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Guys in Study Abroad: Associate Alumni Ambassador, Victor Liu

February 06, 2016
Victor Liu, CEA Associate Alumni Ambassador and sophomore at Northwestern University, studied abroad in Prague during the summer of 2015. Since returning from his program, he joined the Ambassador team to help identify how his study abroad experience contributed to his personal growth and to provide guidance for prospective study abroad students for selecting a program, navigating their host country, and taking full advantage of their abroad experience.
 Rooftop restaurant overlooking the Old Town Square - even the nicest restaurants are only about the price of an average meal elsewhere!

1. Why did you choose to study abroad and why did you select Prague?

I chose Prague because of its architectural beauty, rich history, and moderate size. I’m interested in European history, and Prague was one of the world’s most important cities in the 14th century. It has an incredibly long and fascinating past. It also was the perfect size for a city to live in. Having been to Europe before, I felt that living in a smaller city would let me better connect with my surroundings and experience its culture and nuances, in comparison to a massive tourist metropolis. Lastly, there are very few places on Earth that can even come close to matching the beauty of Prague.

2. In what ways have you changed because of your experience abroad?

Studying abroad is an unparalleled opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and put yourself out there in the open world. You are away from the security of your family and friends, and the familiarity of your region and culture, which for me – I realized – had always sheltered and limited my perceptions of the world and what I could do in it. In that sense, studying abroad was essential in my maturing process – the moment when I first felt entirely independent in this world. I could survive on my own, with the freedom to do as I wished, and go where I wanted. It felt especially liberating to be able to book plane tickets on my own, and just travel across Europe on the weekends.

4. What classes abroad did you find applicable to your field of study or your career interest?

Money and banking directly related to my academic interests as an economics major pursuing a career in finance. The other class I took, Prague Art & Architecture, was actually far more memorable. We went on excursions to museums and sites across the city, and I could not have asked for a more fun, interesting class. By the end of the program, I would naturally start to identify (in my head) the architectural styles and eras of buildings that I walked by.

 Victor Liu is an Associate Alumni Ambassador and CEA Prague Summer'15 alumnus. He is a sophomore at Northwestern University.

5. In your opinion, why don’t more guys study abroad?

I feel like some guys are reluctant to ditch the safe, familiar fun of their friend circle/college social scene for the uncertainty of studying abroad. I think guys value having a good time with their buddies over exploring and appreciating a new city/culture, and fear that they won’t have as much “fun” as they would back at home. However, my roommates were some of the coolest, most interesting guys I’ve met, and I had an absolutely great time with the people on the program.

6. What are some study abroad myths you can debunk for other students considering study abroad?

“I don’t know the language! How will I communicate?”

“The locals will be mean to me because I’m foreign/American!”

I arrived in Prague under the expectation that the locals could generally speak English, and I quickly realized my presumptions were wrong. While the majority of people speak decent English, there are still plenty of cashiers, waiters, etc. who are somewhat lacking in their English skills. At first, I was rather annoyed due to the false expectation, and had several frustrating interactions.

However, I realized it was wrong to view the non-English-speaking locals with negativity and annoyance, because how many Americans can fluently communicate in multiple languages? To improve my interactions, I actively tried to learn and apply the basic words such as "zaplatim," and "prosim," and soon realized that locals appreciated the effort. When done with lighthearted goodwill, the exchanges with Czech locals were no longer frustrating – despite not understanding what the other said, they became well-intended, enjoyable interactions that drew a smile from both sides.

Three weeks in, I was brave enough to get a haircut from a lady who did not speak a word of English. It turned out great! I expressed my gratitude through facial expressions and hand gestures, and it certainly felt good. I had learned the art of nonverbal communication, and the nuances behind having positive interactions with locals who did not share my language.

 Beautiful park and beer garden near my apartment where my friends and I would watch the sunset.

7. Any other things you want to share? 

Prague’s main tourist areas are truly the most beautiful places on earth. It simply does not do it justice to visit once to "check it off" your list of sites to see. Though tourists may think they’ve had the full experience of seeing it, they do not have the privilege that we do, of living in Prague and attending classes right in that area.

Every day, I made an effort to walk around the city and explore every last alleyway, and I can promise you that you are missing a ton if you only walk through once or twice. Old Town and the Mala Strana area leading up to the castle have incredibly beautiful, distinct architecture and such serene atmospheres. There is so much to take in, and so many pretty little streets to appreciate and absorb. While you might think, “oh, I’ve been there," I promise you will gain something new each time you visit. It truly never gets old to continue going there again and again to take in the sights and to cherish the moment and beauty of where you are.

Here are my top travel tips:

Don’t be afraid to do things on your own! Obviously, it is typically more enjoyable to have a few companions to enjoy the city with you, but sometimes your friends and roommates may be in class or asleep after a late night out. Don’t let what they are doing (or not doing) hold you back.

If there’s something you want to go see or do, go do it regardless of whether or not you have someone to go with. While it may feel uncomfortable at first, you’ll get used to it, and learn to enjoy your independence. Some of my most memorable sightseeing adventures and explorations were done on my own. Since you are not preoccupied in socializing and conversation and going where the group agrees upon, you can focus your mind on everything around you, observe every detail of the beautiful surroundings, and just reflect on how cool it is that you are here right now.

You need to reserve some time for reflection, as eventually, you begin to take for granted the amazing place you are currently in. Think back to how different home is, and then come back to reality and put into perspective how awesome the place you are in right now is. You’ll remember it fondly when you return to the normalities of home, and it’s important to appreciate it while you are here.

Victor Liu studied abroad with CEA in Prague in the  Summer of 2015.  He is a CEA Associate Ambassador and sophomore at Northwestern University.

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