First Days in Prague

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My first few days in Prague were very interesting. I flew independent of the arranged group flight suggested by USAC and a few days before most of the other students. I arrived at my apartment after successfully navigating public transportation from the airport (I had help). Then I had to talk to a bartender in the establishment next door to my place to get my key. My building was empty for the next three days except for myself. Luckily my place came fully furnished but I still went to Ikea for towels.

Despite my lack of sleep I had an amazing amount of energy when I arrived. I spent those first four days familiarizing myself with my neighborhood. Tourist attractions could wait: I was living in Prague. One of the first things I found that brought me instant happiness was the park two blocks from my home. It’s nothing spectacular but it has a nice fountain at the center, many benches, and it sits opposite a beautiful church. This became an important part of my home like my backyard. I ate baguette sandwiches (very popular here) and drank lattes while people watching. The park continues to be a source of comfort, happiness, and inspiration.

In those first few days I learned to accept the fact that I didn’t know the language. I couldn’t read the signs but I memorized the routes I took. Unfortunately the closest McDonald’s became a landmark that reminded me I’m close to home (I don’t eat there though).  The only Czech I knew before I left home was ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘please’, and ‘thank you’. The latter two were particularly difficult for me. I also took a look at the alphabet through YouTube videos but I still couldn’t form words. Now, after taking my two-week language intensive course life is a bit easier.

I didn’t want to celebrate my first night alone so I searched the program for other early arrivals. Sure enough, there was a couple, Sammy and Gabe, who had also flown in on Wednesday. I emailed them and next thing you know we were sharing our stories over beer in the bar beneath my apartment.

By Friday night I was ready to experience the Prague nightlife I’d heard so much about. Sammy and Gabe weren’t available so I tapped into the local Couchsurfing network through their Hang Out feature. This app  and what I call a sub-app, connects travelers who want to share beers, go do tourist activities together, or simply walk around. There I found a group of people looking to go out and within the group was an Austrian who I’d given directions to in the metro the night before.

I met so many amazing people that night and the next. There is a large expat population here as well as a constant stream of tourists from around the world. I met Daniel from Cuba who grew up in Italy learning Russian from his mother. He also spoke Czech and English. He knew several other Italians living in Prague, some of which I met. In another post I’ll discuss the international food here. I met a stag party from England and a citizen from Hong Kong who learned his English in Australia. I spent most of my evening meeting people from several different countries. Then there was the nightlife!

I think on Friday we must have gone to four different clubs. Popo’s is where we started which is a great underground bar to hang out in groups and drink cheap beer in the heart of the city (Old Town). Then we went dancing at Hangar, a PanAm themed club where even the waitresses are in costume. The last place I remember the name of was called Fancy, also a great hip hop club. Saturday I discovered La Bodeguita, Lucerna, and James Dean Club. The first is a Cuban dance spot. The second has a huge dance floor and plays throwbacks but sometimes charges a cover at the door. The last bar, James Dean, looks exactly like it sounds but they play modern dance tunes downstairs.

Those first few days were thrilling and I had the chance to get to know a very interesting city. Prague is full of winding roads that lead you to hidden places of interest, you just have to be willing to look. It has been fun finding something new every day and meeting other travelers. Do you want to know about the places I went? What the food is really like? Cultural differences from the U.S.? Ask me anything in the comments below or simply tell me what you thought!

From Portland to Prague

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Ahoj!

My name is Tara and I am a twenty-three year old studying abroad in Prague. Every day I ask myself in awe, how did I get here? Today I want to share that story.

“Follow your dreams”, “Do what you love”, “Listen to your inner child.”

This is the advice I received. I was told, by individuals and my community, to find the one thing I’ve always been interested in and run with it. That’s easier said than done. As far back as I can remember, I wanted to follow a different career path every couple months. The earliest career goal I remember was to be a singer or actress, or both. Then I wanted to be a dancer, painter, writer, president, fashion designer, musician, graphic designer, librarian, bookstore owner, knick-knack shop owner, bakery owner, teacher, journalist, photographer, lingerie designer, publicist, magazine editor, public speaker, matchmaker, director and the list goes on. So deciding on one thing that always spoke to me was a difficult task. But I spent some time on it and thought about all the things I loved over the years despite my changing heart. My answer was, and is, travel.

There are three things I’m very sure of at this time in my life: I love to talk, I love people, and I love to travel. My parents took me to so many places in my childhood and I am so grateful for those experiences. My first trip abroad was at the age of three when I attended my aunt’s wedding in Ireland. This is how the travel bug got me. I was only three years old and I remember this beautiful foreign country and wonderful times with my family. The next trip was about two years later and we went to Amsterdam, Paris, Marbella, Gibraltar, and Tangier. I had my sixth birthday in Spain. By this point, I started falling in love with traveling and with Europe.

It took me almost fifteen years before I visited Europe again (this time solo, which will be a blog post later). But in the meantime we traveled in the states: Oregon, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, and Florida. Then there were also the trips to Canada and Mexico. There was a cruise (which I did not like but that’s a story for another time) to the Caribbean and several countries. By the time I got to be eighteen I had a complete stranger call me a “World Traveler” after hearing me list all the countries I’d been to. I liked the sound of that: “World Traveler”. That is a title I can live with, I thought to myself at the time.

A few years later, as I went back to college at Portland State University, I had to decide on a major. I had transferred in at a junior level standing so choosing my major was a serious matter. After a term as a Communications major I switched to International Studies: Europe and then took on a minor in History. This decision was made after concluding that travel would become the main motivator in my life. So I chose a degree program where I would learn about the world and Europe. Will it help me get a job? I’m not sure but I am learning about what I love.

In December 2015 I started the process of choosing a study abroad program with my school. Studying abroad or living abroad is a common thing in my extended family (whom I am close with). Out of my eight aunts and uncles, six have traveled extensively, three have lived abroad outside of any school program, and three have studied abroad. My sister also studied abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico as a college student and my brother spent time prepping for the SAT in Singapore. So my family was not entirely surprised when I announced I wanted to study abroad.

By the end of December I chose my program to travel with USAC in Prague, Czech Republic, studying Politics, Culture, and Art. I applied and was accepted by spring. I put my dreams before any potential roadblocks like the lack of funding I knew I would have to work through. I put the practical part of me aside a little bit so that the dreamer in me could take charge. That choice was for the best in the end but it scared me every step of the way to getting here (and still some days, even now). To solve part of my funding problem I started a crowdfunding page on YouCaring which is a non-profit site that only charges for credit card processing. That fundraiser was followed by another (still up at this point). Through those fundraisers I collected over two thousand dollars from seventeen different donors (both online and offline donations). I can never say thank you enough to all the people who donated to my fundraiser or have helped me out financially in some way to get me here. I could not be here without you.  

The majority of my trip is being paid for in school loans followed by private funding and grants. I finally got through to FAFSA that I am a broke college student and my school rewarded me with all they could. Unfortunately I was unable to win any of the scholarships I applied for. But I made it. I got here, to Prague, with almost no money to my name. If I had worked full time consistently since returning from Ireland I would have been able to afford this trip out of pocket. But that was not an option. Again, I am really thankful for my friends, family, school, and government for making this trip possible.

Ok, so back to my story. I bought my plane ticket to Prague in March and a return ticket from Amsterdam in May. I’ll be studying for three and a half months in Prague followed by a two week vacation visiting my family in Amsterdam and Dublin for the holidays (and my birthday). I flew out here on August 30th/31st on three different planes and with very little sleep. Then I landed and took Prague into my heart almost instantly.

I really believe this is where I am supposed to be in my life at this time. Every day, there is something that reminds me I made the right choice, even on the bad days. While I am here I will be blogging and journaling my experiences. I also love taking photos (unfortunately these days I’m limited to my cell phone) and posting them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and of course right here on my blog. My writing will be far from perfect but I hope you get something from reading it. I am willing to talk about nearly anything on here and I want to hear what you’d like to read. What do you want to know about Prague? Do you have any questions about my trip or program? Please let me know in the comments section below or through any social media platform I am on.

Čau for now!