Category Archives: Czech Republic

Reflections on Study Abroad

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It’s hard to reflect on studying abroad in a concise, understandable way–there’s just too much to say, too many of them things that you won’t understand until you do it yourself.

I’ll start with the most important and obvious part: this has been the best experience of my life. I didn’t have any expectations going in because I knew that I couldn’t possibly have a concept for what it was going to be like until I did, but if I would have had expectations, they would have been surpassed. I can see the differences in myself so much more clearly now that I’m home; I am more direct and confident and optimistic, my priorities are aligned and clear, and the world feels so much smaller.

Some things are specific to my experience, and don’t necessarily apply to everyone who studies abroad. I had a language barrier, with a language that I literally knew one (useless) word in. I cannot emphasize how incredibly strange this feels, how alienating it can be, and how much of an idiot it can make you feel like. You learn to avoid the need to speak to people, you pick up on the cultural mannerisms and behavior, you learn the necessary phrases: what people are going to ask you and where, how to answer, how not to appear lost and confused and stupid. Another important, specific factor: cultural attitude. Czech people, at least in public situations, are not conversational or friendly or welcoming. I have met some of the best individuals, who are warm and kind and talkative, but as a whole, in public, the cultural attitude is individualistic and independent, pessimistic, and very quiet. I learned this quickly, and adjusted my behavior without even realizing it (making eye contact with people in public feels foreign to me now, let alone having conversations with strangers). This actually made it easier for me as someone who didn’t understand Czech–I didn’t need to speak nearly as much as I would have had to in America. The point is: you learn. When you are completely immersed, you learn quickly. And, even though it can be difficult, this is an invaluable experience. I emphatically believe that if everyone experienced this first hand, the world would be a kinder, more tolerant, and more empathetic place. It is without a doubt one of the most fundamentally important and formative things I’ve experienced.

Another amazing aspect of studying abroad is the ability to travel. Personally, I traveled a lot–you could travel less than I did (or more!), or just explore your home country; whatever approach you take, traveling is not just really, really, fun, but makes you better at dealing with problems in life by expanding your perspective. Some problems are urgent, and when they are, you deal with them. Some aren’t. And you still deal with them. But learning how to deal with high stress situations not only equips you to deal with other high stress situations–it gives you the perspective to determine what actually is a high stress situation and what isn’t. Plus, the more sights you see and people you meet and languages you hear and food you eat and ambiances you absorb, the better off you’ll be for the rest of your life.

To sign off what has the potential to be a much longer reflection, I’ll just say this: if you are considering studying abroad, do it. If you are not considering studying abroad, do it. If you’re nervous or scared or hesitant, do it (do not ever make a decision based on fear, especially the decision not to do something). You are stunting your own growth and preventing indescribable amounts of future happiness by staying in the safe lane. I’ve spoken about how much living across an ocean helps you grow and learn, but the most important thing, to me, is how much happiness it brought to my life. If your experience is anything like mine or the dozens of people I’ve spoken to who’ve done the same, you will feel more happiness than you even knew you could feel. It will enrich your life with so much joy that  you won’t even be able to put it into words. So please, please just do it.

(Me, at the beginning)

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(& the end)

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Final Consensus on Being Vegan in Prague

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As I’ve spoken about before several times, I’m vegan, and therefore have a different perspective on cities and their food. When I was planning to come to Prague and when I first arrived, I was nervous that I would have an extremely hard time maintaining my veganism with ease. However, after living in Prague for about half a year and traveling to various other cities in Europe, I can make a pleasantly surprising verdict: Prague is a very vegan-friendly city. From the incredible number of fully vegan restaurants (many even have entirely raw menus, or sections that are completely raw, including soups, appetizers, deserts, and main courses, NOT just salads), to vegetarian/vegan restaurants, to restaurants of ethnicities that lend themselves to being vegan friendly, to vegan grocery stores and markets–Here are just a very few of my very favorite places to grab a vegan meal or snack:

Vegan’s:

This is a great, cute vegan restaurant on the hilly side of the river–it has a full restaurant upstairs, and a cute cafe on the ground floor. If you can make it all the way up the hill and then up about 10 narrow flights of spiral stairs, you’ll be rewarded with delish vegan food, everything from Indonesian inspired bowls with rice and tempeh, to amazing veggie burgers, to vegan lasagna, to several veganized traditional Czech foods like svičkova and gulaš. At the cafe downstairs, you can find coffees and teas made with plant-based milk, deserts, sandwiches and salads, and vegan snacks like date bars and chocolate.

Herbivore

Herbivore is an adorable vegan restaurant/grocery store, without a traditional menu (aside from the smoothies, acai bowls, and beverages), instead offering a range of buffet style dishes that change daily. I can’t recommend this little place enough–the people are lovely and the food is AMAZING.

Maitrea

Maitrea is a slightly more upscale vegetarian/vegan restaurant, right off of Old Town Square. The interior is breathtaking, especially when you go downstairs (another Prague spiral staircase); it looks like you’re stepping into Alice and Wonderland. It’s cavernous, and has pink walls and enormous lighting fixtures that look like real flowers hanging from the ceiling–seriously just go for the aesthetic. The menu is large and varied, and I’ve never been disappointed.

Lemon Leaf

Thai is my absolute favorite food in the world, and I’ve actually struggled to find a Thai restaurant in Prague that rivals my favorite from home. Lemon Leaf, a beautiful, open Thai restaurant, is a great option. As is common with Thai, it’s incredibly easy to find vegan dishes, and their food tastes amazing and is obviously fresh and high quality.

Lovin’ Hut

Lovin’ Hut is another vegan restaurant and grocery store. Their selection is great, and you can always count on a fresh bottle of Nemleko–a local Czech brand of almond and poppyseed milk with the purest ingredients list you’ll ever find. It’s a great place to stock up on your vegan essentials, if you like to branch from normal whole foods into fancy specialized stuff, or treat-yo-self snacks.

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Spring in Prague

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IMG_8213.JPGIMG_8212.JPGAfter an extremely long, freezing, and draining but beautiful winter, spring is finally upon us in Prague. Because I’d only known Prague in the winter, I didn’t realize how beautiful it could be (and how much easier life could be when you don’t have to worry about freezing to death!). Although it is a very winter-ey city, Prague really shines in the warm weather, and there are so many great things to do and see that are even more fun in the sunshine. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Petrin Hill

Petrin Hill is a beautiful hillside on the castle-side of the Vltava River, which runs through the center of Prague. The hill is covered in meadows and flowering trees, and has many winding paths to lead you to the top. It’s a popular place to lounge in the sun or picnic, and you’ll often find couples or groups of friends with wine and snacks dotting the hillside. It also has spectacular views of the entire city, so it’s a great place to rest after a hike to soak up the orange roofs.

2.  Charles Bridge at Sunrise

Although Charles Bridge is beautiful, and a definite must-see when visiting Prague, it is absolutely packed with tourists almost all hours of the day; most locals and people who live here know to avoid it when possible. However, I highly recommend walking the bridge when it’s empty, as it really allows you to appreciate the views and the bridge itself. A great time to do so is early in the morning, not just because it’s empty, but because Charles Bridge is one of the best locations in Prague to watch the sunrise. The sunrise in the winter is great (bonus points because it isn’t until 8 am…), but the springtime beauty more than makes up for the earlier call time. You’ll really feel like you’ve stepped back in time if you’re able to experience an empty city.

3. Jogging

Running in Prague can be tricky if you’re not used to cobblestones (correction: walking in Prague can be tricky if you’re not used to cobblestones), but if your foot and ankle muscles have gone through a strength and balance bootcamp like mine have, Prague is a great place to enjoy a morning run. I definitely recommend jogging in the morning or late evening, when the crowds have thinned, but there are also some great parks that are run-able whenever’s convenient for you. Running also gives you a great appreciation for the accessibility of the city; Prague is a very manageable, walkable city, and going for a jog is a great way to get your bearings for sight seeing later in the day. I love to run from my apartment to old town square, across the Vltava, along the river to the lesser town, back across the river and back again. You can also take advantage of the massive, Budapest-esque hills, and get some extra leg action by incorporating them into your route.

4. Picnics

In the warm weather, a great lunch or dinner option is grabbing some fruit and hummus and picnicing in one of Prague’s beautiful parks. Petrin Hill, that I mentioned before, is a great option (you can also work up an appetite on your way up), but there are also several other parks dotted around the city. A favorite of mine is right across the Charles Bridge on the Vltava; it’s also where you’ll find the giant-faceless-baby sculptures. There’s also a beautiful one on an island in the river, easily accessible from the center of the Legion Bridge.

5. Markets

On Easter weekend, Prague explodes with markets in every square and park, and many stay throughout the spring season; grab a trdelník, beer, or sausage, and experience the festival culture in Prague.

Documentation: Visual

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As you may know from my bio, or the photos I attach to my blog posts here on Temple U Abroad, I’m a photographer. I study film cinematography at home, and my passion for visuals and life documentation translates itself into photography naturally. For me, traveling presents the perfect opportunity for me to just go crazy with my camera; everything is so new and beautiful that I just never want to put it down (and rarely do).

Having this as a hobby/artistic passion isn’t just fun for me–it’s really convenient. I get to spend time in a beautiful place doing what I love, while at the same time capturing moments and memories that I can keep forever, and share with friends and family (and you!). I thought I’d take these next two posts to discuss documentation of travel and life, both if you naturally enjoy the process and if you don’t (but still want to make sure you’re documenting)–starting with visual documentation.

If you do enjoy taking photos (I don’t mean just fancy, artistic photos–phone photos are fine!), a great way to make sure you’re both living in the present moment and documenting is to pace yourself. If you’ve just arrived and are exploring for the first time, especially if you’re with friends, take pictures sparingly, and only of things you know you’ll care to look at later. There’s no need to take up every ounce of phone/camera memory and totally overwhelm your future self with pictures of every little detail; plus, this takes your attention away from the experience in the moment, and puts it on the picture.

When you get home, go through your pictures, see what you like and what you don’t, and use the pictures to help you decide what your favorite areas of the city are. After you’ve organized your preferences mentally, you can make a point to return to those places alone, with the specific intention of taking photos.

One of my favorite things to do is take a weekend day to purposely get lost, giving myself the challenge to only photograph things from a unique, deliberate perspective. This forces me to really see and appreciate my surroundings and the nuances of the city; it’s also really fun and creative. It’s a great way to force yourself to go out and deliberately appreciate where you are. Plus, the photos you get will be so much better than the ones you arbitrarily snap as you’re walking with friends or distracted by conversations.

If you don’t like taking pictures, but still don’t want to come out of the experience with no records, a great way to make sure you’re preserving memories is to just rely on your phone. So many people invest in a new camera before they travel, and for some people, this is great. But, if you know you’re uninterested, or if you feel like it will just weigh you down and be another thing you have to worry about, don’t bother. There’s nothing wrong with slightly less artistic pictures–whatever helps you remember your experience in the most convenient way possible is what you should do.

When you’re out and about, just try to be aware of your thought processes. Whenever you gasp, gape, or swoon over something, that’s your cue to take a picture. I know how common it is for people to return from a trip and only then realize they have no pictures–if you just try to consciously be more aware of your thought processes, associating awe with preservation, it will be easier to remember to just whip out your phone and snap a photo every once in a while.

Also, use social media to your advantage. Many people are quick to snapchat their days to share with their friends–if you take a snapchat, save it. It’s a perfectly fine way to help yourself remember your experiences later.

Make your documentation process as fun and doable for yourself as you can–don’t underestimate how much you’ll value the memories captured for the rest of your life!

Study Abroad: The Very Beginning

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Since I started my college search in high school, I’ve known I would study abroad. I’ve looked forward to forging an entirely new, adventurous life, embarking on an adventure of self-reliance and travel, more than anything.
Since I’ve started officially narrowing down programs, the reality of my upcoming adventure and the logistical gymnastics to make it happen has been thrilling, challenging, blissful, terrifying, exciting, stressful, and promising.

The first greatest lessons of this process thus far: listen to yourself.
For years, I wanted to go to Spain; I studied the language to an almost fluent level in high school, and wanted to maintain it by studying there, since I was unable to take it on as a minor.  But, after really listening to my inner voice and allowing the nagging, subconscious hesitancies to come into clear view, I admitted to myself that if not for the language, I would not choose to live in Spain. I separated myself from that long anticipated, assumed plan. I broadened my possibilities, and allowed my intuition to pull me to a place that I wanted to make home for half of a year.

After I made this decision, my sister convinced me to pursue Paris, where she would be studying at the same time. The idea of living in the heart of France, a world capital, with my sister just across the city, was thrilling. I poured all my energy into finding the perfect program for me, and completely set my heart on finding one–

Lesson number two: Be flexible.

I couldn’t. No matter where I looked, the hours I spent, the people I spoke to, there simply was not a program that was doable for me (and believe me, I fought this fact. Hard.). After feeling crushed and defeated, again, my decision compromised and my seemingly solid and definite plans destroyed, I had to dust myself off, again, get up, again, clear my mind, again, and follow my gut.
I thought I would feel bitter and disillusioned, but (and let me really drive this home), I have never felt more free, excited, and independent. I thought I had felt all the anticipation and eagerness I could, but realizing that I now had a completely clean slate, beholden to no language and no person, I could literally just scroll through cities, point to one, and say yes.

I highly recommend emulating the way I approached this step: I found a program that fit all of my financial and academic needs first, and then chose a city they offered (the list was extensive), instead of getting my heart set on a city and not being able to find a program there. I narrowed it down to three, listened to my gut, talked to my family (and listened to their intuition, as well; they knew which city was the most “me”), and settled, to my complete delight, on Prague, Czech Republic.

The logistical process of applying and fulfilling all requirements is essential, and requires almost all of your focus and dedication. It cannot be neglected or procrastinated. But, if you can manage that in a responsible way, you and your goals are the most important part of this process. Do not forget to listen to yourself, your wants, and your intuition. You are making a home; choose one that lights you up.

Katrina Salamon