Transitions are beautiful, treacherous, and frankly, not always easy by nature. I find the transition to a new culture and “home” environment akin to growing pains. We know the growth we are experiencing is inevitable and that we will soon wear new accolades with beauty and charm. That being said, the beauty is balanced with fleeting, but real moments of discomfort. I encourage and challenge anyone studying abroad to embrace the divine beauty in this evolution of becoming.
With that in mind, here are a few tips to transition to life in beautiful Praha:
1. Learn to Communicate
The Czech Language, among Slavic languages, is complex and challenging. Locals do not expect you to know Czech, but they do not expect to neglect and leave their own culture and language behind when you walk through the door. Learning key phrases in Czech is fundamental to bridging down the barriers to communication. I have had the friendliest postal office experience through broken Czech, English, and hand-motions. “Dobry Den” ("Good day," a formal greeting of “hello”). Mluvíš anglicky? (“Do you speak English?”) is often met with more sympathetic smiles than the English translation. “Díky” (short for “thanks”), "Prosím" (“Please” or “You’re welcome”), and "Pardon" ("Excuse me") when you need to squeeze past the crowd to make the metro exit in time.
The language barrier is difficult, but I challenge you to not let the 20 seconds of awkward gaze as you say “Mluvíš anglicky” keep you from experiencing a vast fold of Czech cultural opportunities. Google Translate has a downloadable offline keyboard that has saved me from buying softener instead of detergent at the grocery store and facilitated interactions with the clerks countless times.
2. Set Goals
One of the great things about CEA is they encourage and spur you toward personal and professional development. Throughout the application process, CEA worked to understand my goals and expectations; my internship placement was made with these goals in mind. During my time in Prague, the CEA staff have taken time and effort to remind me of my goals, and offer guidance. Studying abroad truly is what you make of it -- let that be an opportunity, and not an inhibitor!
3. Do Prague Things
Among my goals was a common thread to live more as a local than as a tourist. However, in this pursuit, I’ve realized that my goal is not to abandon all that I know as familiar and hit a Czech cultural standard. Rather, my goal is to learn and embrace both the entities and totality of Czech and its culture. Yes, that includes touristy things. I wouldn’t say walking the Charles Bridge is “as the locals do,'' but a sunset walk on the Charles Bridge is a stroll over 615 years of history! Appreciating the small, touristy things gives me insight into the history of the Czech Republic, as well as a growing interest in the charm and whimsy of Praha! Let yourself fall in love with Prague, one Goulash and Kofola at a time.
4. Do Things That Make You Feel At Home
Sitting among the trees with the grass between my barefoot feet is where I experience serenity. Thankfully, I don’t think there is a city in the United States or Europe that I’ve encountered that doesn’t have a pretty park and swing set for children to run, laugh, and let their imaginations soar. Sunsets in the park were my saving grace during my first two weeks in Prague -- reminding me that I am still me, even thousands of miles away from home. (Among notable park mentions are: Petrin Hill, Letna Park, and Sacre Coeur Park).
No one asked me to abandon my American nationality when I walked out of Václav Havel Prague Airport, but I bet they would ask me leave any ethnocentrism at the foot of the plane. Order your favorite drink in a local coffee shop or bakery and sit in that stillness. When you live in the beauty of this balance, you’ll be surprised at how many things aren’t so different after all.
Author and motivational speaker Jordan Lee Dooley quite bluntly states, “If you are trying something new or stepping into a place or position you don’t feel cut out for, you need to move forward anyway, and drop your expectations at the door." Humanity dances in its constant reactions, responses, and evolutions to the circumstances surrounding itself: Praha awaits!
Hanna Vanca is a Fall 2019 CEA Alumni Ambassador who studied and interned abroad with CEA in Prague, Czech Republic, during Summer 2019. She is currently attending Point Loma Nazarene University.
Read more about our CEA MOJO Bloggers & Photographers.