Study Abroad. What an interesting phrase. It means no worries, for the rest of your days…. It’s a problem free philosophy. Hakuna Matata. Oh wait, what?
In reality, study abroad is a confusing phrase for me. Because I’m not sure what it means to me, and I don’t know what it is supposed to mean. For a lot of people, it clearly means take a semester off from really studying, travel abroad, and use being abroad as an excuse to travel more. There’s definitely something to that philosophy, and if I was only abroad for a semester, I’d probably be like that too. Because if I was only abroad for a semester, I wouldn’t be in Prague.
See, I came to Prague for a few very specific reasons, having to do primarily with my family history. I decided I was going to study abroad in Prague when I was still in high school – being able to study abroad in Prague was literally on my list of requirements for a college. But I’m not just here because Prague is conveniently located for traveling around Europe. I’m not even here merely to experience living in a gorgeous and super old city. I’m here to experience the Czech culture, to learn the Czech language, to meet Czech people.
I’m living with a Czech family so that every moment of every day I’m learning about the normal life of a Czech; unsurprisingly, their lives aren’t much different from Americans’. I am forced to practice my Czech with my host family, both actively if I want to say anything at all to the kids, and passively if I want to have any idea of the conversation going on around me. I’m learning by listening, learning by doing, learning by living.
But I also have to take classes.
I’m taking classes in Czech language and Czech politics, and next semester perhaps in Czech culture. But I also have to take classes that will transfer back to Tufts for major credit – hence the math class and two political science classes I’m taking this semester. (Which, by the way, pretty much rounds out my class schedule. The last one, Jewish history, is primarily to help me learn about the history that shaped so much of my grandfather’s life before, during, and after the war.)
At Tufts, I’m really studious. I do all my readings (mostly on time), I do all my work, and I put school first almost all the time. When I’m in class, I’m in class – focusing and taking notes with minor distractions. Here, though, it’s a bit different. I’ve done most of my readings (mostly after I was supposed to), and most of my work. When I’m in class, I take some notes, but am often distracted by reading articles online about Czech and European news stories, or by thinking about whatever fun stuff I’m doing that evening or the next weekend. I almost always elect to do something with my host family or go out with friends (either American or Czech, or often a combination thereof) instead of my homework.
This upcoming week is midterms week, and I’m currently chilling in Moravia, where I doubt I’ll do much studying. Perhaps more than if I had stayed in Prague, although I did have loose plans to study for two of my classes with two different people before I knew I was leaving town. I’m worried that I’ll be unprepared, but I’m hoping that everyone is similarly unprepared, and that the professors grade on curves. Big ones. Except for freshman year in organic chemistry, where I expected to do poorly because the material was overwhelming, not because I didn’t do enough work, I’ve never felt so unprepared for midterms in my college career.
But at the same time, I can’t help but feel that the choices I’ve been making are the right ones. I came to Prague to experience the city. To learn the language, to meet the people, to experience the culture. And I can’t do that if I go home every day, sit in my room with the door closed, and read English language commentary of what is going on outside my window. I can read all the election commentary I want, but it won’t replace hearing the election results for this little village over loudspeaker at 5 in the afternoon on a Saturday, or listening to the locals debating if 48 or 45 people voted for the communists. I can’t befriend Czechs unless I spend time with them outside of the school building, doing things they like to do. And I can’t experience the culture unless I actually experience it. Hearing about it from other Americans doesn’t count.
I don’t know if this new perspective on being in school will come home with me. I think maybe this new perspective hit a lot of people freshman year of college, or even earlier. But at least while I’m here, my priorities are different. I want to live my life like a Czech, or as close as I can get. And whatever happens, I don’t want any wish-I-would’ves.