It has come to the point in the year when the weather really begins to take a toll and affect the semester here in Prague. We had the first snow quite early (in October) and since then, it has been increasingly cold and dark. Thus, there are a lot of changes in the overall mood and energy level in Prague.
First of all, we have been here for more than half of the 3.5 months, so the excitement of living in Prague has kind of worn off. Not that I don’t enjoy it anymore, but in the beginning everything was new. I could have a full schedule everyday (school, volunteering, social events, traveling etc.) and not get tired; it was all just so new exciting that my energy never wore out. However, now it is getting much harder to go from activity to activity day after day. It is the similar phenomenon that happens at school at IU, too. After about 2 months, everyone is worn out from school and yearning for a break.
One major difference is that I don’t even have weekends to relax because of traveling. While traveling is always really fun, it can be quite exhausting to try to see as many sites in 48 hours as possible. Thus, I find myself having to devote days to relaxing and rejuvenating before I can resume with my (always) full schedule. It is always so refreshing just to spend an evening at home watching a movie or just chatting with my host parents. That would be my recommendation to anyone who feels like they are getting overworked and overwhelmed while studying abroad. I know that there are always things to be done, events to go to, and people to see; but remember that it is okay to take a couple of days off and give your body rest. It is better to do this than to risk getting really sick or completely exhausting yourself.
Another contributing factor to this ensuing exhaustion is daylight saving time. In Prague, we moved our clocks back one week before everyone in the United States. And I don’t know why, but I am feeling the effects of the time change much more here than I ever have in the U.S. It is just so depressing when I get out of class at 4 or 5 PM and it is already dark out, and not just sunset, but dark like midnight. Thus, it is just that much more difficult to do homework or go out with friends, etc. It is a daily battle to not succumb to the darkness and sleep all day. Especially when it is cold outside and I just want to stay in my bed. I’m aware that this is not a unique phenomenon but that almost everyone is affected greatly by this, but it just seems especially dark especially early here in Prague.
The biggest effect that I have felt from the changing weather is a huge increase in homesickness. The transition from fall to winter signifies the desire to be in a familiar place, to be with friends or family, to be curled up by a fire, or to sleep in your own bed. And none of these things are possible while living here in Prague. Living with a host family does help greatly to combat the homesickness, but I still have days when I really wish to be back in America, especially at IU or home. One of the best ways to overcome this – which may sound silly – is to go to a restaurant or store that is either American or seems very American. I often find myself craving to go to Starbucks, because it is my primary homework-ing spot back at IU. There are also a lot of shopping malls in Prague, and even though none of the stores are American, they give me the illusion of being back in America. (However, I can never stay at the mall very long because all malls, restaurants, and movie theaters here are always so hot. Instead of excessive air conditioning like in America, there is excessive heating in buildings over here.) For example, the other week I went to a large grocery store with my host family. As we were walking up and down the aisles, I oddly felt like I was home in America. The store seemed just like a Wal-Mart or Kroger or any other common grocery store. Not that I particularly look forward to going to the grocery store at home or in Prague, but it is comforting to be in a place that is reminiscent of daily life in America.
Though the ensuing winter weather has greatly affected the semester, I don’t want to give the idea that living in Prague is not fun anymore. I still enjoy my classes, my volunteering, and going to social events with friends or family. However, it is getting a lot more tiring – I have been “going” for more than 2 months straight. Unfortunately, we don’t get any type of fall or Thanksgiving break, so this also contributes to the exhaustion. This is the perfect time for a break – even just a few days off – in order to rejuvenate, be able to relax and take time while traveling (as opposed to the hurried weekend trips) and get ahead on final papers and projects for the end of the semester.
Since we don’t have any type of break, it is really important to give yourself a break, to take a day or evening off from your busy schedule and rest. Also, when you feel the homesickness coming on or taking over, don’t be afraid to go to T.G.I. Friday’s for dinner. It’s really helpful to get a taste of American culture just to make you feel more at home. I am trying to keep my spirits high by taking appropriate time to rest and by going to Starbucks on the regular – how pathetic – because when you are abroad, it is much more difficult to feel the comforts of home. Regardless of the fast approaching cold and winter, I am looking forward to what all Prague has to offer during the holiday season!