During the fall of 2017, I caught more flights, more trains, and underground transfers than the preceding 19 years of my life. My one long five-hour flight in the tenth grade was superseded by an 11-hour flight to London. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to London Heathrow Airport. Local time is 11:15 and the temperature is 22 degrees Celsius. As many times as I try, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to acutely describe what studying abroad did and meant for me in my own self-growth, exploration, faith journey, and academic pursuit. It has forever left an impression on me, but isn't that how life is? Our circumstances, stories, stirrings, and choices shape our trajectory and move us every step of the way.
There is no doubt that working abroad boosts your resume and adds to your intercultural experience. With my long-term career goals in business in mind, I decided to live abroad once again and pursue an internship in Prague. I made the next step, but this time with a different framework, different program, different location, and different workload.
Prague and, more or less, central Europe is notably different than England. Some differences are obvious: the Czech language barrier, the (thankfully) lower cost of living, the lack of Sara Lee’s bagels and other American staples on the grocery shelves, the presence of more families and a significantly smaller population. Every day I’m learning more differences: the lack of small talk, but the depth of friendship and the Czech laugh than I am convinced comes right from the belly. I am no longer on a 16-week field trip through the United Kingdom, with 15 of my closest friends. Tomorrow, I’m showing up to work.
Several days a week, I wake up at 7:00 a.m., put on the business outfit I prepared the night before, and pack a book to read on my 40-minute commute to work. Studying abroad looks quite different this time: my classroom is the middle desk in a trendy agency office. My peers have years of experience in the field and work flexible hours around fixed photoshoots and client meetings.
There is a sense of wonder that so frequently comes with an initial experience abroad. Disbelief -- that such rich history can be witnessed from the pavement of the streets to the linguistics of its citizens. Captivation -- while standing in a cathedral older than the United States itself. Sweetness, but fragmented beauty -- in the realization that the way we perceive the world is really just the way we perceive our world. As I’ve returned abroad, these truths still bear validity. However, they are no longer newborn realizations.
Falling in love with Prague is significantly different than falling in love with London. I am no longer falling in love with an awakening, but falling in love with the people that envelop a deeply complex, but peaceful city. Personally, I spend more time in coffee shops than in major tourist spots. My weekly visits are attempts, at best, to befriend the baristas and become a local, because for me: people become home.
Slowly, and surely: Prague is pursuing my heart and becoming home. My experience abroad looks vastly different than it did two years ago, but then again: so do I.