It is a Saturday afternoon and I am sitting at the little kitchen table in my Praha 4 apartment. I can feel my life here falling into place. Orientation week has been amazing. It facilitated a smooth transition—cultural, academic, linguistic, and social. As soon as I arrived at the airport, I felt supported by the CET community. Diana, my Czech roommate, is a great friend. She has given me valuable advice and helped me to settle in. She even helped me through the grocery line, which presented more challenges than I had anticipated! My whole floor is already bonded by a shared enthusiasm for Prague and the adventures we’ve experienced together.
My apartment in Praha 4 is about twenty minutes away from the CET center by tram. In anticipation of my arrival, I read up a little on common culture shocks. Many Americans were startled by a general Czech reticence. I would agree, the public transportation is very quiet. It is also very calm, clean, and easy to navigate. Trams and metro cars make for wonderful places to journal or read if you manage to find a seat. I have loved my commutes—it is fun to look out the window, feeling more attuned to the many beautiful landmarks with each ride.
As fun and informative as CET’s guided tours have been, striking out on my own has led to some of my most constructive experiences and strengthened my spatial awareness. I woke up early one morning and went alone to the old Jewish Quarter. It was Starý Židovský Hřbitov, the old Jewish cemetery, that led me to Prague in the first place. Something about the image of that site possessed me, and I thought about it for years. I couldn’t make it in until my guided tour the next day, but seeing the mossy graves between the bars of the fence affirmed that coming here was the right decision.
Here I am in Starý Židovský Hřbitov, the Old Jewish cemetery.
I am enrolled in the Jewish Studies curriculum, and decided to go to services this morning to build a stronger connection to the community. I arrived early, opened the wrong door with a very loud creak, and was ushered to the women’s section (which felt unfamiliar to me as my congregation at home has mixed-gender seating). I was the first to arrive, so I stood awkwardly in the corner for a few minutes, contemplating whether or not to leave, but I was hesitant to move because the floorboards squeaked with every step I took. I am glad I stayed because a kind woman arrived and took me under her wing. The section soon filled up, and we exchanged whispered introductions in Czech.
I also made my way up to the Faculty of Humanities building at Charles University. I looped around the building, translating course titles and peering into classrooms. Despite linguistic and cultural differences, something about the building felt very comfortable and familiar—not unlike my home institution. Watching students study together in the cafe, read quietly in the library, and laugh together in the hallways made me especially excited about direct enrollment. I hope that studying at Charles University will help me befriend more Czech students.
My first trip to the Charles Bridge! My friends and I were stunned by the beauty. We’ve seen it many times now but it’s still breathtaking.
These solo adventures have tested my language acquisition with varying degrees of success. I have successfully made introductions, ordered food, and navigated. I have also blundered my way through several conversations, requested the wrong number of stamps, and said thank you instead of sorry when knocking into someone on the tram. Although my errors have been frequent, it has been satisfying to feel my Czech studying pay off. Marie, my Intensive Czech professor, leads such lively lessons that the long classes fly by. Communicating with strangers, even in simple phrases, has really helped me feel settled here.
I love domestic routines. Grocery shopping, cooking, hosting meals, and having people over for coffee have really made me feel at home. My roommate Cady and I have a beautiful east-facing balcony off of our room. One temperate morning, we ate breakfast out there together with another friend of ours, watching our neighbor’s cats prance around the inner courtyard. We look forward to carrying this ritual into the warmer spring weather.
Sunny breakfast on the balcony with Cady & Ruby. We decided to make it a tradition.
It is amazing how settled I already feel, even with so many unknowns. Being a student in a new place is tricky, and sometimes doubts creep in, but this city inspires so much wonder and awe that I am overflowing with optimism and excitement for the semester to come!