The Erasmus Experience

Walking on Charles Bridge you feel many things. All of your senses are in some way activated. You hear the multitude of languages, as people of several various nationalities roam around savouring the blissful winter air of the Czech atmosphere.

Indeed, Charles Bridge is just one of many attractions that grace the city of Prague. The city is a true story of European victory, having broken free of communism to become one of the leading tourist destinations on the European continent. Party goers, photographers, nature lovers, and others are all lured to the city to experience the fun, beauty and joy that it has to offer. Another line of people who are lured to the city are students, with Charles University of Prague being the oldest University in Europe. Boasting academic excellence, it has become a highly regarded institute for Czech students and international students alike.

It was a tough decision to choose whether to take part in Erasmus, and therefore travel abroad to a European city for the year. Leaving home comforts behind and having to become that bit more independent in every sense was always going to be a challenge, never mind the language barrier. The fact that I was going over on my own only added to this challenge. The initial thoughts were scary, but the more I heard about the year abroad experience, the more that I was drawn to it. Like everything in life though, there is no set agenda for everyone. Not everyone is suited to everything, and therefore studying abroad for the year was always going to be a risk. The positive voices I kept hearing from everyone eventually convinced me this was a risk worth taking. We only live once and so I went by the attitude of ‘’why not try everything’’.

Once I made my decision to go, I had to decide where my destination for the year would be. I chose Czech capital Prague and immediately set out getting ready for my journey. I landed in Prague in mid-September, to be greeted with a friendly “Dobry den” by an air hostess. A smile sprung out on her face as she studied the confused expression on mine, before she ushered ‘good day’, the English translation of ‘Dobry den’. This was a gentle reminder for me that living in a new country meant I would have to learn a new language.

The welcoming nature of the air hostess was something that quickly became familiar. Walking out of my dormitory on my first day of moving in, I was greeted with outstretched arms from two people of different nationalities, who proceeded to introduce themselves before inviting me along to the city with them. Making friends when going over on my own was always going to be hard, but as the weeks have progressed, I have found it is anything but that. Everybody here wants to know each other, and it would be no lie to say that not only is it a student community, but also very much an international community.

While the international students were very easy to get along with from the start, my initial relationship with public transport was not so good. Prague, like many other European cities such as Berlin, boasts a very efficient 24-hour transport system incorporating busses, trams, trains, and numerous metro stations. Trying to figure out the system in my early days was frustrating and time-consuming as it was something I hadn’t prepared for and I often found myself at a loose end. As the weeks progressed though, I gradually figured out the times and places. I could then really appreciate the convenience of the Czech transport system. The various forms of transport are available practically every five minutes, ensuring you don’t miss your next session or lecture.

Indeed, there is much to see and do in Prague. History junkies can be at peace as there is plenty on offer here, whether it is a trip to Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, or to some of the darker sites echoing Prague’s communist and war history. If you are interested in sports, Sparta and Slavia Prague fans sure know how to create an atmosphere in their glorious stadiums. Prague is easily one of Europe’s most exciting spots for nightlife. There are no limits here as the Czech party till all hours, with most clubs not closing till 6am. Students on a budget shouldn’t worry either. A night out in Prague is very inexpensive, with the average pint of Czech beer only being a mere €2.50, due to the Czech Republic’s low-cost economy.

As I enter my eighth week of Erasmus, I can only speak positively of the experience so far. Yes there are days when you wish you were at home having Mammy doing everything, but in truth, the independence is just one of many factors making this such a great year. The merging of various cultures, the making of new friends, and the general experience of being in a foreign city with so much to offer means there really is something for everyone. So if you are thinking of going the Erasmus route too, don’t be scared by it. Even if you are going by yourself, you can be assured there will be a wide range of international students ready to welcome you into their community.

Dobry Den.

Brian Cunningham

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