It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and we’re feeling all the feels. Truthfully, nothing makes us feel more feels this time of year than when we hear from our alumni about how studying abroad helped them find love. On that note, we caught up with Kirsten and Roger, two AIFS Study Abroad alumni who spent their spring semester in 2011 studying in Prague, Czech Republic at Charles University. They fell in love during that semester in Prague, and returned to the fairytale city almost 9 years later to find themselves engaged! Read on to learn more about their love story and life together from his and her perspective.
As I write this, I am submitting the contract to secure our wedding venue at the Dumbarton House in Washington, D.C. for September of this year. Almost to the day, eight years after meeting each other in a London pub, we are planning our wedding. Roger, born in Philadelphia and attending school at the University of Alabama and me, from San Diego and a student at the University of Colorado, greeted each other with excitement, unsure of the experiences yet to come that semester. It was indisputable fate that our paths crossed, yet we would soon find that we shared more than just geographical differences, starting with our fascination for the City of One Hundred Spires, Prague.
It is there where Roger and I fell in love exploring the Prague Castle grounds late one chilly February evening. We spent the semester enjoying each other’s company in AIFS classes, sipping pivo at Letná park, getting lost along the winding narrow city streets, cruising the Vltava with friends, and sharing weekend getaways to Istanbul and Croatia. The memories made that semester will forever stay with me and are now deeply intertwined with my life story as Roger and I plan a future together.
When Roger and I planned our first trip back to Prague since studying abroad that semester in 2011, I knew it would be a particularly special trip. We had both missed the city; its architecture, history, and culture. We made a point to spend ample time in Prague, renting out various apartments in different neighborhoods, promising to enjoy our days wandering and rediscovering the city. And so it happened on the second day, while snapping photos of the iconic red roofs and bridges at a city overlook, Roger got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.
Today, Roger and I live and work in Washington, D.C.; he as a lawyer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and I as a public affairs associate for the Danish biotech company Novozymes. That semester abroad not only changed our lives personally but also professionally. Working for an international company with headquarters and top executives in Europe, can be intimidating and challenging at times, needing to adapt to a foreign company culture and increased international travel. Drawing on my time spent abroad, I have more confidence navigating new countries and experience interacting with people from different cultures.
When we returned from our trip to Prague, friends and family surprised us with an engagement celebration. Appropriately, we thanked the group with a shout of na’zdraví and shot of Becherovka. We enjoyed sharing the Czech term for cheers and herbal liquor with our loved ones, ensuring Czech culture will continue to be a part of lives and love story.
Prague will forever be a magical place for us, but the city has so much to offer anyone who is willing to visit with an open mind… and heart.
Almost eight years ago to the day, I was at my parents’ house in Philadelphia packing my one giant suitcase for four months abroad in Prague with AIFS, a trip that I was certain would change my life forever. I was going to live and study in one of world’s most incredible cities, meet new and interesting people, and most importantly (or so I thought at the time) party in clubs around Europe. The last thing I expected to find along the way was my future wife.
I first met Kirsten during our stopover in London, where right away I knew she was different and special. She wanted to go everywhere and see everything—in fact, I am not entirely sure she slept for the two days we were in London. It was exciting to be around someone who was so energetic and wanted to take in everything around her. When we finally got to Prague, I knew she (and her crew of West Coast pals) were going to be a fun group to stick around, so I did just that.
Kirsten and I, along with about ten others from AIFS, went pretty much everywhere and did pretty much everything together. Prague is like a metropolis, a museum, and a theme park all rolled up into one and we each got to know each other by exploring it. Our classes would teach us about the language, the culture, and the history. After classes, we’d go to the museums, the beer gardens, the cafes, and the parks and get the real-world version of what we’d just learned. Each one of use bonded during these great times and, at some point, Kirsten and I realized we had a uniquely special connection.
After our study abroad, Kirsten and I stayed in touch and, as chance would have it, we both ended up in Washington, D.C. after graduating college. Kirsten had taken a job on Capitol Hill and I was starting law school (one of my letters of recommendation was from a professor at Charles University in Prague!). The rest is history.
This past August, Kirsten and I went back to Prague for the first time since leaving in 2011. We visited all the incredible places that we frequented during our stay there and enjoyed lots of pilsner and Becherovka. Luckily, the city hadn’t changed much, and neither had we. On our second full day there, we hiked up to Letná Park, a large park on the top of the hill overlooking the Vltava River, the Charles Bridge, Old Town, Prague, and also home to our favorite beer gardens. Back in the place where it all started for us, I got down on one knee and asked her to spend the rest of her life with me—and thank God, she said “yes!”
Looking back, I certainly got much more than I bargained for when I picked up the AIFS Prague packet in my university’s study abroad office, and for that I am truly lucky. I learned so much about the culture and everyday lives of the incredibly resilient and dynamic Czech people, studied at one of the oldest universities in Europe, drank the world’s best beer straight from the tap, and, yes, met my soon to be wife. To Kirsten and I, Prague remains somewhere so incredibly special. A place where we made some of our closest friends, shared some of our best memories, and started our life together. Our experience studying abroad together also gave us a perspective that I think we will always hold on to, that life is best lived when you’re trying new things, exploring new places, and having fun with the people you love.
Kirsten and I will be married in September of this year and look forward to many more adventures around the world, including regular visits back to Prague.
Kirsten Skala and Roger Gibboni studied abroad with AIFS in Prague, Czech Republic at Charles University (CU) during the spring semester of 2011. Kirsten graduated from CU in 2012 with a BS in International Affairs and certificate in Global Media. During her time in Prague, Kirsten toured Radio Free Europe with her classmates, just one example of the relevant coursework AIFS offers to students. Roger graduated in 2012 with a Psychology degree from the University of Alabama, going on to complete a law degree at the George Mason University School of Law in 2015. They reside in Dupont Circle with their three-year-old French bulldog, Fiona.
Learn more about studying abroad with AIFS in Prague, Czech Republic.