Monday, October 04, 2010

Laura M. - Prague, Czech Republic - Fall 2010

I’ve been in Prague almost a month and I can’t decide if the time has gone by too slow, too fast, or just right.  Regardless of time, I am having the time of my life.  It’s amazing how much you can grow in such a short time. 
My program is through SIT World Learning, and is structured completely differently than a traditional Study Abroad Program.  There are 7 students all together in the program, and we go to a school in a converted apartment flat.  We have our traditional classes there, but I would say we only are in the class room 20 hours a week, the rest of our classes take place in cafes, cinemas, art exhibits, theatres.  I love the SIT program because I am not sitting in a University classroom in another country taking the same classes I would be taking at Elmhurst.  My program focuses on “The Post-Communist Transition and the Arts”.  We study Post-World War II to the present and learn about how the Czech Republic has evolved and changed over time, mostly in relation to the arts (visual, theatre, music, etc).  We get to do a lot of field study based work, and meet interesting people from the region.  Also the final project is our independent study project (ISP).  We choose a topic/ question and the last month of the program is dedicated to only your ISP research.  Usually the project results in a 30-40 page paper and presentation, which seems overwhelming but really it’s not. You have an advisor who guides you along the way and you are working on something that is meaningful and interesting to you. Now I still don’t have a concrete idea as to what my ISP will turn into but I have a few vague ideas. Hopefully something will come to me, I have a few more weeks to think.
A day that I will never forget was the second day here. Our coordinator split us off into two groups and we experienced “The Drop-off”.  We were given a list of 5 places and were told to go find them.  All we had was a map.  In any other circumstance this would have freaked me out.  But even though I didn’t know the language, I had no clue where I was or how to use the transportation system, we figured it out.  It wasn’t so scary because we knew that it was ok to get lost, it was ok to ask for help and it was ok to get things wrong.  We succeeded in our assignment, and after that day I learned to master the transportation system of Prague and how to use a map better.
Another part of the SIT program is the home-stays.  Everyone in the program has their own home-stay family who we live with for about seven weeks, could be more depending on your ISP.  When I first moved in with my host family I was very nervous and had a lot of “that was awkward” moments.  I definitely had to adjust to some of the cultural differences here. You would never believe how much I miss drying my clothes in a dryer and not on a line, or how meals are structured differently (lunch is the big meal, dinner consists of bread and cheese), and how it is common not talk constantly at home, silence in gold.  After the first few days I settled in and now I look forward to coming home from school and spending time with my host mother and father and brother.  They also have 2 cats and a dog which is nice to have around as company.  Being in a host-family also helps with the language barriers.  My family speaks English very well, but they speak Czech to one another.  I have learned that just by listening to their conversations I can pick up on new words and usually get an idea as to what they are talking about.  My host brother also likes to help me with Czech homework and I have even corrected one of his English essays. 
I just returned from our Regional Stay portion of my program. We were split into two groups and my group was sent to a small village in the rural CZR near the Slovak border.  It was about a 5 ½ hour train ride from Prague and I have learned that Prague is its own country compared to the Czech Republic.  I spent five days with a nonprofit organization that focuses on preserving the landscape and traditions of Czech culture.  For those five days I trekked up the mountains, went to an apple festival, made traditional Czech crafts, visited other nonprofit organizations and spent some time with some amazing people.  The quiet and simple life of Valasske Klobouky (the village) was refreshing compared to the city life I had been experiencing.  People were warmer and more welcoming in the country and were very interested to meet Americans.  During this trip I had to use Czech more because very few people speak English in the country side.  After those 5 days we met up with the rest of our group in Cesky Krumlov and had two days to explore this historical village, it was a real gem.  We walked the Castle grounds and explored the cobblestone roads with numerous shops and restaurants. It was like a mini Prague without a lot of the hustle and bustle.  But, after the week away I am very content to be back in Prague. 
My program coordinator does a great job of really making us feel like we live in Prague.  Lots of people have asked me if I have visited the typical tourist sites you see in Prague and the truth is I haven’t.  I don’t feel like a tourist here, I feel like I am a resident.  I travel everyday by tram or metro to school, I try my best to speak Czech when shopping for things even if the shop keeper speaks English, and I have even noticed if I hear another American around me I get a little annoyed by their “out-going” behavior.  Czechs are very reserved, so when I ride the tram I try to take on the same demeanor as them, quiet and a little reserved.  I also do this so I don’t draw attention to myself because pick-pockets prey on tourists on the metro or trams.  I do intend to visit the famous sites but when it get colder here, or early in the mornings when the crowds are not around.
I love being here. Studying abroad is one of the best decisions I have ever made.   Please ask me any questions you have, I would be thrilled to answer them.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Laura,
Your experience seems so great so far! You seem to have adjusted really well and it's so good to see how well you have acclimated! I hope it goes as smooth for me as well. Your learning situation seems so awesome! Do you attend a regular university as well? Was it harder to meet a lot of people in such a small group? I really hope you have an awesome time because it sounds incredible!
Paige M.

8:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It sounds like you are having an awesome time! I really like the idea of not being confined to the classroom and being able to explore the environment around you. I think it's really admirable that you've respected and adapted to their more reserved ways. Do you ever feel marginalized for being a little different? I really hope your homestay is going well! Is it easy to interact with your family, or are there a lot of language/cultural barriers? Good luck in your classes and enjoy the rest of your trip!
Catie C.

12:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's interesting how you say that Prague is like its own little country. Is the difference between the city and the country that stark? Have you been to other Czech cities yet, and if so, are they similar to what you've found in Prague?

Margaret Z.

3:02 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all for your comments, really good questions.

Paige: My university here is SIT. They have there own little school here in a converted flat and the 7 of us all take our classes there. Very different than in a typical university setting. Our schedule changes every week and sometimes our lectures are in the classroom and sometimes they are in movie theatres or in cafes. I like this aspect.
It can be a little difficult meeting people in such a small group. A lot of students here struggle with this aspect bc they want to meet new people. I find that i am enjoying making more connections here with adults here and learning and talking with them. Also i go to a Prague High school and talk with students every week which is very interesting to see what the Prague youth is like. So i haven't met many other students my age but i don't think that has taken away from my experience.

I don't feel marginalized for being a little different but also i think my style and personality fits in here pretty well. I do have a friend here though who has a funkier style and is a little more out going in public and she does get stared at the most. At the same time Czechs in Prague are used to university students and tourists in their city so the stares are not always negative.
My homestay is going well. I feel more now like i live here and its ok for me to use the stove, or the washing machine without asking permission. I can tell my host mother is happy i am adjusting to my "home" too. The language barriers here in Prague are not bad. Most everyone speaks English and in my host house there have only been a few times where language has been in the way. When i travel outside Prague it is a very different story. I really have to use the Czech i know bc English isn't as common.

The difference between Prague and the CZR is totally different. A lot of the other villages say Prague is it's own country and many people don't wish to visit it. They prefer Brno. I have only been to Moravia, a few hours in Brno and Cesky Krumlouv and I could really feel the difference between these villages and Prague. It's like how the rest of New York is not New York City.

I hope i answered your question. Good luck with getting ready to study abroad! If you have anymore questions please let me know.


1:21 AM  
Anonymous Ali Konold said...

So when it came to picking your classes, how did that process go? I know that we need to get a preliminary acceptance first at Elmhurst college, but what about officially registering for classes in France? Was it hard?

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Ellen Pipal said...


This question kind of goes along with the last comment, but are you taking any gen. ed's while abroad? I am trying to figure out whether or not to bother with those while i am abroad. Also, are you taking any classes that meet your major requirements? I am hoping to choose some "fun" classes, but I assume some should count for something right? haha.

I hope you are having fun!

10:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also in relation to the last two posts, in terms of picking your classes were the ones you picked when you were here available when you got to Prague or should we expect to possibly have to alter our course schedule when we get there?

-Jen G

10:58 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

When it comes to choosing classes for my program there aren't any choices. SIT has a specialized topic that we study here- "Post-Communist Transition and the Arts" Even before applying to the program I knew I would be taking a history seminar course, a Czech language course, field Study, and then my Big Independent Research Project. So those are the four courses everyone in the program takes here. Probably very different than what most of you are going to be doing.

As for getting credit, I took the descriptions of these courses to the head of the communication depatment and asked "what can i get credit for?" so for the language and field study courses those are electives for me and then i am fulfilling a gen ed with my history seminar and then a major requirment with my Independent research.

Dr. Lagerway and Alice are also extremely helpful with the class selection process.

I would say, try to get some gen eds or required major classes done but you must take a class you are interested in for fun. It will make the acedemic learning more enjoyable.

Hope this helps. Good luck


5:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

any advice on dealing with culture shock?

1:33 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Dealing with culture shock... It's difficult but I have found the best way to deal with a different culture is to find time to do things you would normally do at home. I've participated in Yoga classes, I sang in a choir, I've participated in acting workshops and I'm taking lessons for a theatre technique here. I find that by doing activities that are familiar to me makes it easier to bridge the gap between your two worlds.

9:52 AM  

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