One of the significant issues with our program is the inability of undergraduate students to study abroad due to the course structure. I consider my semester abroad in undergraduate one of the most informative times of my life both academically and culturally.
I chose Prague in the Czech Republic based on the architecture, food, and that most students choose Western Europe. There was not a great deal of information about the program, mostly general details about Charles University and the classwork we would be doing. I have struggled with foreign language so one of the more daunting components for me was a two week immersive Czech language class prior to the regular semester of classes. While somewhat unpleasant the ability to make basic statements, ask questions, and order food in Czech made a noticeable difference in how locals responded to me. They seemed to appreciate my efforts.
Prague from Petřín Hill
The city was a vibrant labyrinth of old and new design. There are buildings that date to 1000 A.D. adjacent to those less than 100 years old. Remarkably most of the city is in excellent condition. There were maintenance workers out every day it seemed replacing cobble stones, or repainting. There was an unusual amount of activity while I was there as it was the seat of the European Union. This meant that visiting heads of state from all over Europe were a constant sight; even the U.S. president was there for several days. I spent my free time walking the city and surrounding area. I saw almost every district and of course ate all kinds of Czech cuisine. In my opinion far too few of my classmates had a similar desire to spend their time exploring, and instead chose to sleep during the day and go out at night. The wealth of knowledge that Prague contains in the masonry of her buildings is nearly inexhaustible.
An immense asset to my stay in Prague was the ability to travel to other cities for the weekend, or for a day trip. Europe is compact allowing for short travel times just about anywhere. I have been to Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Austria, Germany, Poland, and England. In all of these countries there are significant historic landmarks, and unique architecture to the region. As distinct as the design styles are the cultural differences are something to learn from through interaction. If you want it’s a simple matter to fade into the background and almost never speak to locals. This is a mistake. Despite what many media sources say Americans are not disliked, in fact in Central and Eastern Europe we are welcome due much in part to our contributions towards the downfall of the U.S.S.R. I had few negative experiences. One of the more interesting occasions occurred when I had to bribe the Russian consulate in Prague to get my visa to visit Moscow - something I’ve been thinking about lately in light of the Sochi corruption charges.
Images from upper left: Vienna, Austria; Palace of the Parliament, Romania; Over Sofia, Bulgaria; Inside the Parliament in Budapest, Hungary; Rasnov Fortress, Romania; Peleș Castle, Romania; St. Basils, Moscow
All images credit to Ryan Kinports
If there is any possibility for you to travel abroad in your life you should. The statement that you will travel next year, or after you work a few years, or when you retire leads to it never happening. Make the time now to see some of what the world has to offer.