Living Abroad Without a Phone

14795942_1841662176070085_1593961791_o(Photo credit haytheghost)

About two and a half weeks ago my phone screen shattered. No, I do not have an iPhone (reasons I don’t own an iPhone). This was my two year old Sony I dropped for the millionth time but this time it decided to shatter. I finally found a repair place last Monday and now i’m just waiting. Beyond the loss of a map, notepad, alarm clock, calculator, translator, or social media, I was devastated at the loss of my camera. In fact, I did not see my broken phone as a problem until I realized that it meant I was without a camera. I had no way to document my new adventures in, and outside of Prague. More importantly, I had no way to flex my creative skills. I didn’t understand my love for photography until my phone broke. In the past I used family cameras and I once had my own digital camera. I took a class in middle school. But I always thought it was just another random artist hobby of mine. Tomorrow I’m going to buy a cheap Nikon because I can’t go another day without a camera. When I return to the states I might even play with film because that sounds like something I could devote my free time to and cultivate a skill with.

Besides the camera I’m buying tomorrow, I went to the stores a few days after the accident and bought a notepad, pencil, and watch. These are the basics I need to get by. I write down directions before I leave the house (does anyone else remember the days of printing off directions from MapQuest?) and if I get lost I just figure it out or stay lost. I could also practice my Czech and ask for directions but I don’t even like doing that in English (it’s a pride thing I’m working on). I also take notes on what I’m spending for the times I don’t get a receipt, which is often (Prague is a cash-reliant city). I write down funny things my friends say or recommendations for restaurants. I also write down new Czech words I might need to say to someone like the word for camera case (pouzdro). These are all things I did before on my phone but now I’m completely comfortable doing on a paper notepad.

The upsides to not having a phone? I pay more attention to the world around me. I am less nervous and I can stand waiting for the metro and just stand there. However, I have turned into that person who checks their watch often which I’m trying to stop doing. I also appreciate things alone and in the moment. I don’t need to share everything constantly (although when I get home I’m on Facebook, etc. a lot). My social life has not suffered because I make appointments to hang out or do things with people. Do I want to continue without a phone when it’s fixed? No. But my phone here already lacks data so I am limited to areas with wifi or non-data apps like the translator. From now on I will always be more confident with my decisions. Left or right? Does that look like cake flour or bread flour? What’s that price in dollars? Let’s try it and find out. I don’t want to use a phone as a crutch for my insecurities. You shouldn’t either.

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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!