Studying abroad was, technically, nothing new to me. I had once studied abroad in high school, a short four-week summer program in Seoul. But I had never done anything direct-enrollment, and nothing relevant to the work I wanted to do. When I asked my study abroad advisor about good fits for my career goals, she told me that there was really only one film-specific program, the FAMU direct enrollment program provided by CET. That had decided it for me then and there. I didn’t want to waste a semester on credits that wouldn’t go toward my major. But don’t be mistaken— I never felt like I was settling for this program. The FAMU program seemed perfect, an intense and hands-on program held in a beautiful city at an esteemed establishment. I was almost worried that I wouldn’t get in, thinking that it would surely be a highly competitive application process. I got in though, so it probably wasn’t all that tough.
The prospect of being alone, far from home, and surrounded by more experienced peers was frightening, but I had much more to gain from going abroad than I ever had to lose. My goal in attending the FAMU program was to learn how to make myself useful on a set. As grateful as I was for my current education, I felt like I knew awfully little for a junior in college. Fresh off a disappointing summer internship where I learned nothing, I was honestly a little desperate to become capable. What would happen if I graduated and couldn’t land a job? People in creative fields need more than a bunch of nice-sounding names on paper— they need portfolios, evidence of their skill, and then the skill itself. That’s the kind of thing you have to search for yourself outside of classes and assignments.
Learning, no matter the subject, is typically more arduous than fun. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is painful, as cliche of a thing that is to say. It’s easy to simply claim inexperience, and to stick to what you know, but you can’t be a freshman forever. Eventually, I had to become more ambitious. I didn’t want to be the best that ever was, but I needed to be hungry for skill, hungry enough to work hard for it. When I left for Prague, I needed all the learning I could get. Seeing how packed this year’s schedule is was a bit stressful, but it’s a sign of a positive experience to come. I hope that through the work I do here, I will become as skilled and talented as other students both here and at home.
The view of the bridge by the FAMU main building. Currently, most of our classes are held at the FAMU studio building, but I hope I can look out this window again soon.
From the moment I met the rest of the students at the airport, my semester abroad was off to a bit of a busy start. As soon as the welcome dinner ended, I went to a bar with the other students to get a large beer for very cheap. Orientation, socialization, and language acquisition all kicked off as soon as two to three days later. Before the end of the week, we had seen the Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, and the Dancing House at least three times. Sure, it was exhausting, but it was also greatly entertaining. I’ve never been happier to get so little sleep.
Living alone in Prague was only a little tougher than living on my own back in America. It was embarrassing to trouble others with my illiteracy in Czech, and I often wondered if I looked like an obvious foreigner. But public transit is fast and convenient, food is cheap, and the city is fun to explore. Even though I lived in big cities most of my life, it was amazing exploring the city’s center with its wide stone roads and winding paths. It’s culture shock, in the best way, to be somewhere so completely walkable compared to America. Though by day three, I felt like I had walked enough to last me the whole semester.
I’m surprised by things rather regularly. Simple things, such as the ticking of traffic lights, the lack of a drying machine in the apartment complex, and how easy it is to become an alcoholic here. Nothing horrible or unpleasant, but I realized that people who lived here always had to dry their clothes on a rack and could get a beer for under 60 kc almost anywhere. On the other hand of pleasant surprises, I was overjoyed to find how common it is to find Vietnamese and generally “Asian” restaurants in the middle of Central Europe. I was even more ecstatic to find a Korean restaurant (though it was pricier than the average Czech meal). Eating dumplings and naengmyeon after class was fun and satisfying, even when I did it alone.
In fact, many things are fun alone. I didn’t always have to stick by my fellow students (though I enjoy hanging out with them). Going to cafes on my own, wandering the city without worrying about others, and even drinking on my own was a nice quiet experience. Along with coming out of my comfort zone, I learned that I didn’t need to really rely on others in order to have fun. There’s plenty to enjoy in one’s own company.
A photo from my first day, headed towards the bar with some classmates. I had my first pivo, or beer there, and quickly realized that Czechs are much better at drinking than I am. Beer is cheap and delicious here, but I think I’ll stick to rum and cokes instead.
FAMU courses haven’t actually properly started yet, at the time of writing. Today was the first day of FAMU orientation, and the previous week was spent learning as much Czech as possible to set us up for success. I’m sure my professor would be dismayed to hear, however, that language is easier to acquire than it is to use. I get clocked as an American before I even open my mouth at a café or shop, and there’s something difficult about even saying dobrý den (good morning) outside of the classroom. I do get to use promiňte (sorry/excuse me) and děkuju (thank you) quite often though, and it makes getting around much easier. One day, I’ll be able to order without being handed the English menu, but until then, practice makes perfect.
Additionally, FAMU is slightly different from the CET program that runs parallel to it. Certain activities such as the scavenger hunt, paddle boat event, and parties were shared amongst both groups, but once FAMU orientation started, I saw less and less of our CET counterparts. It was a bit sad, as a lot of them seemed like really nice people, but I’m sure they had a lot of work on their hands this semester as well. Once script writing and filming start in full, I wonder if I’ll even be able to see my FAMU classmates as often. Prior to arriving in Prague, my mom told me to travel as much as I could during the weekends and time off, but given the nature of the FAMU schedule, there aren’t many opportunities to leave the city or country. I’m sure she’d be disappointed to hear that, but I came to this program to learn, and that remains my top priority.
A picture of the Lennon Wall, which I encountered with some other students during the scavenger hunt around the city. At this point of the scavenger hunt, I was more than ready to crawl back to the apartment and sleep, but the image of this track athlete jumping over all the graffiti was stunning.
In the end, I don’t regret anything about coming here. Despite my fears and my anxieties, I’m excited for the work that I’ll do here. Prague is a great city, and I’m glad I can live here, even if just for a semester. Whatever comes next, be it good or bad, I’ll welcome it with open arms. I’ll see you all in the next post. Na shledanou (goodbye/see you later).