to buy toilet paper or dish soap, or set up a cleaning schedule it would have made the experience of living in an apartment a lot more comfortable. I mean, I like surprises just as much as anyone else, I just ask that we keep dish soap around, people!
At this point there is less than a month before we all leave and I don’t think I will be having a roommate discussion, so if you’re non-confrontational or lazy like me, I’ve found an alternative to a roommate intervention. Keep a secret stash of the essentials and eat out as much as possible!
I love to open up my e-mail and have a notification from the program director that there is mail waiting for me in the office. Usually, it means that my friend Zach has sent me a postcard with updates on his life and the on-goings at UMW; on one particular occasion though, I was certain that the “mail” being referred to in my inbox was a long-awaited package from home. During a weak moment of homesickness I had called home and whined to my mom about how Prague and it’s cuisine was not satisfying my dietary needs she agreed to send me some staples of my favorite home foods. She put together a package filled with latin spices, refried beans, dry pasta sauce, authentic Salvadoran cheese, and corn masa, among other things. When I went to the office at school I was bewildered to find a letter from the Czech post office in place of my long-awaited items from home. After a rather lengthy translation of my letter courtesy of the program director, I foound that my package was being held in Customs and my cheese, of all things, had been confiscated. Was I still allowed to pick up my package? Yes, but I had to pay a fee of 900 czk for it’s disposal that’s about $45 USD, needless to say I was incredulous but I paid it. Moral of the story, when it comes to cheese, the EU doesn’t play games my friend.
I apologize for the weird picture alignment in this post but I hope you all are still able to appreciate my images of Prague metro stations! I have to ride the metro almost everywhere and in my travels I have noticed how each station seems to have its own unique art or theme. The Prague metro is really easy to learn how to use and if you look at the name of the station next to it you will see a square that is either red, yellow, or green so you know which line you’re on. Also, each one of these stations has a different significance in my day to day life in Prague.
Dejvická: I rarely visit this station, but if I’m headed to the airport for a trip this is where I would get off!
Muzeum: A very “touristy” station. This station drops you off near the National Museum and onto Wenceslas Square, it’s also a transfer stop so this station is always busy and full of people coming and going.
Náměstí Republiky: Another very “touristy” station. There is a (tourist) mall here called Palladium and lots of restaurants, hotels, bars etc all around. It’s name can be translated to Republic Square.
Mustek: This station will drop you off on Wenceslas Square on the opposite end of the Muzeum stop, again this is a good place to get off in Prague if you want to go shopping, clubbing, or find expensive places to eat.
Chodov: By far my favorite place to visit in Prague! Chodov is away from all the touristy spots in Prague but is still in a really nice part of Nove Mesto (New Town) with a modern business complex called “The Park” right across the street from the station. There is a HUGE mall attached to the station as well and there is an Albert Hypermarket (grocery store) on the bottom floor. Chodov is pretty far away from where I live but I really enjoy coming here because it’s a very “Western” area so I feel more at home.
Kobylisy: This is a very large and important area for Prague locals. This is on the outskirts of Prague and a residential area, I have two friends who live off of this metro stop and I will frequently visit them. Here, it’s like a completely different world there are many Cold War era apartment buildings still around and these are rented out to students or are occupied by the elderly. In Kobylisy it’s also quite common to see gas stations, grocery stores, hardware stores etc things you can’t find in the center of Prague.
Images of things I found interesting in my daily wandering.
Czech Intensive classes, last four hours and are everyday! It’s non-stop Czech learning with daily homework and daily quizzes, yes from the get-go and yes, it’s INTENSE.
I write this post after having finished the two weeks of the course and I can say that the homework load was not terrible but in my strain to become a true Prague native and actually use the Czech language I’m struggling to create thoughts in English and my native Spanish, prominte (excuse me) if I make little sense.
Yesterday, Thursday we had our Czech final so thankfully I no longer have to spend hours and hours learning Czech grammar and conjugations. The Czech language is part of the group of Slavic languages and to me there are definite similarities between Czech and Spanish/Arabic. I’ve spoken Spanish all my life and have taken Arabic at UMW for two years, these two languages just like in Czech have male and female ways to conjugate words as well as formal and informal, so if you’re not paying attention it all just becomes a tangled up mess…which is what I felt like in that class.
So for my curious readers out there, let me show you what I’m talking about:
Let’s take a simple verb (verbs I found the most confusing to conjugate) zpívat (to sing):
zpívat just means ‘to sing’ the infinitive form.
If I want to say that ‘I sing’: zpívim
If I want to say informally that ‘you sing’: zpívaš
If I want to say formally that ‘you sing’: zpívate
If I want to say ‘he/she sings’: zpívá
and so on, if I get carried away I’ll start talking about those pesky nouns that can be used as adjectives, or even worse pesky feminine nouns used as adjectives paired with feminine/masculine/neutral nouns and…..I digress. Below you’ll see another picture of my workbook I really did learn a lot in the past two weeks and I can definitely decipher a lot more Czech just based on context clues.