… for a regular day to day life in Prague.Catherine Chaney, NC State Prague Alumni Spring 2014 shares her experience.
Prague is the top destination for study abroad at NC State for the past few years and attracts students from all NC State Colleges. Since its opening in 2005, thousands of students have come and studied at NC State European Center in Prague. Catherine, an NC State Alumni in Fashion and Textile Management came to NC State Prague for the Spring semester in 2014 during her junior year. Recently Catherine got in touch with NC State Prague, because she had returned to Prague to work, and is now living here. It gave us an excellent opportunity to find out more about why she decided to return to Prague, what was her new challenges. We invited her to reflect on her past and present experience.
Why did you choose to come to Prague?
At that time, Prague was offering a Costume and Fashion Design studio, and it was the only design-orientated study abroad program available for textile students. There were textile Science courses offered in China, but I didn’t need Textile Science credits, and with the Prague program I could actually get credits that counted towards my study. The studio was open to both Textile and Design students, and one of my friends from the College Design was also interested, so we went together. I knew I wanted to study abroad and that was really the best option for me.
What was your first impression of Prague when you first got here in Spring 2014?
I remember thinking that it was interesting how quiet people were here. I remember that a lot of my classmates would say that ‘Czechs are not friendly, they’re cold‘‘ and I would say ‘‘No, they just mind their own business!‘‘ And I remember getting on the metro in the morning, and the car was full, everyone was reading or doing something on their phone, and it was very quiet. I don’t really like to small talk to strangers. I loved that I could ride public transport and nobody would start up a conversation (*laugh*). I liked how Prague was a sort of introverted city.
What was your biggest challenge?
I think trying to find a balance between studying, recognizing that we were here only for a short time, and exploring and enjoying the city and other European countries. Also the language, it’s kind of obvious, but learning the basics was really hard. That was a practical challenge.
What did you like most about studying in Prague?
I just fell in love with this city. I love music and theatre and dance, so one of my favorite things was to pick up a ticket to go to the opera or the ballet any day of the week. Going to the theatre is so common in Prague. This was a really unique experience for me because where I am from, the culture is not like that at all. Usually, if you’re going to see a show, you plan it far ahead, and the tickets are quite expensive.
How did your study abroad experience in Prague impact your studies?
The study abroad didn’t directly impact my studies because I didn’t change focus. Doing a semester studio affected my thoughts about the future. Also, I felt way more independent. It was the first time that I was really far out of my comfort zone, and so it was a huge step into a new type of independence. Just getting more confident in myself. Not just in school, but in general, going back it was easier for me to think about goals I wanted to make. New priorities. I think if you had asked me a year after, my answer would be really different and I’m sure 5 years from now it will be different again. I don’t think during my senior year I would be able to say ‘‘oh the study abroad really made me different and made me think about things differently,‘‘ this came to my mind years later.
What was the incentive for you to return to Prague?
Something about this city just really stuck with me. I loved it and I wasn’t ready to leave when the program ended. So I knew that I at least wanted to come back and explore it more. And then I thought more about actually living here. It has been in the bucket list dream, that someday I‘d move to Prague. And out of the blue through a friend whose friend was working in a school in Prague, I found out there was an opening. Suddenly I had a great opportunity and I thought ‘‘Well, I would be foolish not to do it.‘‘ So I ended up here. And now I’m going to be here for at least 2 more years, so we’ll see.
How does your life in Prague differ from when you were on a study abroad program?
One big thing. When I was in school, I had a scholarship. Now I’m just fully independent, I pay my own rent, I get my own paycheck. Also with study abroad, there was some sort of urgency. I thought that if I wanted to do something, I had to do it at that exact moment. So we traveled a lot, we’d go to shows a lot, we’d go eat a lot. I don’t do that anymore. I don’t need to, I can say ‘‘I’ll get to that later‘‘. It helps to feel settled. It’s really nice to go eat with friends and think ‘‘Oh this is a kind of regular place,‘‘ not just another restaurant we wanted to check out.
What are the main challenges now?
Budgeting, paying attention to things like that. I don’t travel that much anymore. Also just navigating myself through things like changing the internet in my apartment. I’ve never had to do things like that before, so the first time I’m figuring out things like these, it’s really hard, especially in Czech (*laugh*). Being far away from my family is also a big challenge. I facetime with my family usually every other week.
Do you feel integrated?
In certain areas I feel very integrated, in others, I just still feel completely new. I can find English almost everywhere, so I am never lost. I wish though I did not have to say ‘‘sorry I don’t speak Czech,‘‘ I really want to learn the language. On the whole, I feel integrated in the sense that I feel comfortable. I feel more and more at home. But there are definitely some things that are still funny and overwhelming.
Any advice/comments for students currently at/going to NC State Prague?
Personally, I would say – learn language basics, even just hi, thank you, please. Everyone here appreciates if you say anything in Czech really. Just explore the city, hop on the metro and just get off at some random stop and see what’s out there. We did that a couple of times, it was always an adventure. Especially get familiar with whatever area you’re living in. It’s great to be able to go to local places. Get out of your comfort zone, whatever that is. It helps so much in growth, independence, and confidence. Go do European things, you’re not in North Carolina. Go and explore!
As part of the Day of Giving, on March 27th, NC State Prague is organizing an evening discussion with three former Study Abroad in Prague participants, Catherine Chaney will be one of them and share her experience. The event will broadcast live on social media.