Written by Phoebe Porter (Elon University), Student Correspondent for CET Prague, Spring 2023
Moving abroad, even just for a few months, you are bound to experience discomfort. After three years of adjusting to my routines in college, studying abroad presents a new set of challenges and adjustments. You are going to stick out wildly as a tourist, and you are going to mispronounce the meal you’re trying to order, and you aren’t going to know the word for butter and end up with lard. No, unfortunately, I can’t get over this.
Perhaps nowhere in my time abroad has this contrast of joy and discomfort been so clear as on the CET Prague Traveling Seminar. This seminar is for eight days traveling throughout Poland, the Czech Republic, and Austria (we’ll also be going to Budapest in a few weeks, but I can’t speak on that experience yet). This is consistently said to be the highlight of the whole program.
The Traveling Seminar starts with a 5:30 am wake-up call for our bus ride to Krakow, Poland. Once we arrived, there was some free time before our tour to relax or briefly explore on our own. Our first stop was, of course, to find some Pierogies and wander around the city. We got a full tour and authentic dinner in town before checking out the nightlife.
Views from our walking tour around Krakow, Poland
On our second day, I opted for the Jewish walking tour and saw some parts of the Jewish Quarter. I learned about Jewish life in Poland before the war. It was so interesting to see how drastically life changed in this part of Poland and how the community continues to preserve that memory.
As the experience of the Traveling Seminar is still, in fact, a seminar, we had a lecture in the afternoon before having the rest of the evening free. Poland was an unexpected favorite for me, and it reminded me a lot of Prague, from its beautiful architecture to its friendly people and history.
After we left Krakow, we had a day dedicated to seeing the camps at Auschwitz. We had a guided tour, and we were able to tour both Auschwitz 1 and Birkenau, and learned about the history of the camps themselves and tied it to the historical context we’d been learning about in class. This was definitely the heaviest day of the whole trip but I think it was such an important experience. The discomfort of being in a place so fraught with tragedy was hard to process, but I realized it was okay to let myself feel my feelings first and then try and verbalize them. I had so many great conversations with my friends and peers about what the experience meant for me and how impactful the day was.
Something that made this experience really special was the opportunity the following day to spend some time with local students in the town of Osweiçim, and getting to learn about their experiences growing up so close to places tied to such horrific history. I also learned about how people move on from tragedy without forgetting it.
Brno and Mikulov
Continuing on our journey, we stopped for one night in Brno and Mikulov in the Czech Republic. In Brno, we visited a museum dedicated to Roma history and culture, which was really interesting and a totally new experience for me.
One of the unexpected highlights of the trip was Mikulov, a small town in the Moravia region of the Czech Republic. This was our last stop before Vienna, the city I was most looking forward to before we set off. Almost all my friends and peers in my program consider our one night in Mikulov a highlight of the trip. While there, we got a personal tour of the town and a delicious dinner at the restaurant in our hotel.
But the best part of the whole day was the sunset. For those of us willing to take a small hike up the hills just outside the center of town, we were able to catch the most beautiful sunset. For me, our night in Mikulov was a way to decompress and reflect on our experiences over the past few days, including our day at Auschwitz. It felt like a bonding moment for so many of us in the program, and it was so freeing to dance and run around atop this hill and have the sun shine down on us.
The final stop on the Traveling Seminar was, of course, Vienna, Austria. Vienna was the perfect end to such an amazing trip, and it sealed the deal with phenomenal weather. We got to learn about the city, walk around, explore some of the many fantastic museums and eat the food (which traditionally is reminiscent of Herman cuisine, but my friends stumbled upon a family-owned Mexican spot and had to stop).
The Traveling Seminar, in all its hectic travel days, lectures, and heavy history was such an amazing and unique experience. I really feel that this was an opportunity that we all took to grow closer and bond over, all while getting to experience some of the coolest and most historic places in Europe. I’m collecting all the experiences from my time abroad, joyful and uncomfortable, for my last upcoming blog! I can’t wait to share all about it next time!
Na shledanou, do widzenia, and auf wiedersehen (goodbye) for now!