While many study abroad earlier in their school career, I decided to wait until closer to my graduation date so I could begin to network and lay down roots abroad that will help me move back here in the near future. What I wasn’t expecting through my study abroad experience was to come face-to-face with the concept of anonymity, find my focal point to branch my career off of, and finally utter the cliché “I studied abroad in Europe and it changed my life” and mean it.
Back home in Athens, Georgia, I’m known as being the “girl who literally knows everyone.” From being involved with pre-orientation organizations such as Dawg Camp, to my involvement with freshman assimilation through the RHA and NRHH programs, to being co-president of Karma Coffee, committee leader of Inspire UGA, and a pretty funny and recognizable bartender - I’ve had the opportunity to meet a majority of The University of Georgia students. That and I am probably one of the most social and extroverted people you will ever meet; one of my favorite pastimes is joining into random conversations and telling stories to anyone who will listen. My friends and I even play a game called “How far can we walk without running into someone that Lauren knows?” and the farthest has been 500 feet.
While it's fun to be in the spotlight and to feel like a lot of people are watching and supporting my journey, I realized that I’ve never had the opportunity to be alone, and I am terrified of being alone. Even growing up I went to a small private school kindergarten through my senior year, so everyone “knew” who I was since the beginnings of my memory, which doesn’t really allow a person to figure out who they are, grow, and try new things. I’ve always been performing and showing the side of myself that people “knew,” but who was I separated from everything that I do? If I’m not Lauren the bubbly bartender, the powerful PR major, the kind Karma Coffee president, or the abstract artist, then who am I?
So, with all this in mind, I decided to study abroad in a location that would give me the first opportunity of my lifetime, and possibly the last, of being purely anonymous in a city where if I wanted to be known I had to try exponentially more since I did not know the language. I kept telling everyone how excited I was to study in Prague and really let my creativity run wild in a city so full of history and art, but in reality, I could not have been more scared.
I’ve never had a problem making friends and being social, but I do have a bad habit of clinging to the first thing that shows me kindness and interest. My first week abroad, I was so scared of being alone and anonymous that I tried to force my way into constructing a close-knit friend group with the few Americans I knew, but wasn’t sure I actually got along with them. I was going along with their plans, even if it was an activity that I didn’t necessarily like, purely because at least I was being social. After a month of this it became exhausting, trying to change who I am for the sake of being social, so I started exploring the city and sights on my own, again something that terrified the extrovert in me.
I have always loved going to art museums by myself, and tend to prefer that anyway, so I started at the Dox as a way to ease myself out of my social comfort zone through the security net of my passion for contemporary art. After I looked through the gallery, I ended up at a café where I struck up a conversation with a man from Munich, Germany. We ended up talking for hours about art, literature, current events, and even broke the surface and talked about some extremely personal topics. I told him about my fears of the people and things I left behind at home not being there when I returned, and about how I was scared of learning who I was and he begged me to “take a step back into your kid shoes, see yourself the way I and others see you. The things at home are of no worry since everything with strings will return eventually.”
It was in that moment that I decided to really work on my Czech and foreign language skills so that I could make friends from many different countries and continents but also take active time to focus on who I am. I started leaning into my artwork with full force, painting and photographing not for someone, not to try and communicate my emotions and my past, but simply just to showcase something that I found interesting. I decided to focus on my Food and Sociology class more than just enough to get a good grade, but in a way that I could really work with the text and understand how we socialize over food. Public Relations is such a large field that is still finding its definition, much like myself, so I wasn’t able to take classes in it abroad. I was, however, able to specialize my field, realizing through the guiding teaching of one of the most kind and interesting professors (and friends) I’ve ever had, Melinda, that I am incredibly interested in the sociality of food and beverage and how it applies to the world of event coordinating that I have been working in for many years now. It reaffirmed that pursuing a master's degree in hospitality is definitely in my future, but first I needed to take steps to get there.
My documentary photography class pushed me out of my highbrow conceptual artwork aesthetic that were typically on the darker side to one that was me just showcasing the in-the-moment reality of my life as I was experiencing it. I usually get caught up in either confronting and processing my past or obsessed with getting to my future as quickly and successfully as possible, but in this class I had to simply view and document. This allowed me to get out of my head, or out of my self-proclaimed labels, and start appreciating the world around me, showing things that interested me rather than conveyed my message.
With this new perspective of who I am, what my career really means to me, and becoming more comfortable with being on my own, my career prospects are already shifting. I’ve had opportunities to focus more on the culinary arts, mixology, and sociology of events so that in the future I can better coordinate events for clients. I realized that photography is more than just a hobby and a passion, but rather something I can use to create a viable career out of; I no longer only click the shutter when something relates to me, but rather do it to capture any piqued interest I have, even if not self-constructed and “meaningful." I’ve learned to find beauty in what is all around me and to appreciate every opportunity, especially the ones that terrify me. It’s almost time for me to return home, and while I am not ready to say “Na shledanou” to Prague yet, I am ready to take my new perspective home with me and develop into the person I am meant to be, with a hopefully successful career to follow.
Lauren Krupczak is a CEA Fall 2019 student and MOJO Lite content contributor studying abroad in Prague, Czech Republic. She is currently a student at the University of Georgia.
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