ERIN GANNON ’19
Ahoj z Prahy, Česká Republika! Hello from Prague, Czech Republic! Just shy of one month ago, I hopped on a plane for a quick trip across the Atlantic, ready to embrace a new reality that still hasn’t quite hit me yet – spending the entirety of this semester in a foreign country. As I reflect on the last few weeks, my somewhat spontaneous decision to come here has more than paid off.
My decision to study abroad at all was rather last minute – though I had been considering studying abroad as a junior for some time, I was hesitant. I don’t really consider myself a homebody, but I’m rather averse to big changes. I thrive in familiar and comfortable environments, so voluntarily stepping way outside of my comfort zone didn’t sound too appealing to me. Nonetheless, I went through the motions of sorting through different programs in a variety of crazy places all over the world, because I had been told time and time again that studying abroad was a life-changing experience all college students should take advantage of. For reasons that were nothing short of obligatory, I decided to apply to a few programs.
I ultimately decided on Prague because it met a number of criteria that were important to me when deciding where to go. If I was going to step outside of my comfort zone, I wasn’t going to do it half-heartedly – I wanted to immerse myself in a country where English wasn’t the primary language, where the culture was similar enough that I wouldn’t stick out as a foreigner but still needed to adjust to norms, and most importantly, a place where I wouldn’t be surrounded by Trinity students. Essentially, I was going to self-inflict a mild case of culture shock.
The language barrier has been the most difficult part of living here. Czech bears approximately zero similarities to English, and as such, it has become second nature to assume a deer-in-the-headlights facial expression every time a local begins to speak to me in Czech. I’ve mastered the “I don’t understand what you’re saying, please, I hope you speak English” look. This is not to say that I haven’t attempted to learn basic phrases – my study abroad program actually gave us intensive Czech lessons for the first week of our stay. However, I can’t help but feel embarrassed every time I try to speak to a local. Needless to say, I’m fluent only in the phrase, “Nemluvím česky” (“I don’t speak Czech”).
Czech Republic was under communism until 1989, and Prague still feels the lingering effects of that in its older generations, who don’t smile. It’s considered out of the ordinary to smile at a stranger passing by on the street, which is a habit I’ve found really difficult to break. I’ve found myself trying hard to conform to these new norms, but every now and then I cheat – I’m writing this article as I sit in an ex-patriot (former American citizen) bookstore.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I love it here. Though I haven’t been here very long, this experience has already been a life-changing one. But I assume that’s a given. I’ve never met anyone who’s regretted their decision to study abroad. Prague is a beautiful city, and one need only do a quick Google image search or stalk me on Instagram to confirm this claim. I want to give an honest account of the challenges of studying abroad in a country less-frequented by Trinity students, but an account that nonetheless encourages people to do just that. Whether it’s Czech Republic or a different place, I can’t stress enough just how much those challenges have pushed me to grow and come to appreciate Czech culture even more.
ERIN GANNON ’19