First Traveling Experience

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Since I wrote about my plans to travel last week, I thought I’d give a round up post about my experiences this past weekend. This was my first trip out of the Czech Republic, and only my second out of Prague since I arrived, and, for me, the timing was perfect; I’ve been in Prague for long enough that it’s become comfortable and feels like a secure home base, and I feel comfortable coming and going from it logistically. I’m so glad I took the opportunity to travel– I had an absolutely amazing time, and I’m so thankful for the ability to take advantage of the easy access I have different parts of Europe while I’m here.

My flight to Scotland was less smooth than I would have hoped; I had a connecting flight, and although I theoretically had plenty of time to make my next flight after going through immigration and security again, the airport was extremely slow moving and took forever, even though it wasn’t crowded. I literally sprinted through the airport to make my flight after getting through security, and only made it by the skin of my teeth, the point is that I made it, and arrived in Scotland safe (and stressed) and sound.

After meeting my sister at the airport and taking a train from Glasgow to my friend’s university, we got a little night-tour of her town and had dinner in a favorite place of hers. Another great part of studying abroad at the same time as friends, is that you get to meet their new friends as well–my best friend got SO lucky with her new roommates and friends. We had a great time together, and I’m thankful to have more friends scattered around the world.

We traveled to St. Andrew’s University (where Prince William and Kate went…bucket list item checked off for me) and bopped around the town, enjoyed the coast and sea, and admired ruins and graveyards in the area. It was absolutely stunning, and felt like a real Scottish experience.

The next day we went to a soccer (sorry, football) game, which, although we were told it was “not that big a big deal” because it wasn’t a close game, was SO much fun. The U.K. soccer craze is real.

We also met most of my friends family, who live in Scotland, and got to explore Glasgow and Edinburgh and their respective universities, as well. Both cities, though very different in feeling, architecture, and even personality, are gorgeous. I already have plans to return.

Although the scenery and history was amazing, the best part of this trip, and honestly every one I’ve ever taken, is the people. Both getting to see my best friend and meeting new faces were the best parts of the trip, and it’s reaffirmed my commitment to living a life that prioritizes loved ones, experiences, and travel rather than material.

My flight home was smooth sailing (but intensely bittersweet), and I can’t wait to jet off to my next destination (after enjoying some down time in my beautiful new home, Praha.)

Prague Legends

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I’m taking a class here in the Czech Republic called “Images of Prague”, which is a literature based class that discusses Czech art: a mixture of (mostly) literature, art, and history. It’s been so interesting so far, and it’s a great way to learn about the culture of the Czech republic and Prague by familiarizing myself with their history and cultural identity.

We’ll be reading Kafka (obviously), Capek, and other famous Czech writers and works of literature, and, as a sort of introduction to the class and city, we’ve started by reading Czech legends that detail the conception of the Czech Republic and Prague. I thought I would share them because I found them so interesting–I would recommend anyone studying abroad to read into those of their own cities, even if they aren’t required by a class. They’re a great, fun, entertaining way to learn more about your new home.

Legend has it that Pagans settled in the land of the Czech Republic in ancient times, and those who came to prosper built themselves castles and lived happily among their growing population. When the most well-respected leader, “Father Czech” died, disorder began to spread, and the people yearned for a new leader. Pace, who was another wealthy citizen, took the position and reigned for many years. He founded schools where magic, religion, prophecy, and hymns were taught, and found a suitable spot on the river to build a new castle, as the Gods guided him to do, and called it Vyšehrad.

Upon his death, his three daughters, Kazi, Teta, and Libuše, survived him–they were all well loved and talented: Kazi in medicine and herbs, Teta, as a priestess, and Libuše in prophetizing. Libuše was chosen as the new leader. It was she who prophesied the creation of a new city, on a cliff by a river, where they would find a man building a house, and instead build a castle and call it Praha (Prague). She also premonised the existence of her future husband.

This is a brief summary of the basic legend, which exists inside a maze of a whole slew of other legends. The existence of Prague is legendarily attributed to Libuše’s ability to prophecise it’s future existance.

After reading these stories, my class took a field trip to Vyšehrad, which is just one metro stop away from my school. The views are absolutely beautiful, as the castle is situated on top of a cliff over the river, as the legend details. We visited statues and large wooden figurines that tell the story of the legends we’d read, and discussed the origins of the legends and what they reveal about the times in which they were written or in which the statues were built. Oftentimes, legends were either created or dramatized in the 19th century, when the Czech Republic was trying to “catch up” to, or legitimize/dramatize itself and it’s history next to Germany, which is interesting and culturally telling.

We also passed through a graveyard in which many famous Czechs are buried, and a beautiful church (where a movie was being filmed!).

Both reading about and visiting the sites where legends supposedly took place has been so interesting and valuable for me. I look forward to reading more Czech literature during my time here, I know it’s going to increase my appreciation for this city. IMG_6570.JPG

 

Cognitions

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As I wrap up another week, I thought I would take this post as an opportunity to talk about my life here in Prague without any real structure or purpose, other than giving some insight into my day to day life. While it’s been great sharing some “tips and tricks” that I’ve discovered over the past few weeks in themed out blog posts, I think a bit more free form, laid back chat is in order.

My actual full-semester classes started last week, and I’ve just finished up my second week of them. I’ve really enjoyed all of them so far; I think they’re going to be great classes that I’ll really like. I had enough space in my college-long four year schedule that I was able to take all elective classes while abroad; this has given me an awesome amount of freedom in not only selecting my classes here, but selecting a study abroad program to begin with. Having the freedom to chose a program without worrying about classes counting towards my major was one less (big) thing I had to worry about; it would have been especially difficult for me to find a program I could do because I have a unique major. Saving elective space for study abroad is a great way to increase your freedom of choice and decrease stress levels overall.

My program is structured so that we only have our classes once a week, with the exception of the full-semester length language class. Not all students take this class, as it is as optional as the rest, but I am so glad I enrolled in it. This schedule works great for me because, as I talked about in my last post, I have the freedom to travel or explore Prague on my long weekends, but I’m also able to have my language class twice a week, which is a great, more efficient way to learn a language than having one long class once a week. The more exposure you have and the more often that exposure occurs, the more you learn, and I’ve been learning so much helpful information that’s made living in Prague easier and easier.

I’ve discovered some favorite places in the city, as well, and I’ve developed a kind of weekend or free time routine that I always look forward to. I always like to find a good coffee shop or quiet space to write or read in, and I’ve found a few spots that are ideal for the artistic-introvert. There is an adorable English bookstore here in Prague, which has tons of gorgeous (and tempting) books, plus a cavernous basement that’s a great place to hide away and do work, write, or read. I also have two (so far) favorite coffee shops; one is open and sophisticated-French-looking and, with lights that are dimmed for the perfect relaxing atmosphere and windows showcasing the narrow winding streets that seem to branch from it, and the other is a teeny tiny (and I mean TEENY tiny) coffee shop with the nicest owner ever, unique, Wes Anderson-esque art on the walls, and the perfect mixture of jazz and classical music for relaxing and enjoying the ambiance or following some creative endeavor.

I can’t wait to uncover some more of Prague’s gems to enjoy and share with you in the weeks to come! IMG_6255 2.JPG

En Marche!

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En Marche!

As I mentioned before, I am here in Lyon to study la science politique. This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit a political meeting in Lyon. Now is the season for the French presidentielle which finalizes in the beginning of May, giving the French a new president for the next five years. The major candidates include: Jean-Luc Melenchon (the Front de Gauche candidate), Benoit Hamon (the Parti Socialiste candidate), Emmanuel Macron (an independent candidate who created his own political movement En Marche!), Francois Fillon (les Republicains candidate), and Marine Le Pen (le Front National candidate).

Last Saturday, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen both came to Lyon for political meetings, addressing large crowds in a high risk presidential campaign. I decided to go to Emmanuel Macron’s event at the Gerland Stadium in the south of Lyon. He was once a ministre of the current Parti Socialiste administration of Francois Hollande, but has since created his own independent movement, drawing large crowds of young students and those who believe in a movement for the left and right to work together. I waited two hours of security lines for this meeting, only to be told that the stadium was full. But, no worries! I got to see him on a large screen outside the stadium. Before entering the stadium, Macron addressed the crowd outside. He told us that the event gathered over 16,000 people. It was amazing to be apart of such a large group, in a movement to get the French to work independent of party politics.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the meeting, standing in the freezing cold without a cold was not too enjoyable. I stayed for about an hour and a half and then decided to bike home.

When I came home, I found out my host father got through the press entrance and got to go in the stadium! Mais, c’est la vie.

Traveling While Studying Abroad

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This weekend, I’m taking a trip outside the Czech Republic for the first time since I arrived in Prague. I’m going to Scotland, to visit my best friend from home (and my roommate at Temple!), and I couldn’t be more excited.

As I’ve prepared for my trip and realized all of the things I’ve needed to take care of, I thought it would be helpful to compile a list of “things to do” to make your travels smoother and easier. The first trip is a great time to establish a traveling routine, and to narrow down the yes’s and no’s for future trips.

Traveling outside your host country is already an extremely popular practice among study abroad students, but if you haven’t thought about it or have been hesitant to do so, I encourage you to consider the opportunity. Living in a foreign country is wonderful in itself, but its proximity to other places is just as advantageous; the experience of traveling to many different places and witnessing many different cultures rather than just one is irreplaceable, and will irrevocably shape you as a person and enrich your life. Traveling as a student is also ideal logistically–travel costs are discounted, it’s easier to stay with friends or in hostels, which cost nothing or barely anything, respectively, you have no ties preventing you from experiencing everything you want to (no job, no kids), and your home base is conveniently located and not an ocean away. Now’s a great time to see the world! Without further ado, here are some tips:

  1. Book flights as early as possible. Make plans soon after arriving (or even before, if you know your situation), and book your flight as soon as you can. The longer you wait to book your flights (or other transportation tickets) the more expensive they are. Another great way to stay true to your budget is by booking all of your travels early in the semester; this way, you know how exactly much money you have to spend for the rest of the semester.
  2. Plan trips around friends and family. If you have loved ones who live or study in a location, visit them! It’s a great way to save money on living costs, but it will also inevitably make for an amazing experience that you can have together. It’s also great to have an “expert” at your disposal, who can prevent you from wasting time by telling you what to do and what to avoid, and even be a personal tour guide.
  3. Plan your classes strategically. I was able to schedule my classes so in such a way that I have a four day weekend. (This is not only great for traveling, but gives me more time to study and dedicate to writing papers, doing projects, etc.). This makes it easier for me not only to travel, but work around my friend’s and family’s free time. If my friend/family member only has a holiday weekend every so often, I can easily accommodate my schedule to fit theirs.
  4. Only pack a carry-on. Especially because these trips are so short, there is no need to check luggage. I purchased a weekender bag before I left for Prague, which was a great investment; it’s a large bag that I can fit days worth of essentials in, but isn’t giant or inconvenient. Pack efficiently, and invest in a versatile bag that will make your travels simple. IMG_6250.JPG

 

Les excursions à Pérouges et à Annecy

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Les excursions à Pérouges et à Annecy

While Lyon is such a great city to live in, taking day trips during the weekend are so easy and necessary to understand the area better.

In the past week, I have taken two day trips. The first was last Monday to a VERY small medieval town called Pérouges, which is just 20 minutes north of the city. The second was on Saturday to another medieval town called Annecy, an hour and a half trip northeast of Lyon.

I went with a fairly large group to Pérouges. We finished with classes and took the TGV to a town called Meximieux. We needed to walk along the street to get to Pérouges from there. A group of Americans walking through small French villages certainly looked strange. When we got to the city, it looked like a ghost town. I began to question why we came here in the first place, but as we walked around the city, I then understood. It was beautiful and looked like it was straight out of La Belle et la Bête. We walked around the city and then from there went to a hotel where we ate galette and drank cidre.

Here’s a picture of me having some fun in the snow at Pérouges:

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On Saturday, just myself and another Temple student (Anna Smith-shout out) went to Annecy. We took a blah blah car (European/French version of Uber). Our driver was very nice (oh just realized I should write a good review for him…) The weather finally broke when we arrived and it felt like spring. We walked through a market where furniture, paintings, and sculptures were being sold. I bought some postcards. Then we decided to walk all the way up the hill the city is on, only to find that all the museums close between 12h to 14h. So we walked back down the hill and got some great pizzas to eat (don’t judge; it was the cheapest thing on the menu). Then we went back up to go to the museums (only 3.50 euros for two museums). It was well worth it. While Anna enjoyed the modern art pieces, I reveled in paintings of the French countryside. We got a great view of the city from the base of the museum:

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But while day trips are nice, being in your host city is a wonderful feeling too. Today I had a two hour break, so I biked to the top of one of the mounts of Lyon (la Croix-Rousse) and got this awesome shot:

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Dietary Restrictions Abroad

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One of the most daunting things about planning to study abroad can be the perceived difficulty of maintaining a particular lifestyle or abiding by certain restrictions for health, religious, personal, ethical, or any other reason. When entering a new culture and new place, where you might be unfamiliar with customs, unsure of what your lifestyle abroad will allow for, or even how to access to things we have access to at home, it can be daunting and scary to try to plan how to adapt.

For the past two years, I’ve been vegan. This means that I don’t consume any animal products (except honey, although some vegans also choose not to). When deciding to study abroad, I knew it would be more work to maintain a vegan lifestyle abroad than it is at home. I’d visited my family in Europe the spring before I studied abroad, and found it much more difficult to maintain my diet, not just for practical reasons (I’m able to find certain foods at home that I couldn’t in Europe), but cultural reasons as well. Although I decided on that trip to periodically “break” vegan to enjoy family recipes and typical cultural food experiences with my family, it was still difficult explaining my diet (“what do you EAT?!?!?!”) and the reasons why I chose to abide by it.

While I could choose to deviate from my diet periodically on my previous trip, many people with dietary restrictions simply can’t just choose to waver. So, when studying abroad, this needs to be something that you seriously consider.

The Czech Republic is one of the most meat-eating countries in the world. I knew this going in, but I decided to make a plan for how to deal with this rather than go somewhere that I wasn’t as excited about going to.  If you find yourself drawn to a country that won’t easily align with your dietary lifestyle, you have to choose whether you can make it work, or if you’d rather go somewhere safer.

Personally, I’m used to cooking my own food. I knew that as long as I had access to a kitchen, I would be fine. If you know that the only way you’ll be able to stick to your requirements is if you do the majority of your own cooking, I recommend studying somewhere where you live in an apartment or a dorm with a kitchen. Homestays can be accommodating (my sister’s host family is wonderfully supportive and accommodating of her veganism, even when they eat meals together), but it’s a toss up; there’s no way to know if your family will be willing to work with your restrictions.

(If you can’t cook, learn how to do so. The first time I heard someone give this advice I scoffed, because I’ve been cooking with my family for as long as I can remember, but some people genuinely do not know how to cook. If this is the case for you, learn a few basic recipes that you know you like, and your skills will grow with time.)

When eating out, oftentimes, depending on the size of your city, there are many different food-ethnicity options. Go for something that you know lends itself to your diet. If you’re not somewhere that is naturally accommodating, sometimes it’s best to go with whatever on the menu that works (a salad, fries, other basic, usually not-very-substantial options), and eat before you go or after you get back. If you’re there for the company, it’s no big deal to skirt by with something basic, anyway!

In general, try to make your life as easy as possible by making things yourself. You are the most trustworthy person you know, so make a plan and keep things simple.

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Weekend Guest

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This past weekend, I was able to have my sister come stay with me for the long weekend. After having spent several weeks away from all friends and family, the opportunity and ability to have her fly over from Paris, where she currently studies, was such a great break from reality!

Although I’ve been here in Prague for weeks and am feeling much more comfortable with it–familiarizing myself with getting around, curating a collection of favorite places to grab a coffee, take walks, have lunch, read a book, take the best pictures, etc., and generally feeling normal being here–showing a guest who’s new to Prague around my new home has made me feel more like a local than anything has before.

Not only has showing my sister around made me feel like a Prague-expert (although, don’t get me wrong, there’s still soooo much I haven’t seen), but it’s also made me see the city more clearly than I have before. It’s hard to explain, but both exploring the city alone and doing so with new friends, although fun and overall great general experiences, come with a heightened sense of tenseness that just isn’t there when you’re with someone who you know and trust completely.  Being completely at ease with your company and having no agenda at all makes it easier to take in the beauty of the place that surrounds you, and to really feel like you’re there. A phenomena of study abroad that I, and many people that I know, have experienced, is the feeling that you’re kind of always in a dream. This fades with time, obviously, as things become familiar and routine, and as external factors like jet lag and general exhaustion wear off.  But, there’s nothing that can make you feel quite as normal and in-the-moment as being in a beautiful (still new and exciting) place with a best friend.

To start our together-adventure in Prague, we got dinner (Thai food…those who know anything about us will not be surprised by this choice), and bopped around the city at night. It was disappointing that she didn’t arrive until after dark, because we’d just had the most beautiful, clear, sunny day. Prague often has a kind of smoky, foggy affect in the air even on the sunniest of days, and although it’s only subtle and isn’t ugly, and doesn’t take away from sunny days by any means, it was a rare day with no visible smog at all.

The next day we did all the typical sight seeing; beautiful old town square and astronomical clock, Charles Bridge, and the walk up to Prague castle on the other side of the river.

After an exhausting day of sight seeing and walking (and walking and walking and walking), the next day we found a great, adorable coffee shop (my new favorite in the city–always finding new spots!) to relax, chat, and plan upcoming trips (!!)  in.

We both had a wonderful time, and I know that she can’t wait to return to Prague.  (One of her favorite parts of visiting me was  bragging that she “doesn’t really have to worry about ever getting lost in Paris”, because she doesn’t have to deal with a city where nothing makes sense and everything is round and streets are winding and some are only one-person wide. She really milked that). While she came away with bragging rights, I came away with a deeper appreciation for the beauty of this city!

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The First Adventures

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After just a week in a new city, I’ve explored some incredible sights, and had some insane experiences. The excitement of discovering an entirely new corner of the world is indescribable, and I hope that the brief tales of my own experiences encourage you to travel and adventure for yourself.

There are a few major advantages to studying abroad in a place rather than just visiting it; earning college credit, living in a safe, organized, communal way with people in the same boat as you, and having all logistics taken care of with guidance and leadership are wonderful, but the ability to comfortably settle roots in a place, give yourself what feels like unlimited time to uncover and discover it, have freedom to travel in and around your home base to other undiscovered locations, including to places you’d never think to or be able to go to without the opportunities provided by your study abroad program, possibly learn a new language, and delve deeply into a formerly unfamiliar culture, meet its people, eat its food, and wonder at its art and architecture are experiences that will enrich you as a person and stay with you forever.

This first week, I had the opportunity to explore some of Prague, as well as some rural, mountainous areas outside the city. The old town square of Prague is beautiful; it houses the famous astronomical tower, and has tons of squigely, pastel-colored building lined streets branching off from it. I’ve heard that one of the best ways to get to know Prague is by intentionally getting lost in its streets, and I can now attest to the effectiveness of this strategy! (Although my getting-lost experience was accidental, go figure). After a morning of wandering around, thinking I’d easily be able to make it back to the metro by following landmarks that I’d taken mental notes of, I was left entirely lost, with a dead phone (don’t forget, freezing temps drain those bad boys fast), and a class to make it to. I eventually did find the metro (and make it to class), but even if I hadn’t I think I’d still be satisfied; Prague’s hidden corners are its absolute best quality, and exploring them is like running through a maze.

After another day, this time with friends, of exploring Prague castle and the other side of the river in general, I’m left with the most awe-inspired love of this city. Its history and uniqueness are indescribable.

This past weekend, we took a hike through the mountains of a rural area outside Prague. The small town housed an ancient church which we walked through, before braving the icy devil’s trap of a mountain. The Czech Republic, for those not aware, is cold. Like cold, cold. So you can imagine our surprise when we continued a hike whose first 20 feet were made up of what felt like an ice covered sliding board. But, after making it to the top (barely), the views absolutely made up for it. The expansive mountains and the village and church nestled in them were breathtaking. So was the hike back down (most people fell so hard they knocked the wind out of themselves, usually more than once).

I can’t wait to continue uncovering the nooks and crannies of Prague, and adventuring out into the greater Czech Republic (and surrounding countries). I’ll keep ya posted.IMG_6010.JPGIMG_5939.JPG

The Very Beginning: A Reflection

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The first week of my study abroad experience is behind me. It has been at once surreal, exhausting, exciting, terrifying, fascinating and uninteresting, and long. Emphasis on long. No matter how gracefully you approach this period, and no matter how prepared you think you are, it’s going to feel overwhelming, and you’re going to need to work to catch your footing and carve a niche out for yourself.

I’ve found that no matter how confident and centered I felt when I left, everything kind of went out the window when I got here. There is nothing to remind you of the value of comfort, confidence, familiarity, and home quite like jetting across the world and dropping out of the sky to an entirely unfamiliar place. From language barriers, meeting an entire world of new people, being separated by at least hundreds and at most thousands of miles from everyone I know, love, and trust, living with only what I could fit in two suitcases…absolutely everything about this week has been overwhelming and unpredictable.

This is not all bad; it’s actually not necessarily bad at all. It is overwhelming, and it does desperately need all of your attention and focus. I’ve found that focusing on creating a routine, maintaining communication with loved ones, being diligent about learning and practicing this new language, getting enough sleep, maintaining practices that make me feel fulfilled and at home, and and exploring and familiarizing myself with this city have been instrumental in making this week go as smoothly as possible.

One of the first issues I ran into was having an irregular and unpredictable schedule. This meant that I was constantly running from point A to point B, and often missing meals without realizing it. Having healthy, easy to grab-and-go food on hand has helped me greatly in getting my schedule back on track–after the first few days of getting home at 7:00 realizing I’d only eaten an apple all day, my energy was low and I was feeling pretty run down, to say the least. It may sound basic, but making sure that you’re fueling yourself properly is so incredibly important, especially when you’re in a situation where that’s the last thing you think about.

As I’ve said ten times by now, this stage of the semester is hectic and overwhelming. In moments of stress and self-doubt, having loved ones to talk to, especially those in similar situations as me, has been a life saver. My sister and best friend are both studying abroad, and talking to them about my experiences and hearing theirs on a regular basis has made me feel connected to and close to them. Feeling comradery and togetherness with trusted friends and supporters has been essential for me for in this strange, sometimes solitary week.

Finally, as I mentioned before, it is very likely that your sense of self will change during this foreign experience. To reclaim my mental center and establish more regularity in my life, I’ve made a point of doing things that I love to do, that bring me fulfillment, and that I do regularly in my daily life at home. For me, this has meant regularly journaling, reading, watching (good) movies, talking to loved ones, and exercising. Also, as an introvert, it’s very important for me to have alone, re-charge time. Prioritize what your body and mind need to feel most whole.

No matter what, this week is going to feel like years. To make yourself feel as comfortable as you can in a stereotypically uncomfortable time, try to ground yourself just as much as you go with the flow, and find consolation in the idea that with time, this will become the new normal. IMG_6009.JPG