CIEE, the American program I am studying with in Prague, is one of the most organized programs I have ever seen. Although before I came abroad, my parents and I had little to no information about where I was going to live, what the deal was with my class schedule…etc., CIEE has officially answered my every inquiry and more.
I felt a sense of comfort and familiarity when I got off the plane to see bright orange signs with smiling Czech students waving at me. As soon as everyone had landed and retrieved their luggage, all 140 of us were taken by bus to an extremely nice hotel in Prague for two days where we were fed breakfast, and underwent numerous sessions of orientation.
In these sessions we were presented with information about how to ride the transportation systems called the Tram and the Metro, how to find cheap flights for travel, emergency contact numbers for just about every emergency one can dream up, everyone was assigned to apartments all over Prague, and most importantly we were each given a Czech cell phones in order to communicate with each other and our parents for a small price.
Over the course of orientation, we were also taught numerous Prague survival tips and facts that were necessary to know about living in the Czech Republic in comparison to America, such as the different customs and cultural differences. More specifically, however, all of the CIEE students on my program and I had to learn how to assimilate into Czech culture. Having traveled before, I was always content with being a tourist, but felt that I was able to blend in quite well. Clearly I have never traveled anywhere quite like the Czech Republic because blending in here is not easy.
Almost every apartment, and those that live in the Charles University dorms in CIEE are assigned to a “Czech buddy”. My buddy, Anna, is super sweet and understanding of the fact that we are all in unfamiliar territory. All of the buddies have been helping us assimilate into society here, and I don’t know what we would do without them.
There are many small cultural differences in Prague that might seem very unique to Americans. For example, on Trams and Metros, it is impolite to have loud conversations or talk at all. As you can already guess, being loud Americans from big cities and having way too much excitement about studying abroad, we learned this the hard way.
Secondly, Czech people come off as somewhat grumpy and unfriendly in passing. It is not common in Czech culture for people to smile when you make eye contact with them on the street or when you enter a store. It is not to say that the Czech people are rude, they are just more reserved when it comes to their emotions, but an American tourist might not initially recognize this.
Another reason a tourist might be wary of the Czech people is the fact that although most of them do speak some English, sometimes they pretend they do not know how. I have noticed that Czechs have a very low tolerance for disrespect in terms of tourists who do not try to immerse themselves, which makes total sense if you ask me. If you immediately begin speaking in English, a Czech person might get offended and pretend they cannot understand you. An easy trick for this problem is to just say “Dobry den”, which means good day, and then “mluvite anglicky”, “Do you speak English?”. Once you have uttered these two phrases, you are most likely in the clear and you typically wont offend any Czech people by speaking in English. Although there are definite times when Czech people really cannot understand your English, that is a story for another time.