We caught up with Crystal Norris, an AIFS alum who spent a semester in Prague, Czech Republic back in the spring of 2009. Read on to see how her experience overseas changed her career path and helped her grow as a person on many levels.
How has your study abroad experience impacted your educational goals and career?
My semester abroad in Prague completely redirected my life. Going into the semester I was unsure of what I was going to do for a career and felt overwhelmed. Once I returned home, I quickly signed up for a minor in International Studies and chose to refocus my degree on international courses. I loved learning about other cultures and traveling while I was in Prague and knew this was my calling. I made a promise to myself to continue to live a life filled with my passion of seeing the world. So I began a blog where I discuss my travels and hope to inspire others to explore the world.
How has your study abroad experience impacted other areas of your life?
Not to sound dramatic, but studying abroad completely changed me as a person. When I left for Prague I was 19, sheltered, shy, and had never traveled alone. Jetting off to the Czech Republic all by myself and living in another country was an eye opening experience. I developed a confidence I never had before. Learning a new language, currency, public transportation, and cuisine while trying to make friends brought me out of my shell and my personality blossomed. I became the confident and strong woman I am today because of that semester. When I came home, my family and friends were all so surprised at how much I changed in that short amount of time. I am so thankful for this experience for not only fueling my love of travel, but for helping me find myself.
Have you been back to Prague since your time as a student abroad?
I have traveled to Europe multiple times since I studied abroad, but unfortunately I haven’t made it back to Prague. I hope to return soon to see how the city has changed in 10 years and revisit my favorite sights in the city.
Are you still in contact with other students or anyone you met during your time abroad?
Yes! One of my favorite things about studying abroad was the wonderful friendships I made. During my time in Prague, I met a girl from Colorado and, although I live in Texas, we have kept our close friendship for almost 10 years. We visit each other as least once a year and plan to return to Prague together someday. Studying abroad was so rewarding to be able to meet likeminded people who love to travel. The memories you will make with these friends will last you a lifetime and create a bond like no other.
Are there any activities or traditions from your time as a student in Prague that you have continued back in the US?
When I arrived in Prague, I didn’t have a liking for beer but that quickly changed. The Czech people’s love of beer started my appreciation of craft brews and I regularly visit local breweries. Prost! Also, I began a blog during my time abroad and I have continued to write about my travels across the globe. Recording my travels allows me to save every memory and it is gratifying to look back at these moments years later. I hope one day my daughter will be able to read these precious memories and know how incredible my time abroad was.
What are your top destinations for future travel?
My list of destinations I plan to travel to is never-ending, but my top three destinations are hiking to Machu Picchu in Peru, Iceland, Panama, and Norway. And of course I’d love to go back to Prague.
Any advice for students who are considering studying abroad?
Your time abroad will be the most incredible experience of your life but it unfortunately goes by way too fast. Enjoy every moment, the good and the bad, and take dozens of pictures so you can look back at this amazing adventure. While it may seem daunting when looking at the cost and the paperwork you have to complete, it will all be worth it! There is never another time in your life when you can travel abroad with students your age , with little responsibility and with the whole world in front of you! So if you are interested in studying abroad, do it! I promise you, you will not regret it.
Any advice for recently returned study abroad students?
Reverse culture shock is real and it can be quite depressing. I was so bummed when I returned home from Prague. My semester of adventure was over… Now what? My biggest piece of advice is to know this feeling will slowly subside and to immerse yourself in classes or clubs that help fuel your love of travel. I joined the Global Business Club and met many students who were from other countries or had studied abroad. We were all able to connect through our love of the world and we created a quick bond. This helped ease my longing for Prague and I was able to inspire others to visit this amazing country. Also, your time abroad doesn’t have to end in college! Research career options that involve travel or are overseas, budget and plan future vacations, learn recipes from your host country and make them at home, and most importantly create an environment for yourself that is powered by your passion of seeing the world.
Anything else you want to add?
Prague is such a romantic and enchanting city. It isn’t as popular as London or Rome which gives it its charm and why I chose it for my study abroad destination. If you want to take a step out of the norm and experience a unique culture and easily travel throughout Eastern Europe, visit Prague and see why it is called the new Paris. And remember, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”
Want to have a transformative experience abroad just like Crystal did? Consider a semester, academic year, or summer in Prague! Click here to learn more.