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Meet Ellie Duquaine

Student smiling in front of a rock formation in Czech Switzerland

Ellie Duquaine is a student of Biomedical and Health Sciences Engineering at NC State. She came to NC State Prague for a Classic Spring semester in 2021. In her interview, she shares all things related to life in Prague during a pandemic, different teaching styles, and her biggest takeaways from this semester.

What was your motivation to come to study in Prague during the pandemic?

I’ve always wanted to go to Europe for a semester. Prague was the only program that worked with my strict Biomedical Engineering schedule. You have to take classes in the fall in the same order, and if you fail one subject, you are a year behind. I started the program a semester early, so I could have an open gap for my sophomore spring, which was this year. So this was the only possible chance to study abroad. And I told myself that I was going to apply in the midst of a pandemic, even if it might not happen. But it did and turned out to be incredible. Seeing an empty Prague and Old Town Square, I was able to take phenomenal photographs of the city. Living in the city as if you were a native Czech is a unique experience. It’s been really cool to see the weekend culture in the Czech Republic and how everybody loves to explore nature. It’s been really fun.

What is the difference between studying here and back at NC State?

The workload is well balanced. The expectations from Czech teachers are quite different. In the U.S., it’s very grade-focused, I could say. They want you to make the grades, and it’s straightforward. And here, I feel like instructors care more about you learning the information. It’s a very different approach. The only grade we have is cumulative, and that’s the final. So that’s a little nerve-wracking. But I feel I’ve definitely learned a lot more than I typically do in my classes. In my other courses on campus, I’ll learn something for the test, I take the test, and then I’m done with it until the final. But here, it’s nice because I actually genuinely learn information, and it sticks with me.

How do you feel about in-person teaching?

I love the opportunity to have in-person teaching. I’ve struggled so much last semester with having everything online. With my major, it’s been difficult to have online classes. For example, how can one learn material science and figure out the capacities of steel if you stretch it? This was difficult to figure out online, not fun at all. It is great to have interaction with the Czech instructors and actually meet Czech people. I couldn’t imagine doing this entire semester online. So it was very beneficial that we were able to have face-to-face classes.

What is your favorite course and why?

Czech language. For the past two months, we’ve been learning the language, studying Czech history, and being exposed to Czech culture.  I am able to understand why things are the way they are around me. It’s been fascinating because I’ll be able to walk by a building and I can know that it is a Gothic architecture that was made by Charles IV. I love having that perspective of the culture of a city I’m living in. So I really love the class, and Lenka* is so much fun.

Note – Lenka Davison, Czech Culture and Language instructor, link here

What is your favorite place in Prague?

I love Lesser town. It’s not as crowded or as chaotic or as rich as the Old town. I still love Old Town, but I like Lesser town more. It’s right across the Charles Bridge. On sunny days, there is always this one violinist that I’ll go listen to. He plays at the end of the Charles Bridge, near Kampa Park. I also love Kampa Park. Bistro Kampa is my favorite place to get hot chocolate. Žižkov is very pleasant. I’m glad we live in this neighborhood because it’s really convenient to get to Old Town. Vinohrady, I also love that area. So Vinohrady and Lesser Town.

What is your biggest takeaway from this past semester?

I love Europe and exploring different cultures. I didn’t realize how sheltered I was in America because American politics are all-encompassing and the news barely covers the rest of the world. In America, you mainly interact with Americans, and everything is very local. Coming here, I changed my perspective. I enjoy things so much more. I’m relaxed for the first time in my life. I used to never be very comfortable and was tense a lot, but I’ve been in a relaxed state for months now. I’ve been able to do a lot of self-reflection and growing up in general. Coming to Prague, I wanted to have instant best friends. But I didn’t necessarily find that because some students were already really close. I was forced to be alone and forced to learn about myself. And now I like being alone more. When I get back, I’ll focus on myself a little bit more, and I’ll still interact with friends, but I won’t be as dependent on them as before. You just become your best friend, and you understand yourself a lot better. And growing in that way, I think, is really useful. It helps you to know what you like instead of basing your personality off your friends.