It was back in fall of 2011 when a good friend of mine had just returned from a semester abroad studying in Los Angeles, California. Apparently he had the time of his life there and wouldn’t get tired of telling me about his exploits, student life and several side trips to sin city Las Vegas and Mexico. I know several of his peers who got tired of hearing his tales over time (maybe it reminded them too much about how boring their own lives were?) but not me! I couldn’t get enough from his stories and eventually I came to a decision. I had to study abroad for a semester as well!
I had never really considered studying abroad and knew virtually nothing about it, except from what my friend had told me. So I rushed off to university and stormed into the ERASMUS office. For those who don’t know – ERASMUS is the European unions organization which goal is to promote student exchange in European countries. It’s a network connecting universities to each other and as a student you can even get a little stipend if you want to study abroad.
The nice woman in the office asked me where I wanted to go and of course I had no clue. The only things I wanted from a guest university I wanted were a) a big city with interesting nightlife b) lots of sun and c) pretty girls!
Since my timing was pretty bad and I was showing interest at a late time, most slots were already full! But there were still three partner universities available which came close to my wishes: Milan in Italy, Cyprus and Prague, Czech Republic.
I had already been in Prague 10 years ago on a field trip organized by my school and connected great memories with the beautiful city. So my choice was clear: I’m going to study in the Czech Republic!
Armed with some clothes and some basic sentences in Czech I hopped on a night train from Germany to the Czech Republic in February 2012. I arrived on a freezing cold morning the next day. How beautiful this city is!
My contact from Charles University picked me up at the train station and showed me the way to my hostel, which was located right off Václavské náměstí or Wenceslas Square. Talk about a central location! Of course I couldn’t wait to explore the city and spent all day and most of the night just wandering around Prague, getting lost in old town and of course sampling lots of the delicious Czech beer that flows like water in this city.
Soon after my arrival in Prague the semester started and I was introduced to my fellow students. I met great people from all over Europe and also the United States. Right from the beginning my exchange semester was a non-stop blur of various activities. There were pub crawls, ERASMUS parties, field trips to neighbouring countries like Austria and Hungary, visits to sport events like an ice hockey game of Prague’s own team Sparta Praha and of course gallons of Czech beer. Of course sometimes I had to attend university as well!
I could go on and on about my experiences in Prague, how I got a gorgeous girlfriend with blue eyes from Slovakia, how I rented an awesome and ridiculously cheap apartment from a French professor who needed a housesitter and how I found a gym where Jean Claude van Damme had trained in his heyday. But to be honest, I had so many great experiences and met so many awesome people that there is no way to cover even a fraction of it in this short article.
So instead I will just focus on what the experience did for me and how it made me grow as a person.
What I learned in my semester studying abroad was going with the flow and just throwing myself into unknown situations. Back home I would often stick to my usual routine and meet the same people in the same places. Living in Prague, I would just go out at night, hit a random bar and start talking to all kinds of people. This led to some amazing nights out and often times I wouldn’t get home before dawn and had made a lot of new friendships along the way. One night I would get drunk with Finnish film students until the break of dawn and the next I was hanging out with students from Vysoká škola ekonomická v Praze (Prague’s university of economy). Every day was like a new adventure.
I carried this attitude home with me and back in my hometown I still go out at night just, going with the flow, meeting random people and seeing where the night takes me. So if you have the opportunity to study abroad, go ahead and take it! It’s an amazing opportunity for students and you really don’t want to miss out on it.