I’m 23, which many would argue is far too young to be looking back fondly on anything. By all standards, I’m barely an adult. A trial-adult, if you will.
So I’m gonna adopt the Homer Simpson model of perspective with this post, and tell you about the best four months of my life… so far.
I spent four months studying abroad in Prague, in case you somehow missed my zillion posts about it. I loved it so much. If I could hug the Czech Republic, I would.
There’s a ton of stuff for me to unpack about my amazing experience, but I wanna get this somewhat obvious pointer out of the way first.
Not everyone can afford to study abroad. And it sucks.
The world is a cruel place, and if I had the means, I’d fund every single scholastic adventure. Unfortunately, experiences like these don’t come cheap (but if you’re curious, Eastern Europe and certain South American programs can be blessings to one’s pocketbook. Give it a look if you haven’t already. I originally planned for a semester in Italy, but Prague’s low-cost barrier won me over, then the place itself won me over again.).
But if you can swing it, study abroad. Even if you don’t think it’s for you. Go all Nike/Shia LaBeouf and just do it.
1. Seeing more places than you ever imagined.
If you don’t mind the mild obnoxiousness, here’s a list of every place I visited while I was in Prague (listed in chronological order); Kutna Hora, Brno, Vienna, Brussels, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Malmo, Krakow, Budapest, Cesky Krumlov, Rome, Santa Marinella, Florence, Venice, Berlin and Dresden. Spoiler alert; I loved every place I visited.
One thing about growing up the United States was that you forget just how big stuff is. I could drive for four hours in one direction and still be in Kansas. In Europe, I was in another country. It was awesome.
Close proximity means that travel to other countries is also infinitely cheaper. I’m going back to Italy this year, and the flight is just under $900. Now, given my location, it was a steal. But when I lived in Prague, the most I ever paid for my flight was $125.
One of the most amazing things to me was seeing just how different each country is. The Netherlands basically embraced me as soon as I stepped off the plane. The Czech Republic was quietly reserved. Italy was warmly enthusiastic. Vienna was kind and polite. You get the idea. A few hundred miles = a whole new culture.
2. Seeing the benefits of a different way of living.
In Prague, the most pointless thing you can buy yourself is a car. Seriously, their transportation is next level. I went anywhere and everywhere and didn’t miss driving at all.
One unexpected aspect of a nearly car-free city is the ability to shift your brain from the road to elsewhere. The tram to the city passed by Prague Castle, so I got to see a spectacular view almost every day. Or I could work on planning upcoming trips or homework (lol). Or just sit and do nothing.
You can also strike up a few conversations, providing the culture permits it. Or assist a fellow tourist. Speaking from experience, if you’re lost, you probably look like it. I seriously considered wearing a pin that said, “I speak English and know how to get to Prague Castle. Ask me how,” because so many tourist looked genuinely hesitant to bother me, or anyone for that matter.
When I got back home, driving once again became part of my daily routine, because it works well for me in my current environment. But if I ever found myself in Prague for an extended stay, I’d leave my car (affectionately known as Herbert) behind.
I’ll never eat McDonald’s again.
4. Handing Crises in Real-time.
Three glaring examples of things that went spectacularly wrong during my stay abroad in no particular order; getting unfathomably lost in Budapest mere hours before my train was supposed to leave, forgetting my passport and only realizing at the airport, and trying to figure out how to work with a malfunctioning laptop when there are assignments and freelancing projects to finish.
The thing about being a foreigner facing a rough situation is that nine times out of ten, this shit needs to be solved right now. Circumstances be dammed! Who cares if your flight leaves in an hour? Get your ass in a taxi and get your passport ASAP!
Sometimes luck worked in my favor (my flight got delayed) and other times I had to shove my panic aside so I’d have a level head to think my way through this. You will develop coping skills you never knew you had in moments you’d never thought you’d be facing.
It’ll also give you some perspective. Yeah, I still get stressed, but very little can now top forgetting my passport on my way to a goddam airport.
5. Making the Best of an Odd Situation.
I’ll say this till I die; I’m 90% sure I stayed in a murder house in Charleroi. Look at the pics and tell me it doesn’t look like something straight out of a horror movie.
You could behave like I did, and stay up most of the night in total fear.
Or, you could do what my travel buddy did; embrace it. She took photo after photo and called every family member who would listen because get this mom and dad we’re spending the night in a murder house and it’s so weird lol call you when we get to Brussels.
What I saw as the basis for my nightmares, she saw as an adventure. Something worth documenting to tell (warn) others of later.
This isn’t just limited to sketchy Airbnbs. Looking at the silver lining had it’s place everywhere I went. Missed a tour time slot? Neat, now we can really enjoy this Vienna restaurant without feeling rushed. Stuck in line? Cool chance to take in my surroundings and make sure all the photos I took don’t suck. Have to get up early to make a tour? How many other people can say they saw a near-empty Amsterdam at sunrise.
You don’t have to be overly obnoxious about it. Just acknowledge the weird and embrace it.
That’s actually a great motto for studying abroad… embrace the weird.
Any benefits you gained from studying abroad, or just travel in general? Tell me once I find my passport!
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