Greetings from my semester in Prague
While it was a rarity for our parents, backpacking in Europe has taken on a different form for our generation. Studying abroad has become a rite of passage, almost an expectation for some. Consider the fact that more than two-thirds of Colby students study abroad during their time on the Hill, and for me, that time is now.
For this semester, my home is Prague; I am enrolled in a program run by New York University. I spend most of my weekends traveling, and I return home to a room that I have transformed into a haven eerily resembling my dorm room last year at Colby. My thoughts frequently turn to my favorite café, the Bakeshop, where I am treated as a local, and the owner calls me by name; and to my city that has adopted me for a mere four months while planning to return to the States as a changed person.
Acclimating to a city as large as Prague was a surprisingly easy transition. By the end of the first week, I had learned to tone-down my “Americanness,” even though the Czech Republic is more welcoming to Americans than some Western European countries, to always be aware of pickpockets, to not be offended by people’s stares and to never trust taxi drivers. And thankfully, I learned the lessons with relatively few complications.
However, learning Czech has not been so easy, especially since I have only had experience with Romance languages. The pronunciation is perhaps the hardest part of learning the language. It took me several weeks until I learned in Czech class that the common phrase, “Fakt yo?” is a way of saying “Is that right?” and that people on the metro were not actually swearing at me.
Another adjustment that I made was to the grocery stores. It took me far too long to realize that skim milk was essentially non-existent, except, of course, at Starbucks. And, when my friend and I wanted to bake cookies, a guilty pleasure in which we often engaged in the AMS kitchen last year, we had such difficulty finding the ingredients that we still have not found all of them. But hey, I didn’t come to Prague to transport my life into a Prague setting. So I have taken to wandering through Old Town Square, stopping at one of the many stands for doughnut-like cinnamon pastries in place of my homemade cookies; it’s been an easy trade-off.
After spending a couple of weeks in the Czech Republic, I decided I was ready to start exploring Europe. Allow me to share with you some of my travel experiences.
Anxiously awaiting my first weekend trip, my friend and I had every detail planned for a wonderful getaway to Cinque Terre on the coast of Italy. Although trains seem to be the transportation of choice for many Europeans, our trains did not run with ideal consistency. After a weekend of hiking along the Italian coast, eating far too much mint-chocolate gelato, and appreciating the best of Italian food, we almost missed our first train—I hate to admit, but it was because I insisted on getting bruschetta from a place that doesn’t even offer take-out. Luckily, we made the train, but our troubles had only just begun. The first train ran on time, but the second, connecting us to the Rome airport train, was late. We missed our train, missed our flight, spent the night at the airport and missed our first day of classes. Needless to say, from then on, I have not had similar problems; I learned my lesson. I have continued to travel smoothly all around Europe: to Nice, Florence, Copenhagen and London among some other places.
From visiting the westernmost point of Europe in Portugal to going to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, I have noticed a striking difference between Western Europe, where I find the atmosphere is more relatable, to Central Europe where the legacy of communism still resonates in society. The stoic nature of people in the Czech Republic compared to the apparent indulgence in leisure that my friend and I both observed while in France are not things you can fully realize until you spend time there. Only through immersion in a culture do you gain an appreciation for the subtleties that distinguish it.
Alongside my travel experiences, interacting with students in my program from other colleges has highlighted the uniqueness of the Colby community and the overall authentic type of person who goes to our school. I have noticed a different approach to relationships and a different approach to life. Meeting up with other Colby students abroad has been amazing. It is funny how I have felt an instant connection with Colby students while abroad, even if I only knew them as acquaintances on campus.
While I don’t complain that my weekends in Waterville have been replaced with excursions across Europe and that the landscape of Prague serves as my campus, studying abroad this semester has made me realize how dear Colby and its community is to me. I look forward to coming back with the experience and the perspective I have gained from immersion in another way of life. See you in the spring!
-Maddie Strachota ’13