Halfway update: lessons learned abroad

Since my last post I’ve been to Italy, Poland, and back to enjoy Prague for the weekend. Getting caught up in the whirlwind of studying abroad is easy to do, so I finally took some time to reflect on my experience and catch up on some much needed sleep.

I’ve been living abroad for over a month and a half now and I am constantly amazed by how much more of the world I’ve already seen. But now I know that there’s so much more I want to explore. Every place I go, I make a mental list of all the places I need to see on the next trip.

So far, after visiting five new countries and eight cities, and attempting to understand at least four new languages, I’ve learned a couple things.

One, the places I go to with the lowest expectations are by far the best. Vienna, Austria turned out to be an amazing city with interesting culture, great food, and more amazing parks, but I only went there because my friends were planning a trip and invited me to tag along. That weekend showed me how fun it is to be spontaneous, and prepped me for the upcoming travel.

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Mozart Statue in Vienna.
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Flea market in Vienna
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Vienna, Austria.

Krakow, Poland was another surprise that I’m so thankful i got to experience. My study abroad program hosted this trip which drew me in because it was covered by the program, so it was “free.”

Krakow was such an amazing city. I don’t know what I was expecting going into the trip. I definitely did not research the city because we had the weekend planned out for us. But wow, it was a surprise. The beautiful city has remnants from the tenth century, mixed flawlessly with architecture from every era. And then the food was insane. Vegan burgers, chicken schnitzel, Polish goulash and street food. Everything I ate was so delicious.

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Main square in Krakow
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Wawel Castle, Krakow
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Street performer, Krakow
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Vistula River, Krakow

So, if Poland taught me anything, it was to remember the places off the beaten path. London, Paris and Rome are all amazing cities, but the hidden gems in smaller, less popular places are just as great and feel even more special.

I’ve also learned that it’s equally important to spend time in your host city as it is to travel. This weekend in Prague was great and I remembered how much I love this city. That seems a bit dramatic since I’ve been in Prague since August. But for four weekends straight I was spending only a few days at a time in Prague for school then leaving for the next city.

My time in Prague was mostly spent sleeping, doing laundry, grocery shopping, and going to school. So, taking time to try new coffee shops, go out with friends, see the Festival of Lights reminded me how much Prague has to offer.

I look forward to spending more weekends in Prague and immersing myself further into the culture, and the upcoming Christmas markets!!

Learning to be spontaneous

Teaching my type-A self to take a step back and go with the travel flow.

Now that I have been living abroad for about a month, I have learned quite a bit about myself and about traveling. After my weekend in Vienna with some new friends I realized the beauty of being spontaneous in a new city.

As a self-identified type A person, I love a good plan. Knowing where I’m going and what to expect is extremely important for me. But when a group of friends from USD said they were headed to Vienna for the weekend and asked if I wanted to join them, I jumped in knowing practically nothing about where I was going. (Except that Arnold Schwarzenegger is from Austria.)

The weekend consisted of many miles walked, approximately 40 by Courtney’s iPhone, and many more unplanned discoveries. This adventurous group of girls got up the first morning and equipped with a map headed to the streets of this foreign city. No plan, no agenda, just walking toward whatever looked cool.

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Volksgarten, Vienna.

I decided to go along with it because A: I had no other option, and B: I did not want to be stranded alone. Much to my amazement we were able to cover the city quite well, and see beautiful sights.

When trying to find the parliament building we stumbled upon the circus that was in town for a few weeks, bringing back childhood memories of Ringling Bros. with my cousins. Then, behind the circus was a gorgeous building, the Rathaus, and wanted to look inside. But there was a Game City convention going on, so we managed to sneak in, telling the security guards that we just were visiting the building, and got to witness the juxtaposition of 19th century gothic architecture and teenagers trying out the new Nintendo games.

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Circus Roncalli set up in front of the Rathaus building.

By that point I realized that not having a plan for the city allowed us to make fun memories that would not have otherwise been made. And it just kept getting better.

That night we were walking around near our hostel and heard strange orchestra sounds coming from a nearby park/courtyard between two museums. When we got closer we found that the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna was celebrating it’s 125 anniversary with a giant exhibition projected on the building from dusk to midnight.

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“Infinite Screen” exhibition projected on the front of the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

We spent about an hour chatting and watching the multimedia show displaying “The Tower of Babel” by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, along with readings from famous literature and pieces of classical music in a cyclical “Infinite Screen”.

The weekend continued in this nature from stumbling upon delicious food at the Open Air Market, and gazing over the whole city from a hill behind the Schönbrunn Palace, to getting on the ferris wheel at Prater Park right during the most gorgeous sunset.

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Vienna open air market. On Saturdays there is an extensive flee market.
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View from the top of a ferris wheel in Prater Park.
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Vienna from the hill behind the Schönbrunn Palace.

 

Overall, my previous apprehensions about traveling have (mostly) disappeared. (I’m still uneasy about the actual travel after missing my bus home from Munich.) But without a little adventure, how will can I find the perfect park to take a midday snooze?

 

Appreciating the unspoken

Reflecting on the beauty of silence while exploring this history of the Czech Republic.

One of the main reasons I chose to study abroad in Prague was so that I could experience life in cities that had long, rich histories. At home, towns are at most 300 years old, and everything is new and shiny. But here so much is preserved with the cobblestone roads and rich with thousands of years of history.

Walking around castles and churches I am able to witness the most treasured and best preserved pieces of history around me, but I’ve noticed one particularly off-putting thing: the lack of respect tourists have for these sites.

Last Friday I visited a small Czech town Kutná Hora with a group of my peers from school. Our first stop was the Sedlec Ossuary, a 13th century cemetery that contains a catholic chapel decorated with the bones of 40,000-70,000 people. This morbidly interesting spot took my breath away, but not everyone around me was cast under the same spell. I heard classmates making jokes and other tourists taking pictures of themselves instead of the church around them.

This church is essentially a grave, and people were taking selfies with the skulls. I cannot understand why they would want to keep a picture like that. After leaving the Ossuary, my roommate compared the tourists to people taking selfies at places like Auschwitz. It’s just plain rude (and creepy).

All of this history has made me truly appreciative of taking a quiet moment. Walking around the Ossuary and two of the other churches in Kutná Hora, quietly taking in the beauty and history without the distraction of my phone or camera truly made the experience better.

When you are able to unplug and absorb the history around you, visiting these places becomes so much more rewarding. Yes, I took pictures to remember the experience (and to show my mom), but I also made sure to take time to enjoy the area around me from my own eyes, not a lens.

Since I arrived in Prague, I have had a stronger desire to go explore by myself and get lost in my thoughts. Often on the way home from school I’ll stop in a park or along the Vltava river and reflect on how gorgeous this city is. Reflective moments like this not only make me feel extremely deep and artsy, but help me collect my thoughts as I adjust to living in a new city/country/continent.

To quote my seat partner from my 12 hour flight to Switzerland, “Europe is so amazing. Life is so much different there. They live a fast paced life, but it’s also slow at the same time.”

This sounded crazy when he said it, but I finally understand. While during the work week everyone is bustling around the city, Czechs still remember to take time to enjoy the simple things, like meals, time with friends and the outdoors.

The Czech people are also very soft-spoken in public, so I’m taking a cue from them and their mandatory quiet hours law.

So here’s to a semester of stopping to enjoy history and taking quiet moments to detach from my customarily fast-paced and loud American life.

Na zdraví (cheers)

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Pedal boating on the Vltava River at night.

The art of blending in while being completely lost

Making my way downtown, walking fast, faces pass, and wait … am I still in New Town? Navigating a new city can be difficult, but understanding the layout of a city in a new country where there is a significant lack of street signs and everything is in Czech makes things a bit more interesting.

After a week in Prague I can finally recognize major landmarks and butcher the name of the closest tram stops to my apartment and school, but after that I am a wandering tourist lost in the streets. For the first few days I navigated the city with the help of my four roommates, but on my first day of class I was left to my own devices while returning home.

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Much to my surprise, I found walking through the city alone to be liberating. Prague is a very safe city and I was able to wander around the streets without feeling like I had to constantly watch my back. I spent the afternoon walking up and down side streets looking for new cafes and pubs to try with my roommates.

I even stumbled upon the impressive German embassy in all it’s glory and secrecy.

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While my exploring was cut short due to hunger and heat, (walking around in pants and a backpack on an 80 degree afternoon is not very comfortable) the knowledge that I could independently navigate the city excited me for the next few months of adventures.

The next obstacle to tackle is blending in, or rather not sticking out as a tourist. While I don’t wear a fanny pack or walk around with my nose in a map, I frequently worry that I look like a “stupid american tourist” to the Czech people.

Tourists are charged more, smiled at less and the target of many pickpockets. That’s not what I want. I want to become a cool european who effortlessly gets on off the tram at the correct stop and doesn’t get turned around on the way to Tesco.

While I know I cannot effortlessly assimilate into a full-blown local in the matter of days, I do hope to distinguish myself from the other Americans making their way through Prague. Possibly by not being the loudest person on the tram, never getting on a Segway and sneaking in a few Czech words when ordering my Pilsner Urquell and goulash with bread dumplings.

 

Packing Tips for Study Abroad

Packing Tips

Leaving home for four months to live in a new country can be daunting, but packing for those four months? Impossible.

Hyperboles aside, trying to decide what to bring for your study abroad trip is a truly difficult task. Dealing with limited space, multiple seasons, and various countries requires a versatile wardrobe. And don’t forget the ridiculous baggage fees which leaves your wallet begging you to forget your heavy shoes at home.

While I am a textbook over-packer, here are some of my tricks for packing efficiently yet stylishly for study abroad.

  1. If you haven’t worn it in the last six months, leave it at home. That adorable dress you bought on sale that has been hanging in your closet with the tag on it? There is probably a good reason why you have not donned it in public yet, and you definitely
    will not find the opportunity to wear it abroad. Instead, save room in your suitcase for a new adorable dress that you find while traveling.lizzie mcguire i needed to i have absolutely nothing to wear
  2. Put everything you want to bring on your bed. Then put half of it back. A tip from my study abroad advisor Ali, this one is true. By visualizing everything you want to bring, it is easier to edit clothing choices to the essentials. You need a lot of extra socks and underwear; you probably don’t need 10 different shoe options for the clubs.
  3. Remember that you can’t have a magical bottomless bag, so don’t bring your entire bathroom with you. Everywhere you go will have stores where you can pick up essentials, so you don’t need to pack EVERY last thing that you could possibly need. Unless you use some exotic cream that can only be found in your hometown, buy the bulk of your toiletries when you arrive.hermione
  4. Remember the essentials. Travel documents, chargers, medications, a coat, and good walking shoes are among the truly essential things to bring. Don’t go overboard on hypothetical outfit choices and leave no room for the basics. You’ll want your essentials over that Forever 21 dress every time.
  5. Make a lot of lists. There is no doubt that things will be left behind in the packing process. But making a list of everything you’ll need and checking it over and over will help give peace of mind, and prevent middle of the night meltdowns when you realize you left your favorite pair of jeans at home.

Packing won’t be easy, but follow these tips and hopefully you’ll be able to pass as a regular jet setter.Broad City travel comedy central ilana glazer abbi jacobson