In this post I am going to give you the 4-1-1 on daily life in Prague, including getting around, classes, and settling into city life.
Getting to know the city was definitely a challenge, but do not panic because the other students in the program are in the same boat.
The dormitory is in Prague 6, which is almost a suburb of Prague, but you are only a 5 minute walk from the subway system which drops you off right next to the two academic buildings at Charles University where classes are held. I really enjoy this commute, because it makes me feel like I am an active participant in city life. From the main academic building there is a beautiful view of Prague castle and the second classroom is a stone’s throw away from the National Square.
It is in these classrooms where the AIFS students take their mandatory Czech Language and Culture course. The class goes for two weeks Monday through Friday, and for the first few days, the students from my class met up for breakfast (which is available in the residence hall), and then went together to find our classroom. The language course was challenging but the content was designed to help us acclimate to life in Prague; asking directions and ordering food are reviewed very carefully. My teacher gave us lots of tips on where to find good restaurants, and when we went on a field trip to the National Art Gallery she explained to us how the trams work. Understanding the tram schedule is crucial if you want to go out at night in Prague because the subway closes at midnight (tip: take tram 51! It will take you right back to the dormitory).English is rarely spoken by the locals in Prague, but saying the basic please and thank you can go a long way. In the “touristy” section of Prague most people know some English and menus are available with English translations.
After the introductory course ended, the academic classes began. I am really enjoying my classes, which all meet for one and a half hours, twice a week. They are taught from a European perspective, and the classes offered are unique to Charles University. This is an opportunity to learn about things in a way you might not be able to at an American university. For example, there is a class called Prague: Story of a Central European City, which spends half the class time exploring historic sections of the city. And I am taking a sociology course called the Century of Labor and Concentration Camps, where we will visit the local prisons and later we will go to the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. The classes are beneficial in that they work toward my History major, but they also make my experience in the city more meaningful. The classes include American students from other programs as well as European students from all over Europe.
Prague really is a city of contrasts. People in the Czech Republic are some of the least religious in Europe, but at the same time the city boasts beautiful gothic churches and some of the oldest synagogues in Europe. The locals in Prague are quiet and often shy, but the nightlife is so vibrant.
I think the best way to spend your time abroad is to be curious about the place you live. You have to be willing to research, explore, and get lost, maybe even to the point of frustration. But the end result never fails to disappoint in this magical and spirited city.