The Importance of Independence

Written by Paige Carlin, (Elon University) Student Correspondent CET Prague, Fall 2017

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my first month abroad, it’s the importance of independence.

PraguePrague has exceeded my expectations in every way possible over the past month. When I was deciding where to spend my semester abroad, I was worried that Prague would get boring after the first few weeks. I was worried that Prague would turn out to be nothing more than a beautiful city with a cool castle, cobblestone streets and a fancy clock. I couldn’t have been more wrong. With a fascinating history to learn about, rich culture to immerse yourself in and great food to eat, Prague is the perfect city for students. There’s always a new surprise waiting to be discovered around every corner.

No matter where you study abroad, your experience is what you make of it, which is why it’s so important to embrace an independent lifestyle. But don’t expect to feel confident in your independence right away. During those first few days, it can be hard to wrap your head around the fact that you’ll be living in this unfamiliar place for the next four months. Expect to experience some culture shock and a wide spectrum of thoughts and emotions. Everyone adjusts differently. It’s okay to want to stick with your friends or roommates and discover this new place together.

That’s exactly what I did during my first few days in Prague. My roommates and I mastered public transportation together, we figured out how to work the washing machine together, we took a few trips to the grocery store together, we explored our neighborhood together and we started learning Czech together. There was a lot of “together.” So when classes started and I suddenly found myself alone in our apartment one afternoon, I almost didn’t know what to do.

There are going to be days when you’re abroad and you want to go somewhere or do something and either there’s no one around to go with you or your friends just want to stay home. I can guarantee that this will happen at one point or another, but the good news is that it’s not the end of the world. In fact, it’s completely normal. Most importantly, it shouldn’t hold you back from your plans. This is when independence comes in handy. Don’t be afraid to go somewhere or do something alone. You’ll be much happier knowing that you didn’t miss out on an awesome opportunity just because you had no one to go with.

BridgeI turned my first free afternoon abroad into my first solo adventure in Prague. I decided that I wanted to spend the afternoon exploring Mala Strana, one of the four main towns of Prague. So, I looked up the directions, grabbed my camera, jumped on the tram and I was there in 10 minutes. I took my time wandering around by the Charles Bridge and Kampa Park taking pictures along the way. I didn’t have to stress about falling behind the group when my camera kept freezing because I was on my own. I got some gelato. I bought a few postcards. It was an awesome afternoon that I totally would have missed out on if I had been afraid to be independent.

To add, there are definitely going to be days when you want to go somewhere or do something by yourself. Everyone needs alone time. And even though it may feel surreal for the first few weeks, the reality is that you’re living abroad for four whole months. The key word is living. Trust me, there will come a time when you just need to get out of your apartment and go for a walk or grab a coffee at a local café just to clear your head and get some space. In this case, independence is a necessity.

CoffeePrague is a great place to wander. Its meandering streets are ideal for exploring. There are new shops, restaurants, cafes and more waiting to be discovered around every corner. One of the places I’ve enjoyed exploring is Letna Park. There’s a great running path with spectacular views of Prague overlooking the river. If you can manage to run without stopping to take pictures every five minutes, it’s a decent workout. There are also so many local cafes that are great for sitting down for a cup of coffee with your laptop and some reading. One of my favorites is Cafe Jedna located on the first floor of the Veletržní Palác, home of the modern art collection of the National Gallery.

Whether you can’t seem to find a partner in crime or you just need your space, don’t be afraid to venture out on your own. Before leaving for Prague, I sat through numerous information sessions and pre-departure orientations that stressed the importance of safety when studying abroad. My parents took the liberty of reminding me how vulnerable I am as a young woman and told me not to go anywhere alone. But there’s beauty in independence. As long as you’re constantly taking note of your surroundings, following the law and using common sense, there’s no need to worry. Don’t be afraid to explore on your own. Be cautious, but don’t be afraid.