The first hint was the freezing temperatures and "Mom, can you mail me my parka?" Turns out a peacoat isn't enough for November in Prague.
The next hint was the crushing amount of exams and projects that jumped out at us like the monster from the closet. (Note to future study abroad students: yes there is 'study' involved in study abroad.)
Finally, Christmas trees and adorable wooden-shack Christmas Markets started popping up in squares around the city.
Yep, fall is over and gone. My semester abroad is almost finished.
So the packing begins and excitement to be back home builds. But I'm definitely going to miss my life here in Prague. Luckily I'll carry it with me for the rest of my life: on my blog, in my photo album, on my resume, and in my mind. Study Abroad is the experience of a lifetime, but it can also help enrich the rest of your life, too. But what happens next? When my plane touches down in O'Hare and suddenly I can read every sign and talk on public transportation and go to a restaurant with free ice water? (Yes, that is a noticeable cultural difference, water here is not automatic, sometimes room-temperature, and it's more expensive than... some other beverages.)
First things first, I've got stories to tell. I've got new Facebook friends to message, "Hey, remember that time...." and old friends to bother, "oh, when I was in Prague..." These stories come along with pictures and video and will hopefully keep my dinner-party conversations fresh and interesting. Even my grandmothers will enjoy a slideshow of the different churches and cathedrals I saw in Prague, Krakow, and Dresden.
Then there's the resume benefit... The world is getting smaller every day and more and more businesses are multinational. Even if I don't speak fluent Czech, having lived abroad for a semester looks pretty good under "additional notes." Maybe a company does a lot of business in central and eastern Europe, or is thinking of opening a subsidiary. Maybe they'd want to send me somewhere else in the world, and can see I have experience getting a grasp of a new language and culture. Perhaps they're not even an international company, but they need people who are flexible, adaptable, and travel-savvy.
Finally, as cliche as this sounds, I've learned a lot about myself. A friend was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya and last year I said, "wow, I could never do that." Now, I'm not comparing studying at a top university in Europe to teaching HIV/AIDS prevention in sub-Saharan Africa. But there are a few things that any expat (even a temporary expat) needs to live abroad: the above-mentioned flexibility and adaptability, humility, and ability to make mistakes, laugh at yourself, and get back up to keep going. Interestingly, this semester I realized that I'm a little less outgoing than I had thought. Some days I would rather have stayed inside than risk asking for 'moldy cheese' instead of 'orange cheese' at the grocery store, or buying the wrong kind of milk again because I couldn't remember the difference between polotučné and plnotučné (half fat and full fat... and there is a BIG taste difference.) Study abroad was (still is) challenging, but satisfying. I went from being that clueless foreigner who asks passerby for directions, to being a slightly-less-clueless temporary resident who explains how the tram system works and helps my roommate get to the doctor's office.
When all is said and done, though, what happens after Prague? I'm not quite sure. But I know my semester here has better-prepared me for life in this busy international world.
Dorothy McQuaid is the CEA MOJO for Prague this Fall. Her mild-mannered alter ego is a senior Marketing major at Belmont University in Nashville, TN.
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