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Joe's Prague

Ahoj. My name is Joe. I am a student at the University of Wisconsin, and I am spending my semester in Prague, Czech Republic, as part of the CEA Global Education study abroad program. The program is already halfway done, and it has been, without a doubt, the best experience of my life.

Prague is a great city. With most of its historical architecture having survived World War II, the city is absolutely gorgeous. One of my favorite things to do here is just walk around and stare at the abundant beauty of Prague. The city is divided into neighborhoods, and each one has a slightly different dynamic. The main tourist centers are Old Town, Mala Strana (Lesser Town), and the Castle District. These places are beautiful and important to see, but I like to get out and explore the less-traveled neighborhoods outside the city center.

One of the best things about Prague is the cost of living. Compared to other European cities (especially in countries that use the euro), Prague is very affordable. The exchange rate between the dollar and the Czech koruna remains very favorable, which makes living here very nice.

Another advantage of Prague is its central location in Europe. Trains, buses, and airplanes to anywhere on the continent are relatively convenient and affordable. I’ve taken weekend trips to Budapest, Hungary; Krakow, Poland (through CEA); and Berlin, Germany, along with day trips to smaller cities and towns in the Czech Republic. These trips are ridiculously easy to plan, and can be very affordable (depending on where you go and what you want to do). Many students travel a lot more than I do, but I think it’s important to spend time in Prague and really get to know the city.

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Probably the best thing about the program, for me, has been the people I have met. The way living arrangements are set up and the program operates is very conducive to meeting new people and becoming close very quickly. Some students come abroad with friends from home, but many, myself included, do not. Everyone is in the same boat. It’s such a unique, once-in-a-lifetime, whirlwind-of-emotions experience that close bonds are formed immediately. After less than two weeks, my friends and I felt like we had known each other for years. Everyone is really open-minded and accepting, so anyone can find people with whom they click. I get along with my roommates very well. We are from all over the country, but find common ground everywhere we look. Some of the relationships I’ve made here I’m sure will continue long into the future, which seems to be the norm for students studying abroad.

The CEA staff in Prague is really helpful. They offer activities and trips through the program, which are generally good experiences. Last weekend I went to Krakow with the program. On the whole, the trip was well done. We saw some very interesting things (including the Auschwitz concentration camp), and learned a lot. There are some drawbacks of traveling with a group of 75 students (obviously), but it was the only such trip this semester, so it was a fun change of pace.

Where the CEA staff really comes in handy is in everyday life in Prague. They are locals, so they have great advice on what to do in the city. It’s really nice to have someone who speaks English to ask for help when you need or want it. All of the staff is friendly and approachable, so I don’t hesitate to ask them for help.

     

The CEA office in Prague is also a great resource. It’s open all weekdays, and there are computers, printers, a TV, and the staff right there to help you. I can’t overstate how comforting it is to have someone there to help you during your time abroad.

As far as school goes, we take classes at Anglo-American University in Prague. It’s a small, English-language school right in the heart of one of Prague’s oldest neighborhoods (Mala Strana). Classes are small, and (this may be exaggerated, but) it feels like most classes are roughly half local students and half study abroad students. It’s such a change of pace from my home university of 30,000 students to come to AAU and its sprawling campus consisting of two buildings and 700 students. I do like the smaller class sizes, and the curriculum can be suited to most majors (at least for Liberal Arts and Business, it seems). Two of my favorite classes are Czech and Prague Art and Architecture. Czech class is important to me because I want to learn as much of the language as I can while I’m here. I will by no means be fluent (at all) when I leave, but I want to pick up as much as I can. Prague Art and Architecture is a great class because most lessons include a field trip to a building or art gallery within the city. It’s really cool to get a more in-depth survey of a building you may have walked past before with hardly any thought. On the whole, classes are interesting, but I feel like the real lessons I’m learning here are outside of the classroom.

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Because the cares and occupations of everyday life at home are absent over here, there is a lot of time for contemplation and reflection. In meeting new people, gaining tremendously new perspective and thinking about life, my time in Prague has caused me to learn a lot about myself. As long as it is approached with the right frame of mind, I feel that study abroad is generally a really good experience for anyone. The amount of perspective to be gained from exploring new countries and meeting new people from truly all walks of life is invaluable. I cannot exaggerate how much I appreciate my experiences thus far this semester and would absolutely recommend studying abroad to anyone with an open mind.

I’ll leave you with a Czech salutation roughly equivalent to our “Cheers,” Nastravi!
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