January 28, 2020 was the day I said goodbye to my family for some time, I was hugging them at the airport one last time, before I greeted a new stage in my life. I was about to travel 11 702km from Montevideo (capital of Uruguay) to Czech Republic. It wasn’t until I was above the clouds and my city looked like an ant, that it dawned on me: I was travelling to Prague.
After choosing Prague out of nearly 30 potential cities, completing arduous paperwork, choosing my courses, and finally deciding on a departure day—all with the love and support of my family—the next chapter of my life had begun.
Prague welcomed me with grey skies, a humid climate, 3 °C, a little bit of sleet, a grumpy Uber driver, and a cemetery view from my room window. But none of this was enough to tear down my excitement. I knew that what was waiting for me was something so deep, something that transcended the boundaries of my imagination.
I spent my first days in Prague exploring my neighborhood and meeting my Uruguayan uncle and cousins who live in a houseboat on the Vltava river. I also visited DOX, the Center of Contemporary Art in Prague, and its mind-blowing Petr Sis exhibition. I met my roommates and started to know each other over some pivos (beer in czech) and within only a few days we realized how strong its culture is in Prague. A few days later, Orientation Day arrived.
The breathtaking palace that houses AAU, formerly the home of a noble German family, left me speechless. Every chandelier, each detail on the walls, the entrance stairs, the light shining through the huge windows in the hall, were simply marvelous. My mind is blown when I realize the people that I met that day would later become some of my closest friends. It’s crazy that people who live so far away from each other, within different cultures, music, lifestyles, used to different government politics, etc, can have the same interests, way of thinking or be similar in some other way and create a bond.
My classes were incredible. I was fascinated by having an ex-punk-band-member from the Soviet era as a professor, learning the psychological perspective of the Environmental Crisis, analyzing controversial political cases from Hungary and Taiwan, and visiting one of a kind art exhibitions and writing about them.
I fell in love with Prague’s colored architecture; its cobbled and full of graffiti streets; and its incredible, expansive parks almost the size of an entire countryside. One forgets about the city when walking around Petrin Hill or enjoying a picnic in Riegrovy Sady. I love Prague’s outdoor culture— biking, hiking and enjoying the parks are popular pastimes among natives and expats alike. Additionally the vast amount of underground venues and bars, and their fascinating connection to history, are incredible… In fact, Prague’s history goes beyond mere interest: the story of its past includes pivotal events like Prague Spring, the Soviet Union invasion in 1968, being part of the East side of the Iron Curtain till 1989—and having a key role in the events leading up to the its collapse— and the Velvet Revolution. Prague’s history is at the forefront of its identity, and the city frequently honors its heroes of the past: I remember when the city was filled with enormous posters of Milada Horáková, the famous czech politician and victim of a judicial murder.
This romantic story was abruptly interrupted by news and family kept telling me something called Coronavirus. Neither me nor my friends were conscious of the situation’s severity, and to be honest, we preferred not to hear about it. We were in denial, and even made jokes about it. We minimized the situation every time possible.
But then it hit the Czech Republic. I was in class when an email from the Dean popped up on my phone: classes were cancelled and the university was closing due to government orders.
Don’t ask me why people decided to travel and others didn’t cancel their vacation flights, like me, after this announcement. Consequently, I was visiting a friend in Spain when Czech borders closed and the whole world went into quarantine. Some other friends were in Budapest and Berlin. Many flew back home immediately and I couldn’t say goodbye to loads of people. After calling the Uruguayan consul and finding a way into Czech Republic again, I was lucky enough to get back into Prague and another incredibly beautiful stage of the adventure began.
After some days of feeling a bit down, adjusting to online classes and trying to make sense of it all, the weather started to get better – both literally and metaphorically. As they were the only place where we were allowed to be, parks became the main protagonists of the story, being the meeting point of every group of friends. I actually met some of my actual closest friends in the park, while inviting random people to play cards and football. Nature was one of the things that saved us from the strange time we were going through. Every chat, hike or some time alone in the park was medicine – always was and will be in my opinion – for it. The pandemic ruined our international travel plans and left us with only Prague to explore until we knew every last corner like our hometowns. Friendships got even stronger. Going through such a shocking experience together and choosing the road less traveled by remaining in Prague instead of going back home brought us closer together. Prague and my friends there were my home at that time. We became family and the support we gave to each other – as well as the support of my family and friends back home – was key for facing the turbulent times.
These words are just a small part of my experience, but sharing it is the least I can do to honor my time in Prague, the city itself, my friends from Argentina, Mexico, United States, Canada, France, Spain, Germany, Albania, Kenya, Russia, Kazakhstan, Korea and Australia, all the people I’ve met, AAU and every professor I had.