First Fortnight

September 25, 2017

in Academic Year 2017-2018, Andrew Gray, Czech Republic, Europe, Fall 2017

It started with the longest flight of my life. It seems unpleasant, but to my surprise –and to my fortune– I was able to fly with Lufthansa (a big German airline) instead of United, and my God does Lufthansa care about their customers by comparison. Two in-flight meals, all the TV programs and movies my tender heart could desire, and absolutely no sleep! I should note that I’ve never been able to sleep on airplanes before, and I haven’t a clue why. After landing, I was unimpressed by the Frankfurt airport we landed in for the layover; I heard so many wonderful things about its size and liveliness, yet I was ultimately treated to long hallways filled with gift shops, followed by designated smoking rooms, followed by gift shops, followed by more smoking rooms, and very few restaurants. Still, the layover didn’t keep me there long, and before I knew it I was on the quick, one-hour flight that would bring me to my new home for the next few months: Prague. As we made our descent, I kept peeking out the window at some buildings below, thinking, Is that Prague? No. Hmmmm, is that it!? No, until I finally laid eyes on the Vltava River and there was no more mistaking it.

This. City. Is. Beautiful. In the incredibly short amount of time I’ve been in this place so far, this is the one point I cannot stop mentioning to anyone whose curiosity begs the question, “how is Prague?” Seriously. The colorful four-to-five story buildings with red roofs, the gothic castles and churches, the way the sun beats down on the river, all create a uniquely European aesthetic unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. This place is so rich in history, so much so that it’s often referred to as the “heart of Europe.” I have yet to see much of Europe — aside from a brief family vacation to Ireland five years ago — but it’s difficult to dispute that title so far.

One of the nicest aspects of living in the Czech Republic has been the prices. A typical night out involves a 0.5 liter beer for 40 Koruna, an entree for 180 Koruna, and a tip in the vicinity of 5-10%, totalling around 240 Koruna, or $12 in the US. Odd as it may seem to Americans who are accustomed to a $12 entree, $6 drink, and a 20% tip, waiters in the Czech Republic are paid decent enough wages that naturally yield a culture which does not pressure customers to tip large quantities. Along with this comes a restaurant environment in which customers are not hurried to pay and leave once they have finished their meal; since the waiters’ hourly wage is sufficient to pay the rent, they do not depend on serving as many tables as possible during their shift. I definitely prefer this relative to the system in the US.

Since prices are fairly forgiving, my friends and I have been going out to dinner almost every night. I’ve finagled my way into a group of guys that is mostly comprised of two smaller friend groups from Haverford College and Claremont McKenna College, made easy by the fact that a number of them live upstairs in the same apartment building. I consider myself pretty different from a lot of the guys in this group, but they’ve been very welcoming and have even given me the endearing nickname, “Sandman” (Andy became “Sandy,” then “Sandman,” even “Sandra Bullock” on occasion, which is flattering, because who doesn’t love Sandra Bullock?). We’ve explored some popular bars and clubs, as well as stumbled upon a few lesser known spots that we like, but perhaps most importantly we found a few bars that air American Football games. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t find access to all my Packers and Badgers needs.

I know it’s in my best interest to keep this first post a bit brief, but I thought I would end with a little reflection on what I want to get out of this trip. During orientation events we were sat down to write out a series of realistic goals and expectations we have while we are here, identifying obstacles and supports to these ambitions. To my surprise, I couldn’t think of anything to write on the paper. Perhaps some part of me preferred not to be in a situation wherein I fall well short of my expectations, ultimately feeling like I’ve failed in my attempt to get the most out of the trip. My actual plan is pretty straight-forward: I want to figure myself out a bit more. I want to explore as much of Europe as I can. I want to see if living somewhere outside the US is a viable option after I graduate. I want to learn more about European politics. I want to leave a positive impression on the people I meet here. I have heard countless tales from friends and acquaintances alike that studying abroad for a semester is a life-changing experience. I guess I’m ready to be changed a bit. I needed something new in my life, something so unfamiliar to my routine that I was forced to adapt in drastic ways. So far, that’s exactly what I’ve experienced. Whether that was the right call to make is up to time to decide, but I like Prague. This place feels nothing like home, but maybe that’s exactly what I need.

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