Living and Learning: My First Weeks in Prague

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

My first few weeks in Prague have taught me a few things: don’t be afraid to get lost, taking public transit is easier than it looks, and remember to savor the view.

Street sceneUpon landing in the Czech Republic, I was immediately met with things unfamiliar. The sights and sounds rendered an epiphenomenon of awe and wonder. Standing next to the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, and Old Town Square made me feel as though I tripped through time. And then I realized that I wasn’t dreaming; I, accompanied by my peers, was about to embark on a journey altogether unfamiliar. We were going to be spending the semester making art in the city where art virtually began. And for this, I truly felt like I was ready.

This romantic sensation came not without difficulty. To begin with, I do not speak the language (and let me tell you—after almost two weeks of a Survival Czech class, I still don’t have much to show for myself). How was I to order food? Or ask for directions? Or purchase a souvenir? One day at a time, my questions found answers. Turns out, if you are willing to be bold (and consult the occasional travel blog), you will be surprised by what you can figure out on your own.

First, I let myself get lost. Taking the tram or the metro to an unknown stop and trying to familiarize myself with the surroundings was a challenge I embraced. Study abroad really empowers one’s individuality and autonomy; I realized I had absolute freedom to explore Prague’s creative corners and artistic alleyways. And as a photographer, it makes these moments all the more special. I am able to engage with my surroundings in my own way, transmitting my experience through the medium of the lens.

public transitSecond, public transit isn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Over time I became familiar with the stops that were close to FAMU and the CET Center, aka where I spend 50% of my time. I also became familiar with the phrases “S dovolením” (Excuse me) and “Promiňte” (I’m sorry). Someone’s always stepping on someone else’s feet, or trying to get by, or a combination of the two. Learning key words and phrases to communicate makes you a safer and smarter traveler. Oh, and you won’t have to worry about pickpocketing as long as you are self-aware. You can be a vulnerable target if you talk loud, pay little attention to your things, etc. Utilizing common sense here, as anywhere, is paramount.

Lastly, don’t forget to stop and smell the růží. Prague is one of the world’s oldest cities. It consists of a stunning blend of Czech, German, and Jewish cultures. Its streets are lined with hundred-year-old cobblestone, weaving intricate patterns; its walls are covered with graffiti, confronting power structures. Buildings live to tell the tale of the Nazi, followed by the Soviet, invasions. And I stand there beholden to it all.

There’s no wonder why individuals from all over the world across hundreds of years come here to create. Prague is a catalyst for the imagination. It’s only been a few weeks since I’ve arrived, and I have plenty more to go. But these moments, taken together, foreshadow a grand adventure. Prague 2018: let’s do this!