The Balance Between Comfortable and Uncomfortable

Written by Lauren Hamrick, (Vanderbilt University) Student Correspondent Photography in Prague, Spring 2018

I have now been in Prague for over a month, and I am surprised to say that culture shock has not yet hit me.

Church

A Church Outside Our Home in Prague

Why? For two reasons: one, I surround myself with things familiar enough that I don’t miss home, and two, I surround myself with things different enough that my curiosity is maintained. It is a balance to be found, for sure, and one that I have not yet perfected, but it has taught me to negotiate between the comfortable and uncomfortable. This is truly the study abroad experience.

On things familiar: every week I try and watch at least one American TV show. Hearing people speak my language and make references to my culture affirm my background and identity as an American. I try and buy at least one thing from the grocery store that I would eat at home. Peanut butter is my go-to—that is, when I actually find it (I’m sensing that Czechs don’t love JIF as much as I do). I listen to American music; the more nostalgic, the better. Today I listened to John Mayer’s Room for Squares, something that reminded me of windows-down-driving through my Tennessee home. And lastly, I carve out time each week to talk to friends and family. This has been absolutely necessary for me. It’s a part of emotional health to connect with loved ones and to remind yourself that home, though far away, is still there, and waiting for you when you get back.

Gallery

The Gallery at Colloredo-Mansfeld Palace

On things different: every week I try and go to one public event that is distinctly Czech. This week, I visited the Colloredo-Mansfeld Palace near Old Town, a baroque palace featuring art galleries of all kinds. As part of the FAMU photography program, we spend a lot of our time in and out of exhibits, observing Czech (and non-Czech) work, which has heavily informed my understanding of the culture and its creative influences. I also try and eat something I haven’t tried before. This week I went to Café Louvre on Národní, where I enjoyed Goat Cheese Au-Gratin with honey, a rocket salad, and pear chutney (YUM!). I also spend lots of time enjoying street musicians, which often play traditional Czech music. When taking part in Czech public life, culture is truly in the air. It is an experience that is utterly immersive, both stimulating and enjoyable.

Though I have a few months ahead, I am not sure that I’ll ever lose the wonder of where I am: a city, frozen in time, and yet with so much to offer the modern world. Still, it is crucial to remind oneself of where you come from. Perhaps it’s the collision of my American past and my Czech present that generates so much excitement, the pleasant exchange of what’s mine and what’s theirs. I love the relationship I’ve built with my new community, and can’t wait to watch it grow.