Three days into study abroad, and I’m lying in a Prague hospital bed. I started imagining this semester in June of 2023. By late November, I had planned everything down to my airport outfit. Studying abroad was going to transform me. It would enlighten me in ways I couldn’t imagine and give me time to truly focus on my art. I had so many expectations for an experience that I wanted to happen to me, but I wasn’t quite aware of what I’d need to give in return.
The first week was organized chaos: running through a 9-5 schedule on two hours of plane sleep, staring helplessly in grocery aisles at foreign food labels, and anxiously trying to stay in contact with friends back home. With two weeks of orientation, each day has been filled to the brim with activities. Everything happens so quickly and six hours ahead of the people I love most. The pace is so quick that I honestly haven’t had time to be stressed, just time to get up and keep going.
Views of the river from inside the tram
A late-night adventure to Kino Lucerna (the oldest cinema in Prague) led to a very early morning in the Charles University General Hospital. The evening started out great, with a screening of The Promised Land by Nikolaj Arcel with some friends. Desperate to get a late-night dinner, we settled on the closest open place we could find. This is where the evening took a turn toward improvisation. Halfway through my meal, the back of my throat started to feel slightly odd. I didn’t think much of it until one of my friends noted a growing trail of hives on my neck. We immediately called 112.
The anaphylactic experience itself was nothing new to me as someone with a laundry list of food allergies. EMTs speaking Czech, not being able to alert my family consistently and navigating new medication names on the other hand were all extremely unsettling. Although I did not choose my meal correctly that night, I had certainly chosen the right people for the occasion. My friends called the ambulance, helped me take my EpiPen and waited in the unfamiliar, empty hospital rooms until CET staff arrived. Now, I know that even in the most stressful foreign circumstances, I’m not entirely alone here.
I, like many of my classmates this first week, am continuing to realize that this semester is not going to go according to my plans. With kitchens fit for two in a four-person house of vegetarians and peanut allergies, navigating communal cooking has been challenging—especially when everyone arrives home from an eleven-hour workday at the same time and wants to start cooking dinner. Still, finding ways to work around what might otherwise be inconvenient means cozy communal dinners over $6 Prosecco and talks about hitchhiking adventures.
With each day of orientation, we get a piece to the ever-changing puzzle that is our schedule this semester. Even though classes don’t officially start for another week, almost every day has been loaded from 9-5. Free weekends and free time are a thing of the past this semester, but I’ve found it sometimes helps make those spare moments more meaningful. In between orientation tasks, a few of us stumbled on a ten-day-old vintage store that was curated to perfection. Salmon leather jackets, jade chain belts and turquoise eskimo hats were a pleasant break from the hustle of the day. A three-hour walking tour of Prague with storybook views overlooking the Charles Bridge and a performance at the Astronomical Clock were also much-appreciated breathers.
On our first day of FAMU orientation, one of our mentors noted that in film, nothing ever really goes according to plan. You create a character, a world in your head, but it’s impossible to truly bring your imagination into the real world. Still, the process of arriving at that final product on the screen is worth the reality checks. Preparation is just as important as being flexible when nothing goes according to plan—improvisation is an act of necessity.