Isabella R., Czech Republic – Central European Studies (Sociology)

ACADEMICS 

1. What types of classes did you take abroad and how did they compare to UCSB? Did you take major, minor, or GE courses? How did courses compare to UCSB (e.g. level of difficulty, grading system, course structure, method of assessment, length of lectures, number of meetings per week, language of instruction)? Was the student/instructor relationship more formal than at UCSB? Could you call instructors by their first names? Did they hold office hours? Did you find you needed to be more independent and take more initiative abroad? 

The only classes available to view are ones that students have taken in the past-available to view via the online Course Catalog on the UCSB EAP website. While it does list classes previously offered, there is no guarantee that those same classes will be offered again. I took three major classes (Sociology), one Communications class, and Czech language and culture. The program in the Czech Republic offers students the opportunity to take classes at their host site or at Charles University. My classes were all taken at the host site in Prague. The class sizes were significantly smaller than what I was used to, and they were structured more like a discussion between 10-15 students rather than a 50+ person lecture. The classes were also a lot easier because they were so focused on discussion, allowing for greater communication and feedback from the instructors. The grading system was the exact same as UCSB with a heavy emphasis on participation as well as class field trips. Attendance was mandatory for all students, and missing more than three All of the classes, except for Czech language, were taught in English, and classes either met twice a week for 90 minutes or once a week for 120 minutes. The instructors were much more formal than UCSB professors because their number of students was much smaller-also allowing them the chance to get to know us much better. They preferred that we called them by their first name and were readily available for questions via email or in office hours. When comparing it to my overall experience at UCSB, my time abroad was much easier and I felt more support from faculty because of how willing they were to get to know students to figure out how to help them. 

2. What was your favorite class abroad?

My favorite class I took abroad was a Communications class called American Media Impact on Post-Communist Czech Republic. The course was focused on how the American Media Model helped transition the Czech Republic from a communist to liberal structure. It granted a unique and comparative perspective on the Czech Republic’s history that allowed me to think about America’s international impact outside of Western Europe. Some topics included the impact of Coca-Cola, McDonaldization, and drugs on exposing a country previously trapped within the grasps of Communism. The class had about 15 people and so that allowed for a lot of discussion, and I really liked this aspect because we got to hear so many different perspectives. The instructor was actually a full-time journalist so she was able to provide very interesting and relevant information about the topic and how it relates to modern media. 

3. How would you describe your host institution? How does it compare to UCSB? Student enrollment and approximate campus size. How far or close is your host institution to the city center and nearest airport?

The program that UCEAP works with in the Czech Republic is CIEE-which offers classes that can be taken at their host site or at Charles University. I only took classes at the CIEE site which was a small building located in the city of Vysehrad. The building was specifically for CIEE students, so there were about 150 Americans taking classes there. The class sizes were very small-about 15 students per classroom and the building was also small. There was a reception desk where CIEE staff could be consulted for questions regarding housing, tuition, academics, etc. and also a cafe downstairs that sold various coffees, teas, pastries, and sandwiches. The site was a 15-20 minute tram ride from the city center and was either a 5 minute tram or 30 minute tram from the student housing sites. For me, my apartment was 30 minutes away, but the transportation system is so reliable, fast, and easy that I never had a problem getting to class on time. From the tram stop, it is about another 7-10 minute walk up a staircase to the host site. Besides the host site being located in a historical location, there is a beautiful spot where you can overlook the city. 

4. Are there student clubs/organizations that UC students can join?

While I did not personally join any clubs or organizations while abroad, I know a lot of people that participated in intramural sports. They seemed to really enjoy participating in those sports because they got to meet new people and play a sport they enjoy playing back home. There is even a Sociology class that I took called Czech Sports History and we met once a week to take a field trip to some sort of sports center. Some fun field trips we went on were ice skating, bubble soccer, and visiting Petrin, Prague’s version of the Eiffel Tower. 

HOUSING 

5. Describe your housing situation. Please include type of housing (e.g. dorm, apartment, homestay, etc.). How did you find your housing (e.g. Study Center, on your own, pre-arranged by program, etc.)? Who did you live with (e.g. local family, UC students, local students, international students)? How did your housing compare to UCSB/I.V. housing? Was it more affordable than UCSB/I.V. housing? Was it furnished or unfurnished? How long was your commute to your host institution and the city center from your housing? 

CIEE provided three different housing options: apartment, residence hall, or homestay. We were given the opportunity to review brief information about each housing option and rank them in order of preference. The apartment and residence hall were nearly identical in the sense that they were both actual apartment complexes rather than the residence hall being styled like a dorm. The apartment residents lived with other CIEE students in their unit, but other neighbors were Czech locals. Additionally, residents living in apartments were given a Czech buddy-a local who lived elsewhere that was available for questions about anything. With the residence halls, the entire apartment complex was CIEE students, and one of the units was a resident advisor. I lived in an apartment with two girls from different cities in the US. The program provides a cleaning service twice a month and they take care of all utility payments. 

FOOD 

6. Where would you eat most of your meals? Cafeterias, restaurants, street vendors, at home, etc.? 

I ate out most of the time because it was so cheap, and the neighborhood I lived in, Vinohrady, was a great place with lots of places to eat. They had practically every cuisine, especially Vietnamese food, so there was no shortage of options. When I decided to cook at home, I would walk a block to the grocery store. The apartment comes with cooking supplies and dishes/silverware that we were able to use. Because the CIEE host site is not an actual university, there is no cafeteria to purchase a meal plan, but there is the on-site cafe where you can purchase food. 

7. How much was an average meal? Do you have any budgeting tips for future students?

An average meal eating out costs around 200czk which is equivalent to $8.79USD, so the US dollar is very strong in the Czech Republic. I didn’t really have a budget for food because it was significantly cheaper than eating out in the US, but I did tend to eat at cheaper places to save money for travelling. A good tip, money-wise, is to save A LOT before you go abroad because you will want to travel everywhere! 

8. Would it be difficult for vegetarians/vegans and others with strict dietary restrictions to find meals?

Prague surprisingly had a lot of vegan options and one of my favorite restaurants, Sandokan, was around the corner from my place. It is a vegan indian buffet-style restaurant that has a flat rate of 130czk which is about $5.71USD. One of my friends is vegan and she had no problem finding quality food when eating out or when grocery shopping. Although meat is very popular in Czech restaurants, there are a variety of different cuisine options that can better cater to a vegan lifestyle

9. Describe your most memorable dining experience abroad.

My most memorable dining experience abroad was Budapest, Hungary. There is such a rich culture, and it is very unique to Europe. Food is a huge part of the culture, and I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I first booked my ticket. It became my favorite city that I travelled to while abroad, but my favorite thing about it was the food. There were so many different options, but they were so unconventional. Rather than getting a simple hamburger at a burger place, you could go to one of their famous ruin bars and grab a quick bite in one the rooms that had been converted into a food place. The ingredients were so fresh and full of flavor, and even the structure of the restaurants were unique and nothing like anything had ever seen before. We ate at the famous Mazel Tov restaurant, and I had the best hummus and falafel ever. One of my friends was Jewish, and she said that this was the only hummus and falafel that could come close to food in Israel-so you know it was good. Food in Budapest was not just about flavor, it was about the experience, so the restaurants always had some interesting twist in their architecture or the food on the menu had unconventional ingredients. 

10. What local food or drink do you miss most now that you are back? 

Prague is known for having a lot of kebab stands or restaurants on every block, so I think I will miss that the most. My favorite kebab place was around the corner from my apartment and sold kebabs in a box for $2USD. I will also miss Bokovka wine bar-they had the only wine I have ever tried and actually liked. Of course, I will miss all the other food places I frequented, but these two stand out as the most memorable. 

HOST CITY 

11. Describe your host city. Is it small, medium-sized, large? Rural, suburban, urban, tropical? Is it diverse? 

Prague is a small city and very easy to get around-whether you are walking or taking public transportation. There is a good mix of city, suburbs, and historical architecture. The city center, Old Town Square, has the typical historic buildings and as you move further away, the old clock towers are replaced by apartment complexes. Although they are complexes, they are still designed to match the Old Town Square architecture, so you never feel like you are in a very developed city like New York City. The Vltava River separates two parts of the city, and during the warmer months, you can see people on paddle boats gliding along the river. By the time my program ended, I felt like I could be dropped in any part of the city and be able to find my way home, because the tram and metro systems were very easy to navigate and always reliable and safe. The city itself is very clean, safe, and people are very respectful to one another. It is a very homogenous society, as most residents are Czech, and being Asian American, I was a little worried. However, I had no problems and the Czech locals were actually very inviting and eager to hear about a culture so different from their own. 

12. Was it easy to get around? Describe the public transportation in your host city. In non-English-speaking cities, was it easy or difficult to get around in English? 

My favorite aspect of Prague was the transportation system because it was so simple, fast, clean, and safe. I used google maps all the time to help me get around too, but even the tram and metro stops had very easy directions to follow. Czech locals were usually willing to help, as a lot of them could speak pretty good English, so it definitely was not necessary to speak Czech.

13. Did you feel safe in your host city? Do you have any safety tips for future students? Was pick-pocketing common? Was cat-calling common? Did you feel as safe, less safe, or more safe than in the U.S.? 

I felt very safe walking around Prague, and the city is so safe that children will take public transportation by themselves, schoolchildren will get to field trips via public transportation, and women will even leave their strollers with babies in them outside of stores or restaurants. Pick-pocketing was most common usually only when my friends and I went out at night, and a lot of my friends got their phones, wallets, or bags stolen as a result of not watching their things closely or just being the victim of a very experienced thief. While pickpocketing was common, it definitely was not as rampant as it is in bigger European cities such as Paris or Barcelona. Cat-calling was very rare and only occurred when my friends and I were out at night. Pickpockets are much more experienced than in the US, and they know how to spot vulnerable Americans, so I definitely recommend always holding on tightly to your phone, always keep your hand over your bag when you’re out at night, and always keep an eye out for the people around you. 

14. What were some interesting/fun things that you did in your host city? 

My favorite thing I did in Prague was visit the Christmas markets set up throughout the city during December. Christmas markets in Eastern Europe are a very big deal, and they have big Christmas trees set up with lots of vendors selling little trinkets or food. The biggest one was in Old Town Square, and it had a huge Christmas tree right in the center that they would countdown to light up every night. My friends and I frequented these markets nearly every week for some hot cocoa, roasted chestnuts, traditional Czech dessert and foods, and Christmas music. Everyone, locals and tourists alike, were in cheerful moods and everyone was just in the Christmas spirit and getting along with one another-there were people caroling up on a stage and everyone would sing along. 

HOST CULTURE 

15. How did you handle culture shock? 

I personally experienced culture shock for only a short period of time in the beginning. My biggest worry was that I felt like everyone around me was already having the best time and making friends while I wasn’t. However, I got invited by a girl in one of my classes to go to Vienna, Austria with 13 other students and I decided to jump outside my comfort zone and agree to go on the trip. I ended up really loving it and I stayed friends with a lot of the people on that trip afterwards. Essentially, what I’m saying is that you will feel culture shock, and you have to understand that it is a natural part of the process and you just have to remind yourself to put yourself out there. I had a big problem with culture shock when I returned to the US, and even more when I returned to UCSB. When I first got back to the US, I felt a little bit sad-almost depressed, and I hoped it would go away when I went back to school and returned to a routine. However, it only got worse when I got back to UCSB. Despite being back in the most familiar place, I felt out of place: I felt like I was drifting through everyday life and was always thinking about how much better my life was in Europe. Eventually, as I got back into my routine, this feeling went away, and while I still miss my time abroad, I look back at it fondly, as a nostalgic memory rather than a better alternative to my current situation. 

16. What is your favorite aspect of your host culture? 

My favorite aspect of Czech culture was the emphasis on relaxing or spending time with friends and family-especially with good beer. Czech locals I interacted with would always comment on the fast-paced nature of American society that forced Americans to be overworked five days a week and have no time or energy to do anything else on the weekends besides lay in bed and watch Netflix. Czechs, and Europeans, prefer to work less and have more time for hobbies and traveling. This made people have greater job satisfaction, and they were just friendlier in general. I hope to bring a part of this leisurely lifestyle back with me and I am trying to pick up new hobbies! 

TRAVEL 

17. Tell us your favorite travel story from your time abroad.

My favorite travel story is probably during my Fall break when my roommate and I decided to go to Venice. We had planned to be there for three days and the first day was beautiful and so sunny. However, the next day it started to rain and there were small puddles accumulating around the city. We were laughing at all the tourists because many of them were wearing plastic boots that street vendors were selling to cover your shoes and part of your legs to avoid getting wet. We quickly realized those leg covers were quite necessary as the city began flooding. Apparently, it had been the worst flood Venice had seen in 50 years. The worst of the flood for us was the day we had to leave: we had to lug our suitcases over our heads because there was nowhere on the ground to put them. We were laughing so hard at how ridiculous we probably looked with our leg wraps on and suitcases over our heads. We had to cross the entire city to get to the bus station and it ended up taking us two whole hours! It was my most memorable experience because it was so funny and of course something like that would happen to me and my roommate, but I’m glad that we were both able to not stress about it and just laugh it off. 

REFLECTION 

18. What was your biggest fear about studying abroad that turned out to be no big 

deal? 

My two biggest concerns were: not making friends and potential racism against Asians. Both of these turned out to be not a problem at all! I quickly found my group of friends and I ended up becoming best friends with one of my housemates and we still keep in touch! In terms of the racism, I was met with a warm and intrigued welcome everywhere I went and people’s shock was more attributed to innocent curiosity rather than hatred. I think the main lesson I learned was to keep an open mind and to always be willing to hang out with new people. 

19. What was your biggest challenge abroad? 

My biggest challenge was staying in touch with my friends back home, mostly because the time difference was so drastic, but also because I was always busy traveling or hanging out with my friends. I was worried that my friends felt like I forgot about them or replaced them, but everything I did I wished they could be there to experience it with me. I facetimed my friends a handful of times, kept up snapstreaks, and rarely texted, so I was nervous to return back home and see how they felt. It was exponentially harder for me because I live in Hawaii, so I hadn’t seen any of my friends over summer either: a total of six months combined with study abroad. While I am still struggling a little bit with my friendships, I know that my friends understood that I was busy and wasn’t purposefully not reaching out to them.

22. How have you changed as a result of your time abroad? 

I am a completely different person coming back from abroad, and everyone I know tells me that I am still the same person, yet somehow very different. I think that my experience abroad was incredibly transformative and I feel so much more mature and capable than ever. I feel more responsible and compassionate because of the different situations and cultures I came across while abroad. Being thrust into a country with a completely different culture and language enabled me to adapt quickly and learn valuable life skills that I would not have been able to develop outside the study abroad experience. I met one of my best friends who I know will stay in my life for a very long time, and I look back at my time abroad with sadness that it is over, gratefulness that it happened, and happiness with the person it helped me become.

20. What is your advice to prospective UCSB EAP students? 

My advice is to love every single minute abroad, even when you may hate it. The bad comes with the good, and the good with the bad. You will experience negative emotions at some point of your abroad experience, but I say that it is an aspect of the growth that you are experiencing when you are abroad. It is the most incredible time that you will have the privilege of experiencing in college, so you have to soak up every moment and experience in order to maximize the experience. Do not be lazy. Take care of your physical and mental health as necessary, but you will be so much happier when you decide to go outside and explore rather than staying inside and watching Netflix. Even if you think you have seen the entire city, big or small, there is always more to see and do. Maximize your time; that is really all I can tell you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s