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Praha: A City of Contrasts

by Carl Forgo

Last Updated on March 18, 2014 by

Hello Readers — this is Carl Forgo, reporting from the beautiful and historic city of Prague, or Praha, as the locals call it. Through my posts I’d like to give you a taste of what it is like to live and study in Prague.

It’s hard to believe that a month has flown by since arriving in this city of contrasts. The first couple of weeks were a blur as I got to know the other students in the program and got settled in. My group began in London for a few days of bonding and orientation. Getting to know the other kids in the program was like a cross between freshman year and summer camp. Everyone was friendly and excited about sharing an incredible adventure. London was a good introduction to the AIFS culture. The staff provided support and organized activities but also gave us the freedom to explore. I loved the bus tour of London but I also had a great time running through Regent’s Park on my own and getting lost with my new friends as we tried to find Abbey Road.

From London, we flew on to Prague as a group. Again, we had the support of the staff to help us get oriented and we relied on each other as we explored and figured things out together. And there is a lot to figure out!

Before coming to Prague, I strongly suggest you do some research on the rich history of this 1,100 Bohemian capital. Coming here is a unique opportunity to experience a lot of the upheaval of the last century. It is not like traveling to London, or any major city in western Europe, because only very recently (1993) the Czech Republic split from Slovakia after revolting from a 40 year communist regime, and before that, occupation by the Nazis.

There is evidence everywhere about what life was like behind the Iron Curtain. My dormitory is just a few steps from a former Gestapo headquarters and a Soviet training facility. Drab Communist-era architecture abounds in some parts, and you can even see bullet holes in walls where violence erupted on the streets.

But have no fear; Prague is a stunning and modern city as well. A lot of the medieval architecture is preserved but there are also signs everywhere of how the CR has come charging into the modern world. For example, the metro, which we use every day to explore the city and get to classes, is more efficient than any other system I have seen so far in Europe. A system based on trust, you need only your pass (which is provided by AIFS) and the trains come every few minutes. Using public transportation and adapting to the mannerisms of the locals who use it is a great way to acclimate to city life. Most of our group chose to live in the dorms. My dorm is huge, with kids from all over the world. Don’t feel like venturing out into the city? No problem, as you can meet new friends in one of the pubs in the dorm or get a meal in the cafe.

I share a suite with 3 other American guys. Each suite has two hotplates and a sink so you can do some basic cooking and not have to eat out all of the time. AIFS will reimburse you for basic cooking supplies if you bring them the receipt. There are two super markets nearby: Billa, which is a short walk from the dorm, and Tesco which is right off of the subway. Although the kitchen set up is not fancy, I have been satisfied making pasta, grilled cheese, and eating dozens of delicious 1 dollar baguettes. If you have any concerns on what to buy or need recommendations regarding cooking, the AIFS staff is more than happy to show you around the super market and hand out pointers. The biggest challenge settling into daily life is laundry. The dorm has washers you can use cheaply, however in the CR dryers are rare so you will have to hang up your clothes to dry. In the student handbook there are recommendations for laundromats to use. I have been to one of the recommended ones and it is kind of expensive. If you don’t want to pay for the laundry service you can do as the locals do: get a clothes line and let the sun do the work for you.

In my next post, I’ll tell you about getting going with classes, including learning some basics of the Czech language, and I’ll tell you about our first rambles around the city and some local day trips. Stay tuned–there is a lot to share about life in Prague!


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