Hello! My name is Isabelle Pekarsky, and I am a senior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. I spent the summer of 2019 studying the Developing Dynamics of Democracy in Prague, Czech Republic, on a faculty-led study abroad trip. My time studying abroad in Prague brought many things into my life -- whether it be new experiences, amazing new friends, a different perspective on cultures, and of course, how the class I took abroad helped me grow the knowledge of democracies in different societies. All of these things, along with many other reasons, are why I cherish the memories of my time abroad and long for the opportunity to be able to return to Prague.
In preparing for my trip, I felt very anxious. I had never traveled abroad before, and never really traveled alone in general. The unique thing about my experience was that I did not go to the University of Missouri-Columbia (this is the campus my program was going through). I assumed the other students on my trip knew each other and would already have friendships formed and I would be “the odd man out.” To my pleasant surprise, although many people knew each other, most of the people on my trip were in the same boat as I was. By being with people for most of the day and living in such close quarters, I was quick to form friendships. This was a weight off my shoulders. My newfound friends spent many days roaming Prague’s streets as well as planning to travel our free weekend together. My five close friends and I decided to go to Austria for our first weekend abroad. We took a cheap train to Vienna for a day, as well as Salzburg for the next day. The sights in Austria were amazing, and hiking monasteries and visiting castles-turned-art-museums were just a few of our adventures.
Upon returning from Austria, our program began to get very busy (in the best way possible). From visits to Prague’s castle and walking tours around the city to guest lectures, the CEA staff made sure we were making the most of our time and learning the culture and history of Prague. Excursions with CEA proved to be some of my favorite things. Our first was to Terezin, which is a Jewish Ghetto about an hour outside of Prague. As a Jewish woman, this was a very important trip. We got to tour the former Ghetto as well as see an insight into how the prisoners lived at this time period. Although this was only a day trip, the things I learned as well as the experience of visiting a Jewish Ghetto as a Jewish woman was an unforgettable day.
Our final weekend abroad was one of my favorites as well. We took a CEA excursion to Krakow, Poland. Krakow is the cultural capital of Poland and it absolutely lives up to the hype. This one was one of the most beautiful cities (besides Prague) that I have ever visited. We went on a walking tour, visited the Jewish Quarter, and went to the underground salt mines -- where we walked down what seemed like never-ending stairs to a cave-like structure made entirely of salt. We even licked the walls (they tasted like table salt!). After the salt mine, a few of my friends and I were actually able to make the trip to Auschwitz, which was important to me and a truly indescribable experience.
Leaving Prague definitely felt bittersweet. Although I had the time of my life and enough memories to tell for years, it was hard to leave. My friends and I had not only fostered amazing connections with each other, but also with the city itself. In the month I spent there, Prague became my home away from home. I can’t wait to return one day and see the city again. Until then, Ahoj!
Isabelle Pekarsky is a CEA alumna who studied abroad in Prague, Czech Republic, during Summer 2019. She is currently a student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
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