Ahoj!!! I can’t believe that I have already been in Prague for 2 weeks! What I can’t believe even more is that I’m going to be here for 3 more months!! The first week was – although very informative – very hectic. We spent each day touring the city with our “Czech Buddies”: Czech students who have volunteered to help us out and show us around the city. They help us learn the transportation systems and locate important places in Prague. These tours would normally last about 3 hours. Then in the afternoon we had three or four informational sessions covering the details outlined in our program handbook. The sessions would be about academics, extra-curricular opportunities, cultural expectations, and just how to navigate the upcoming semester. Basically each day was filled with so much walking and absorbing of new sites and information that I couldn’t wait to get to bed every night, yet couldn’t wait to explore more the next day!
Over the past week, this program has done a great job in informing me about logistics. I feel quite prepared on technical side of how the semester will operate, thanks to the trusted program handbook! However, what the program staff can’t teach you is how to adjust with all of the emotional and social difficulties: you have to learn to adjust on your own. I have experienced a good amount of adjusting problems, especially since I am living in a home stay. On the first day, I was extremely nervous to meet my family. I wondering so many things: What are they like? Do they speak English? What if they don’t like me or vice versa?
I am extremely happy with my host family! The adults of the adults of the family – Lenka and Jirka – are so accommodating and love to tell me about/show me interesting things around Prague. For example, Jirka showed me all of the traditional pub foods to eat with your beverage – a very tactful piece of knowledge! And their sons – Matyáš (14) and Adriano (10) – are also nice and try to include me in their activities and daily lives. Although they don’t know as much English, we try to communicate in both Czech and English as much as we can. Thus, while it has been a little awkward adjusting to the lifestyle of a different family, this is not the part that has been difficult.
In my program, you have 3 options of where to live: dorm, apartment, or home stay. Out of around 100 students in my program, I would say about half are in dorms, about half in apartments…. and then there’s the few, the proud, the home stays. I am one of 8 students that chose to live with a family. And while this provides numerous benefits – home-cooked meals, my own room, a house to live in, multicultural experiences – there are also some major tradeoffs living with a family. The major difference between living in the apartments or dorms versus the home stay is the level of independence required. I don’t live with any other students, so I have to be more proactive with planning social events outside of class; it’s very easy to get left out unless I make an effort. Also, the apartments/dorms are close to the city center, while I have to commute about 45 minutes to get to the center of Prague. Thus, it is logistically easier for the other students to go out and explore the city. A lot of times, I hear about their stories from the night or day before and feel left out. And for a few days even, I was really worried that I would become extremely isolated and not make friends with any of the other students. Would I just become the loner that only hung out with my host family?
In the midst of all my internal worry, I carried on exploring the city – whether with other students or not didn’t really matter. One day last week, though, a group of us were walking around the Charles Bridge, the main “tourist” bridge located near the city center at the base of the hill where Prague Castle stands. While meandering around, one of the girls mentioned that the Lennon Wall was nearby. The Lennon Wall is famous for the graffiti painted on it after the death of Beatles’ legend John Lennon. Still today, it is legal to graffiti on this wall and this wall only in Prague. The site of this wall was absolutely breathtaking and inspiring. Colorful quotations of popular Beatles lyrics were layered over each other, creating an inspirational mosaic worthy of a few moments peaceful self-reflection. More than just words spray-painted on concrete, this wall is a work of art. And as I skimmed over and browsed the various epitaphs, one in particular stuck out to me: “Let it be.”
“Let it be”- three words so simple, yet so profound. This phrase cut straight through my frantic thoughts about how I was going to adjust in Prague. I am reminded that I need not fret so much about being included in every social event or about having to travel longer to get to school or the city. I didn’t come to Prague to make lifelong friends with other American students. Not that I don’t want to make friends of course, but this is not the main objective. I came here to experience a culture unfamiliar to my own: to meet natives, to learn the language, to explore my surroundings and hopefully learn something along the way. And so far I have learned something very important: Just let it be. Worrying about every detail will just pollute your experience. Take each day as it comes, and you will learn as you continue to make mistakes.
Thus, if you plan on studying abroad – which I hope many of you do – consider your housing choice wisely, and be aware that each option comes with its own set of baggage. Already while living in a home stay, I have learned that I must be more independent and okay with venturing out on my own a lot of times. I may not be involved in everything social, but I also get a more hands-on, real-life cultural experience living with a family. And in this process, I am learning to become surer of myself and of my own personal goals while I am living in Prague – and that is something the program handbook could never teach me.