Being immersed in a different culture and absorbing both the subtle and apparent differences of daily life are some of the most interesting things to study when you are abroad, apart from your academics. Because, none of us are primarily here to go to class anyway. Of course, it’s always exciting when you pass a building that was designed by some obscure Czech architect that your professor mentioned in a lecture the day before, and you can nonchalantly identify it to your friends (who sometimes do not even notice your brilliance). But, for the most part, we all know that we’re here to travel, and to learn by doing.
Experiences, photos, and stories that you inevitably tweak when sharing them with your parents on the phone so as not to incite gasps or smacks to their foreheads, are the very best relics to take away from this experience. I repeatedly told myself this before I hopped on my flight to Prague, and made a souvenir pact: No trinkets. No chachkies. Do not buy anything that has no function other than to sit on a shelf and make me cry and reminisce about Europe. Anything an 80 Koruna snow globe can do, my photos can do better.
Being a part of the Czech culture (or to be more accurate, observing it and doing my best to blend in) does not happen in the blink of an eye. There are several nuances to get accustomed to, and many that I did not notice until suddenly, it became very apparent that the clacking of my nails hitting the screen of my phone as I typed a tweet was the only audible sound on a dead silent Tram ride. It was one of those moments when I consciously realized: this would just never happen in the states. If a Bart or Subway car ever even came close to being that quiet, a group of friends would start laughing obnoxiously to ease the tension, or a baby would cry, or that one man who sounds like he has bronchitis and always seems to sit disquietingly close to you on public transit, would start hacking up a lung. However, silence is golden in the Czech Republic.
The money and exchanges here have definitely caught me off guard. I’ve found that if you pay for something and expect change— even if it’s only 5 or 10 crowns— you might have to ask for it back. Otherwise, they will keep it and move on to the next person in line without a second glance. It’s a little frustrating at times if you miss your opportunity to say something, because you definitely don’t want to appear rude or disruptive, especially when the shopkeeper speaks little to no English. There’s also the national practice of charging for water at all times, even when you make a point to ask for tap in a glass at dinner. You think you’ve connived the system, until you look at the bill and realize that there’s still a charge. And an additional one for the bread that was served as a starter that you didn’t even order. If you eat it, you pay for it. It’s moments like these that I just have to use as learning experiences, and realize that I’ll know better for the next time.
Aside from these very minor inconveniences, there is really no room for complaints. Seeing the Prague castle on its hill from outside AAU, or jogging across the Charles Bridge in the morning and witnessing the already golden trees shedding their leaves into the Vltava River, are routines I can hardly wrap my mind around. There is beauty everywhere; in the colors of the buildings, and the crispness of the air, and the ubiquity of the Trdelnik ice cream churro stands. I’ve fallen in love with the feeling that consumes me when I wake up each morning; the mixture of knowing that I’ll experience something amazing each day, with the blindness of what that something is going to be, and a sprinkle of intrinsic need to put it all on paper before I forget any details.
My man Ben Franklin captures my mantra perfectly in my favorite quote, which is as follows: “Either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing.” My goal is to do both, in a constant cycle, every single day that I’m here.