The white walls of the room sit completely bare. A computer, copy machine, and stapler provide the only office atmosphere. The policewoman behind the desk flips through my passport. My nerves elevate just the tiniest bit as she examines the stamps. I instead focus on the peculiar music playing that seems a bit out of place for a foreign police office: “…let’s talk about sex, baby.” My visa agent sits calm beside me and chats away with her in Czech. The policewoman flips to my visa and swiftly plants down a stamper.
I am suddenly a legal resident of the Czech Republic for one year.
I left my university during my third year to study abroad. College was its own bubble of fun, but I needed challenges that were more than just my academics. Different culture, people, language, ideals—I craved a new stimulating environment so much that I was almost sprinting to the airport that August. After twenty years in the same state, I landed in Prague. While I was expecting a picturesque city with cheap beer, I wasn’t anticipating a life-changing semester. “Life-changing” may seem a bit melodramatic; so allow me to explain how my study abroad experience actually changed the course of my life to bring me to where I am today.
I could go on for paragraphs about the decorative facades, the illuminated buildings at night, or the bright splashes of street art. But it wasn’t just the sights in the city that swayed me. It was the prices. No, I’m kidding (but $1.25 for a pint didn’t hurt).
Like a really fantastic soup, it was the combination of every ingredient of the city coming together in a concoction so perfect that had me falling head over heels for Prague.
The seamless public transportation, the central European location, the language, the hidden cafes, the parks, the nightlife, the food, and the people. Yes, the seemingly cold central Europeans actually hide a well of kindness and compassion behind their icy fronts. Give a Czech a chance and he or she will treat you as family.
While these tangible advantages are what I list off to those who ask about the city, I have a truer, more peculiar answer: I see Prague as a person I want to be like.
- With a modest skyline, it is not showy but discrete.
- With crumbly, abandoned architecture, it is not self-conscious but laid back.
- With old school beauty and grungy edges, it is not perfectly coiffed but natural in its own skin.
- With a complicated history, it is not timid but confident for the future.
- I admire everything about Prague.
So that is why I decided to move here. With no job, no apartment, and no visa, I knew that showing up here was the first thing I had to take care of. To speak honestly, the moving process was not at all glamorous. In fact, it was extremely stressful. As in get-no-sleep-and-get-sick stressful. I had to find an apartment so I had an address, so I could buy a freelance license, so I could apply for the visa, so I could, etc. I tangled myself up in a mess of expat worries. With a few months of patience, a visa agent, and some really terrific friends, I’m now through most of the paper work and on my way to feeling settled.
Right now, I’m drinking coffee in my apartment in a neighborhood called Žižkov where, if I crane my neck out of my kitchen window, I see Jan Žižka perched high on his horse on Vitkov Hill. It’s a typical Fall day, with tiny peeks of sun and a lot of gray. I have the day off from working at a hostel, so I should be searching for more freelance writing jobs. Later, I’ll head to the pub to meet an eclectic mix of French, Colombian, and Canadian friends.
I’ll be in Prague for a year. Well, for right now it’s a year. By next summer, I will have to decide if I want to extend my visa. I hold Virginia very close to my heart, but Prague has struck a different chord with me. I have little doubt that I’ll be back in the white walls of the foreign police office. I’ll chuckle to myself in excitement as the officer stamps my passport once again, and this time I may even tap my foot to the out-of-place pop music in the background.