Skip to main content

Gap Semester in Prague as a Connect Student: A Life-Changing Experience

In the fall of 2023, Elle Smith was one of the brave students who stepped out of their comfort zone and embarked on a life-changing journey through the Prague Connect program. Along with 35 other students, she spent her first college semester abroad in Prague, gaining invaluable experiences and memories that will last a lifetime.

Student smiling with Prague cityscape in the background.

Elle Smith comes from a small town in North Carolina called New Bern and is majoring in Fashion and Textile Management at the NC State Wilson College of Textiles. ​E​lle was awarded the NC State Prague Social Media Scholarship for her experience running the social media account for a ​hometown ​Women’s Lacrosse Team and was responsible for regular posts on the official NC State Prague Instagram account. Elle loves being challenged and part of new programs, and studying in Prague provided her with the perfect opportunity to do so!​

Student smiling with a small roll-on suitcase in the sunny street of Prague.

My Study Abroad Experience: a Spontaneous Decision

After being accepted to NC State University for the Spring semester, and like most spring students, I have considered all my options for quite a while. I was dealing with the sadness of not getting in for the fall and having a hard time accepting the unexpected.  Whether staying in my town, taking community college classes, or embarking on a gap semester, I was unsure what was calling my name.

It wasn’t until my mom mentioned the study abroad option that I was curious about the possibility. I started the application process for Prague Connect program the moment I researched the opportunity to travel while I waited to go to college in Raleigh. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try, and honestly, I was looking for something that could get me out of my hometown and challenge my independence. I was careful when responding to my application questions and wanted to be honest about what I wanted to gain from the experience.

I waited a long time and kept checking to see if there was any update on my status. After getting accepted into the Prague Connect program, I was ecstatic, yet I knew I had the summer to prepare mentally and pack for the semester. I think I was often trying to wrap my head around the fact that I was going straight from high school graduation and then packing my belongings up to live in Europe. 

Atudent room in Prague with bed and desk and bright colors

Overcoming Self-Doubt and Finding Comfort in My Peers

The hardest challenge I struggled with before leaving was doubting myself and worrying that I wasn’t ready for something new. Yet, over time, I came to peace with the fact that I was going to be with a group of people with the exact same anxious thoughts and fears. Knowing that we were all going into this program with similar doubts put me at ease and made me feel less alone. So, every time I had fears about the unknown of the opportunity I signed up for, I would revert back to the fact that I wasn’t the only one doing this. I had my cohort of people who would be right there with me. I spent more time convincing myself that it was real life instead of worrying about what to pack.

“And if you feel you will be homesick, bring some snacks and food from home! I brought Duke’s Mayonnaise and was thankful because it tasted like home.

I recommend researching the weather for the months you stay abroad and ensuring you bring what you need. Everything that you need is easily able to find while staying in Prague. Before I left, I thought that I wouldn’t be able to get certain things, and that’s simply because I didn’t know much about Prague. If I could give some advice for packing, I would say not to overthink what you’re bringing. And if you feel you will be homesick, bring some snacks and food from home! I brought Duke’s Mayonnaise and was thankful because it tasted like home. I had several friends who packed mac n cheese or even ranch packets with them! Try not to overpack because it is overwhelming when you have to leave to go home. 

Two students smiling on a yellow raft on the Vltava river in Cesky Krumlov.

Balancing Academics and Adventure: Navigating the Study Abroad Experience

The academic aspect of studying abroad differed from what I was used to, and I remember speaking to former Prague Connect students. Most people say that classes are good, yet taking notes and doing the readings for each class is crucial. For those considering joining this program, I recommend taking these courses seriously and managing your time wisely. Staff members will mention this, but it’s true and necessary, especially when living in a city that can be distracting. I often struggled with choosing to travel the city and explore or go to my room and study. Overall, I think balancing both sides of your experience is important. Take your time, give your best, and most importantly, pay attention to the professors because they’re passionate about each subject and want you to succeed.

My favorite course would have to be Czech Language and Culture because it was my first class of the day on Mondays and Wednesdays. Professor Lenka Davinsonova helped engage our class and truly taught us about Czech life. This course opened my eyes to a new community I knew nothing about. I enjoyed learning the language and practicing with my classmates. Lenka helped me understand the resilience and history involved in the history we were surrounded by. I was able to learn about the years of challenges that Czech citizens endured over time and how they have grown as a whole. Prague is a rich city full of history, and I was lucky enough to learn about how it is a textbook of artwork and architecture. I quickly started to understand why so many people are fascinated by it.

It may seem like a big jump, especially fresh out of high school, but you won’t regret taking the chance. 

Before I had the opportunity to learn about Prague while I was abroad, I had this idea that it would be grey and cold, almost uninviting in a way. I was surprised when I arrived because I was so wrong. Prague is full of color and exciting activities. I was almost overwhelmed with all the variety that I was surrounded by. I am extremely grateful for this wonderful opportunity and hope that other students who aren’t sure what they want to do for the first semester will look at Prague Connect as one of their options! It may seem like a big jump, especially fresh out of high school, but you won’t regret taking the chance.