10 Weird Things About Prague

15578375_10208264337951730_1567890289058496376_oCulture Shock. We all experience it when we go to a new country to some degree. Hell, I experience culture shock when I visit a new city within my country. When I went to Prague for a semester abroad at the end of last summer, I thought I didn’t really experience unanticipated culture shock. I did my research. I went not knowing the language and that it would be hard. I knew what the city looked like and behaved like from talking to someone who had gone and from intense Googling. I wasn’t overly cocky but I was less shocked than people who didn’t do their research (I love research). By the end of my trip, I asked myself if there wasn’t anything I found weird and confusing that I had no idea about. Some of the following things I did know about but was still shocked by. Some things were delightful, some offputting, and other just weird. Below are my 10 things I found to be weird in Prague while living there.

#1- Drinking beer with lunch

I grew up drinking water (sometimes milk) with every meal. As an adult, sometimes I’ll treat myself to a glass of wine or beer at dinner. In Prague drinking beer with your lunch was the regular thing to do and then again at dinner. Of course, once I went out that night (see #9) I would have a few more beers. It’s still a miracle that I didn’t gain weight on that trip. I highly recommend a cerny beer with svíčková for lunch in the colder months and a pilsner with chlebíčky for a summer picnic at Vyšehrad.

#2- Smoking is legal in bars

If smoke really irritates you, your options for Prague nightlife are limiting. Smoking is still legal in bars and clubs and certain ones are rife with it. It didn’t bother me after the first few weekends but it took a while to adjust. If you’re traveling there and want to avoid the smoke, bars are often less smokey (some smoke-free!) than clubs.

#3- Cars parked on the sidewalk

I wish I had a photo of this. As far as I know, it’s legal and sometimes encouraged for cars to park on what we would call the sidewalk on a regular basis. You find yourself walking down a cobblestone street, turn the corner, and suddenly, there it is: a car in your path and your brain struggles to comprehend the madness. Like everything on this list, you get used to it and if you stay long enough, these irritations become quaint and the things you miss.

#4- Quiet Metro stations

Let me start by saying I have not been in many metro stations but I discussed this with many friends who have while I was in Prague and we all agreed: the stations are strangely quiet. With the exception of school groups or loud, drunk tourists, each busy station was a place where you talk at a normal volume or keep to yourself. Also, they are really clean and efficient.

#5- Scented toilet paper

You’ve looked up the Czech word for toilet paper (toaletní papír) and you know you don’t have to spend much because of the great exchange rate for crowns. You manage to find the right aisle all on your own without asking a store assistant (not that you’d know how or that they’d offer). You are staring down the toilet paper and realize you don’t know the words for soft or strong so you go with the best photo: this one has daisies on it. Cool. You buy it and get home to find out that those aren’t daisies, they’re chamomile and although (you later discover) most toilet paper pictures match their scent, this toilet paper smells nothing like chamomile. You eventually run out and return to the store hoping to fix your simple mistake. Just buy unscented! Joke’s on you! Unscented toilet paper is really hard to find and I do not know why but this was one of the strangest pet peeves of mine (and culture shocks) while in Prague.

#6- Public urination

Drunk people like to pee where they shouldn’t. No, it’s not legal. In fact, one of my friends got a ticket for it. Luckily it’s not everywhere and you learn to avoid the places where it never seems to go away (rain and street cleaners help). Oh, Piss Alley! How I don’t miss you! To avoid making this life mistake, go into a nearby bar or restaurant and use their facilities. Unlike in Portland and Seattle, it is really easy to use a public toilet and you don’t need a key or code. Just say “Toilet?” or “Toaleta?” and look desperate.

#7- Separate rooms for the toilet and shower

I’m not sure if this is the case in the hotels, but in Prague apartments toilets and showers can be separate. They also put the washer in the shower room (no dryer but I knew that before I left). The shower room had a sink. The toilet room had a sink too. They weren’t even next to each other! The architect put a bedroom between them. It actually turned out to be really convenient when you live with four other women (until someone needs the washer and you’re in the shower).

#8- Monthly alarm tests

I watch a lot of period-piece films and TV shows, especially ones that are set in the U.K. or European countries. So I’ve been trained to be afraid of air-raid sirens even though I’ve never lived in a time or place that has used them. Until Prague. Prague has a lovely air siren testing that they do once a month. I don’t know how I didn’t learn this until after a test (or two). I guess I just didn’t ask and assumed because there wasn’t chaos in the streets that everything was ok. I think I even told myself the first time that it might be for a film but nothing can replace that fear I felt the first time I heard it and the confusion that came with it.

#9- 19th century buildings as a standard

I grew up, and currently, live, on the West coast of the United States. The oldest building here are wooden churches that have miraculously held themselves together since the late 18th century. They are a marvel because they are still standing but architectural beauties they are not. I had been to Europe before my trip to Prague so I had seen beautiful old buildings but living in an old city was something else.

Prague’s ‘New Town’ was built in the 14th century, nothing got wiped out in any wars, and the historic preservation is top notch. If you like history, if you like pretty buildings, if you like old buildings as well as modern ones, Prague is great. I never got used to walking next to these places. My childhood home was built in the 1980s but my apartment in Prague was built in the 1880s.

#10- Every night nightlife

If you couldn’t already tell, I am a woman in my early 20s and I like alcohol. Moreso, I like dancing. Sometimes, I like them at the same time. I didn’t realize just how much I loved this combination until I went to Prague. A friend of mine who has traveled a great deal moved to Prague after living for a time in Budapest. He said he thought Budapest’s nightlife was crazy until he went to Prague. By ‘crazy’ he meant the phenomenon of partying every night in a tourist city. Every night. Monday through Sunday any place in Old Town, New Town, those crazy places across the river farther away from the tourist center will have something going on. I personally have a theory that Wednesday’s and Sunday’s are the hardest nights to go out because fewer people are visiting and more places are empty. Locals who like to party go out on weird nights too, day jobs be damned.

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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!

Removing Facebook: Conclusions in my Social Experiment

Previously I wrote about going off Facebook for a month. I deleted the app off my phone, and stayed off the site on my computer entirely. I did keep the messenger app to stay in touch with friends who prefer it to paid texting and I did have to log in to my account through third-party websites to use them (e.g. Spotify). Let me just start by saying that I did not make it the 30 days I had planned. I made it 20 and then gave up after Valentine’s Day because I wanted to know if anyone I knew was up to anything interesting that I could go to. But I want to tell you about what this experiment did and did not achieve.

Achievements:
1. Learning Self-Control
I learned to practice self control in staying off FB for those twenty days. Each day was hard but I got through it. When I try to diet, I tell myself I can’t have sugary foods and I immediately get defiant and eat a crepe with powdered sugar. Diets last hours for me. Not days or weeks. So it was nice to feel power over myself at least in the sense of going on (or not) FB.
2. I learned what Facebook is…
And what I use it for. At first, I craved being able to tell someone something funny that happened or complain about school (see Twitter below). But then I craved seeing what others were up to. What were they complaining about or laughing about? And that craving had me break down after 20 days instead of waiting 10 more. These are things that I should be looking for, in any basic relationship. A give and take of daily grievances and delights because my boyfriend can’t handle it all (and sometimes straight up doesn’t care).
Also I use Facebook to: share interesting websites or news stories, “networking” (never really works on FB), and to relive the past.
Downsides:
1. Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Tinder, and Snapchat
I used all these apps instead to fill my time. However, some days I was more quickly bored with them and decided to read a book or do my homework or watch Netflix instead. None of these things made me more social, instead I just craved more social interactions.
2. I made zero friends in the process.
I did talk to more people, but we never created a lasting bond beyond the conversation. Would I of made new friends by staying on Facebook? Probably not. But the point was to make friends with my new free time. That did not happen.
3. It wasn’t enough to force me out of the house.
I made a few trips to coffee shops and spend a ton of time at the library on campus. Did I go to any social events? No. I went on a double date that I was forced into and thought was “meh”. This might be partially because I have no money right now. Like super broke. Without money I can’t go to coffee shops or bars or events that cost money. I justified not going to other events because they were far (transportation costs, time to travel) or just plain scary (I don’t know anyone there!).

In conclusion my experiment failed to achieve what I was after: more social interactions and friendships. I did find out that there wasn’t much I had missed during my 20 day hiatus and Facebook means less to me now than it did before. My next plan is to see a therapist through my school because of my new found social anxieties. Wish me luck!

Blogs I Read and Articles to Get You Started

Right now I only really read two blogs and frequent one website (beyond pinterest, school sites, netflix, and instagram). Each one gives me advice in one form or another on how to best live my life. I like that. The first is the website and it’s mostly interior design/decorating and gardening. It’s a good launching point for other things around the web as well. The second is a simple living blog that I try to read every day because it makes me happy and feel like i’m doing the right thing by living simply. The last is a more minimalist approach to the simple living movement. It’s refreshing. For all three,I gave you a jumping off point so you don’t get stuck on the homepage (or the About Me) section. They are:
Apartment Therapy
So I can drool over the best homes (and pin for future reference). But also so I can learn to take care of my rental space and decorate it. Hit and miss on the advice but the pictures are always beautiful. Instead of one article, since it is a website and not a blog, I’ll start you off with a useful section for those in college or living in a small space.
Slow Your Home
The author is a ‘mum’ and from another country Australia ( uses kilometers and other foreign measurements). But her advice is across the board applicable to most people’s lives. A good post to start with is a part of a series on living simple A-Z (living simple blog): Let’s start with Y.

Zen Habits

Exactly what it sounds like, with a minimalist style. Just one post on each page, I like to read this blog, take in the one article, and move on with my day. Great with your morning coffee (if you’re into that sort of thing). How to Breathe.

Living Off the Farmer’s Market

This post was originally written as a work sample for a job at the Vanguard, Portland State University’s weekly school newspaper. Also note that the photo below is not mine and none of the photos I use are mine, unless I state otherwise. 

produceIt’s a cold Saturday morning but the sun is shining. As you make your way over to the Park Blocks you hear a guitar and something that could pass for a folk song. You arrive to see the walkways flooded with early risers and a pinch of irregular students, studying at the library. Food stands flank the paths but you make a beeline for C’est Si Bon for a pork, caramelized onion, apple butter crepe.

This is what my Saturday morning feels like when I visit the Portland Farmers Market at PSU. If I am up early, I might make it there by 10:00am. The market, however, is up and running at 9:00am during the winter and runs until 2:00pm. I usually arrive later than I plan.

During the summer, the market is in full swing with well over a hundred vendors running a stand of one sort or another. The produce beats Safeway by a mile but you can also find meat, dairy, baked goods, and lots of specialty shops selling things like gourmet pasta sauce. Even in winter the Portland Farmers Market has a lot to offer. You can still find perfect pears, apples, root vegetables, kale and squash galore, among other things. I do recommend getting there early for the best selection.

For a student budget, you can find a lot of good food. Your best best will be in produce, dairy, and bread or bakery items. Meat will always be pricey as will specialty items. I like to take advantage of the token program in place. I get Food Stamp money every month and I take my EBT card to the market. At the information booth they can exchange a token for every dollar for EBT as well as credit/debit cards. Every stand has to take these tokens (not all take cards) and you can use them to barter down prices to the full dollar (e.g. $2.35 becomes $2.00 and you save $0.35). If the barter doesn’t work in your favor monetarily, and you end up paying $4.00 for something that cost $3.75, most vendors will throw in an extra vegetable or extra free samples. Also, the tokens are refundable at any time and never expire.

So you can get great food (including hot food), meet vendors who actually know the farmers, and maybe save a little money along the way. Going to the Portland Farmers Market is an experience that is healthy, entertaining, eco-friendly, and full of food. This includes free food, and how can you say no to that?

Removing Facebook: An Experiment in Socializing

Let me start by saying I don’t get out much and when I do, it’s often with my boyfriend which can create a bubble between me us and the outside world. When I walk to school, I don’t talk to anyone: 15-20 minutes of silence. That’s crazy. I could be spending that time chatting with a friend, if I had a friend to walk with. I wrote before about my dying social skills and my goals for the rest of college (new college). I also updated you on some progress I made. Now I’m ready to take things a step further: I’m getting off Facebook.

The experiment: I will stay off Facebook for a full month to see if/how it affects my social life. I am allowed to use FB Messenger (a few of my friends prefer it’s free services to texting). I also wrote a post of my departure: today is my last day. (The experiment will last from January 25th to February 25th, unless otherwise noted in the future.)

But WHY?! Part of that explanation is in my first post on this subject. In short, I want friends. I want more friends, closer friends, study buddies, and local friends. Recently, I tried to simply stay off the FB app on my phone. I was inspired by a post on FB by a friend who was vowing to uninstall the app and only use the messenger. So I took the app off my home screen. In the beginning I definitely kept off FB more than before, considering most of my use of the site is on my phone. But I was not dedicated and it didn’t work long-term. The app is still off my home screen, but I find myself opening it all the time from the apps menu. It’s ridiculous. I have now spent more of my free time scrolling and re-scrolling through my FB feed than I have reading or working on homework on most days. So it’s a time waster and way to procrastinate. However, my bigger issue is my friends. I know what you’re thinking, “How can your friends be the issue if you want more/closer friends?” Well, I am from Washington (state) but currently live in Portland (<3). The majority of my friends live in Washington and if we were just beginning to get close when I lived there, they are now loose ties. If we were best friends before, now they are just friends. No one visits, and I only see a handful when I visit home my parents. My local friends are few, and on FB most of them are people I met at a party but haven’t seen since. How can I make more local friends? Leave the Washingtonians behind! Get outside and explore the people physically around me! This is my plan.

This week I took some time to reflect on a year in my life when I was really happy and content. I was more outgoing, relatively healthy, and felt like I was on top of the world . So I asked myself: “What contributed to that?” Well I was still in K-12 so let’s start with everything right with school. In 6ish hours a day, I figure I managed to spend around 3 of those talking with my friends. I had a range of creative hobbies I got to practice through elective classes (and after school). I played sports and bonded with more people through them. I did spend a good amount of time on the internet or watching movies when I got home. That’s okay. I still spent 3+ hours a day socializing, face-to-face with real people. I had parties at my house a couple times a year (small,intimate ones) and I was doing a lot of stuff. That is something I want to recreate in college.

Now this not a scientific experiment. And I’m not suggesting this will work for anyone else (if it works). This is specific to my situation. Also I will not simply get off FB and sit around the house. I will couple it with consciously pushing myself to get outside and explore things around town (something I already wish I did more of). I may or may not strike up conversations with people. I am hoping by removing FB from my daily activities, and getting outside, I will become more comfortable around people and they will approach me or I will be more outgoing. I am pretty much broke, so anything I do out of the house will be cheap or free. Not everything will be “social” activities, e.g. job hunting. But I am excited to see the results, if any, and keep you updated through this blog.

Has anyone else done this? Did you go all out and *gasp* DELETE your Facebook account? Does anyone think this is crazy? Share your opinions below!

Making Friends at College: Week One Progress!

Recently, I talked about my struggles with making friends (in general) and my goal to make new friends in college and do it right this time. Well it’s been a week and I’ve actually made progress without much effort! I attribute this phenomenon to Portland being the friendliest city I’ve ever been to (another post, another time). The following are my experiences from the past week that seem like progress (names have been changed):

I was in my second history class, setting up my notes on my laptop per usual, when a girl (do I say woman now??) came in late and sat next to me. This particular classroom is a small lecture hall with those terrible test-taking desks that are only big enough to fit a piece of paper (barely) and then some asshole decided it was a good idea to connect that to a chair, all of this at an angle. So she, let’s call her Sarah, sits down next to me in close quarters and sets her coffee down on the desk (I decided to overlook the fact that it was Starbucks, all sins can be forgiven). The cup, because of the angle of the desk, starts sliding towards her and I laugh. She notices me laugh (YES!). Later, during our break, she asks me if I was in class on Monday and if I would be willing to email her my notes! And I’m like, “Sure, no problem,” but in my head “YES, OF COURSE! WILL YOU BE MY NEW BFF?!?!” (We did have a fuller conversation than that, but you get the general idea). At the end of class she even said bye. I got her email and name (which I took note to actually remember, which is a task for me). I sent her the email and can’t wait to see her in class again, maybe she will sit next to me and we will talk. Yay for Sarah!

Next instance: I sat next to someone in my OTHER history class (yes I’m taking two history classes, back to back. No, I’m not a history major). I forced myself to get up and move closer to an actual human instead of isolating myself. I asked her if she did all the reading and she said, “No, “ and we went on to have a conversation about how we will have to wing it because neither of us did all the reading. I did not get her name, and the conversation seemed to be a one-time thing. BUT it got me out of my comfort zone. Maybe if I talk to someone every day, in at least one of my classes, I will somehow make a friend of one of them.

Super friendly Portlanders:  The other story I have is about making friends with a passerby while walking in Portland. This is not uncommon. But she was friendlier than I expected. Chelsea wanted to know where the library was (we were on campus) and I pointed but said I was going there too (the truth). We then got into a full-fledged conversation about what we were studying, why we were there, our names, our boyfriends going to school, and our dreams for future occupations. She started it! But when we got to the library, we split up (she was there to see her boyfriend, who is a student. Chelsea goes to another school). Here’s the kicker: I went upstairs to my usual spot and I’m 90% sure she was right behind me (within earshot) talking to her boyfriend! I did not turn around or engage them. Doing so would of proven my eavesdropping and could of been potentially awkward if she didn’t plan on talking to me again. So I listened to their weekend plans instead (which sounded awesome, BTW) and read my book.

Required group discussions: In my Communications class, the teacher requires us to group up into triads and discuss questions off of a PowerPoint every Tuesday. I happened to sit down at a table with two guys so nobody moved and we started on the questions. I got their names from the paper we had our assignment on (required to get points for attendance). I will call them Jake and Jerry. Luckily, they weren’t complete idiots and we did alright. Later that week I sat next to Jake again but we didn’t talk. Both of them had the looks of more serious introverts: they would talk in a graded group discussion, but otherwise kept to themselves. This is probably why I make friends with extroverts, sometimes of the extreme edition.

     So this week there was much more interaction than anticipated. Which is great! Baby steps! But I still have a long way to go before making solid friends, or lasting friends. Hell, at this point, I’d settle for a study buddy. Has anyone else made progress this week? Any tips? If not, try to make progress this next week. Step outside your comfort zone. Or, if you’re an extrovert, try talking to an introvert. They might surprise you.