Ten Things I’ve Learned So Far In Prague

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Allow me to join the club with every student currently studying abroad saying “I can’t BELIEVE its already been ___# of weeks!!!” …..but I really can’t believe it’s already been 6 weeks in Prague. I still feel like I am dreaming. I’m absolutely in love with this fairytale city

At orientation, we learned about the ‘phases’ of studying abroad. We were shown a chart that had first the ‘honeymoon phase’ then the ‘homesickness/confusion/anxiety/culture shock’ phase, then ‘adaptation and comfort,’ ‘mixed emotions about going home,’ ‘reverse culture shock’ and ‘adaptation and comfort back home’

Honestly, I feel like I have been in the honeymoon phase this entire time. I haven’t really felt homesickness–if anything, it’s more wishing that everyone was with me in Prague rather than me being back home (and my family is coming this weekend, so I do get to have that!)

I’ve definitely been coming into the adaptation phase, though. There are certain distinct things about Prague that I’ve been learning in my time here so far

Here are just a few:


1. No, you can’t get by easily with only English

I knew from the start that Czech would be a really tough language to learn, but like the annoying privileged American I am I put my trust in everyone telling me that all Czech people spoke English and I’d be fine.


Ridiculous story from our first weekend here:
We were trying to get to a club and figured calling an Uber would be the best way–just throw in our address, the club’s address and it should be no problem, right? But something went wrong with the address or the wifi when we were waiting outside and the guy called us saying (we assume) he couldn’t find our apartment. He didn’t speak a word of English…the result was us shouting names of places nearby–most of which were chains, very helpful–over and over along with the same English that this guy ~*believe it or not*~ still couldn’t understand. By some miracle he found us and luckily was laughing about it the whole time. We spent the entire ride apologizing and saying more things in English (at one point he responded in an exasperated tone that I took to translate to something along the lines of “why are you still speaking I STILL cannot understand you stupid Americans”) But the one word we managed to connect with as we shuffled through the limited vocab we’d learned since arriving was “pivo,” the Czech word for beer. So I’d like to think we made a friend on that ride.

You can find English speakers at most restaurants and places that cater to tourists, of course. But several times a week I find myself miming my words and making apologetic faces to people who either only speak broken English or don’t speak it at all. All in all it’s not that hard to get by, but it’s definitely guilt-inducing

2. Czech people enjoy the silence

In day to day life, the trams are quiet and so is the metro. Changing rooms are quiet. Store clerks will greet you and then leave you alone. If people talk in these public places, it’s usually in a whisper.
At orientation a woman from our program told us “Czech people can hear Americans coming from a mile away” and within the first week we knew exactly what she meant. Being in a place where everyone around you is silent really makes you realize your ‘inside voice’ is on par with over-competitive moms at a middle school soccer game. There’s really no reason to be shouting so much

3. They also don’t really smile

This one took some getting used to at first, but now I like it. A Czech guy put it perfectly when he asked me “why do Americans smile when they’re not happy? why do people have to smile all the time for service?” Once you stop taking it personally, it becomes less of an intimidation and more the simple fact that they are just doing what they need to do. You’re damn right serving up a steak to somebody else doesn’t naturally make a ray of sunshine glow out of your face

4. Gyms are a different story

The first thing we learned about the gym is if you want to go you need to bring two pairs of shoes. There’s a strict policy that only clean gym shoes can be used on the equipment, so when you come in you literally have to take off your shoes and put them in a cubby before changing into your new ones. Cue me frantically scrubbing the dirt off my running shoes out of fear I’d be exiled on my very first trip to the gym (it was a success)

Also, Czech people may seem like the reserved type because of the whole quiet/no smiling thing, but privacy in the locker rooms is not a thing. At the gym I’ve been going to, the men and women’s locker rooms doors are adjacent to each other and often both are wide open. The passerby (and breeze, honestly) doesn’t even make these women flinch. They change in the open with zero attempt to cover themselves. The showers are also communal.

My initial reaction of course was HELL YEAH body positivity and normalcy!! but it definitely has taken some getting used to. If you want to experience ultimate vulnerability, try being soaking wet and naked in a room where all the women just around the corner are whispering in a language you don’t understand. Cheers

5. Dogs are treated like royalty and I am a peasant

God I miss my dog. If it wasn’t enough that I see at least ten dogs a day, it makes it worse that I’m not allowed to pet them. Czech people love their dogs, but they are their dogs. It’s not a common thing for someone to approach someone else’s dog and coo at it. Honestly, I think people are pretty put-off by just my overexcited reaction when they hop on the tram with their little pupper. Been trying to rein it in. It’s not working

My dog would do horribly here, though. He’d experience the luxury of being allowed in every place, even restaurants (on more than one occasion I’ve seen dogs literally sitting on the bench at the table) but there’s a reason dogs are allowed there. They are very well trained. I hardly ever hear them barking at each other and most are kept off the leash to walk beside their owners. Not gonna fly with my dog. Sorry Jake

6. Soy milk in coffee is not a thing

Another American-ism that is sort of hilarious to experiment with. You know you’re in a place that caters to tourists when you see soy milk as an option, and you know you’re in a local cafe when they actually laugh at you for asking. I try my luck at every cafe I go to. At one, everyone spoke pretty broken English and I knew the answer would probably be no, but I asked anyways. The guy immediately burst out laughing before getting a serious look on his face and saying “never. NEVER”

7. Kids are really mature

I wish I looked as cool and well dressed and put together as the kids here when I was their age…or ever. Some who look as young as 5 or 6 will navigate the trams on their own and manage to not have a panic attack and cry for their mom (something I am still currently working on)
In our second week here we met two Czech girls that spoke perfect English and showed us around the city and knew the city’s history well enough to basically be our free professional tour guides. With all of that and their trendy style I swear I thought they were 25. Turns out they were juniors in high school. Damnit

8. If everyone had fitbits they’d be killing the game

The trams and metro are convenient, but you can find plenty of people walking everywhere no matter the weather. Personally, it’s my favorite way to get around because the streets are gorgeous and I can take a couple different routes every day to school walking along the water. My fit bracelet has stopped sending me little notifications that are like “hey, pal, time to do more stepping!”

9. Everyone smokes

I’m learning to check restaurants for non-smoking sections beforehand, because a lot of the local ones still allow it at tables. Most clubs and bars allow smoking, too. It’s definitely taken some getting used to mostly because it stays on your clothes so the washing machine has been getting lots of love from me

10. Nutrition facts are not the same (and not worth me figuring out)

Since this is a recovery blog, I figured I should make note of this especially. I’ve stopped looking at nutrition facts completely, which is sort of a big deal for me. At home, I always liked to say I’d stopped counting calories, but I realized in truth I just got better at not letting the number bother me. I still constantly looked at nutrition facts and even though I was not restricting as much I still always had that number ticking in the back of my head and it made it tempting to restrict. Here, I can honestly say I’ve gone days with no idea how many calories, fat, sugar, etc. I’ve eaten and it is the most liberating thing
The reason I stopped? Nutrition facts are a bit more complicated to figure out here. First, obviously, they are in Czech–but my ED would get me to start google translating in a second if that was the only blockade. The more confusing part is that rather than serving sizes being a typical portion, almost everything is listed as per 100g. 100g of eggs is about 5.28 eggs…so you understand what I mean. I chose to forget trying to figure it out at each meal, and being so detached from the ability to calorie count with ease is starting to make me forget about it completely, 6 weeks later. Words can’t describe how awesome that feels

Realizing I might not be so afraid

Two big things happened last week:
1) On Monday, I had a borderline severe allergic reaction
2) I went to Interlaken, Switzerland!!

3) I’ve been having lots of trouble with this blog and hackers and I’m so sorry for not posting

I’ll start with the happy one

I can’t remember the last time I’ve been as extremely proud of myself as I have this past week. I booked my trip to Interlaken with a student travel agency called Bus2Alps within the first week of coming to Prague, but I did it under the impression that I was going to same week as a couple other girls I’d met. Turns out they’d accidentally told me the wrong weekend and I had gone ahead and drunkenly booked it at 4:30 in the morning instead of waiting to double check the date (sorry mom).

I tried to stay optimistic about an opportunity to meet new people since I would be riding solo, but as the date approached all the what ifs started coming in…

what if everyone is really cliquey and doesn’t want to talk

 what if I get lost

what if nobody wants to hang with me and I realize I’m an un-hang-outable person

what if I can’t handle being by myself and I have a panic attack in my single bedroom and ruin my (expensive) trip??!

But to make a long story short, I quickly realized that my pre-departure anxieties weren’t too different from when I first came to Prague, and they dissolved just as fast when I arrived

Because how could you have any worries in a place that looks like THIS:

Photo Feb 21, 11 18 45

Interlaken was incredible. I felt like I was dreaming. Partially because the scenery was unreal, and partially because I felt like I was acting freer than I ever have. I was talking openly to all different groups of people, I was exploring and going out and really didn’t feel like I had a moment to second guess myself. I even went strolling around on my own Saturday afternoon and bumped into a group of students visiting from France who were about to go on a hike and they asked if I wanted to come along. So I got to see this view because of them:

Photo Feb 20, 09 11 34 Photo Feb 20, 09 20 06

I left Interlaken with a full heart for all of the kind, awesome people in the world like that group of travelers. I left feeling really really proud of myself for diving headfirst into every activity and not wasting a moment worrying what others would think.

and I left with this photo:


Another “say yes to things that scare me” accomplishment? Yes, I ran full force off the side of a mountain in the Swiss Alps to fly over Interlaken. I can still almost feel my stomach drop (in all the best ways) when I look at this picture

I got home from Interlaken late Sunday night and successfully navigated my way back home on the night tram (*another pat on the back*)

The next day was my roommates birthday so we made reservations for a late dinner at an awesome Mexican restaurant her friend had recommended. I got a huge vegetable fajita and a beer for the measly price of 220 crowns (about $8.50) and it was delicious

But as we started getting ready to pay the check, I started getting a really weird cough. It was sort of like that deep, disgusting cough you get when you have bronchitis, only worse. For the most part I was fine, but each time the cough flared up it felt like I was trying to cough water out of my lungs. I tried to be nonchalant about it and hoped it would pass soon, but as we left the restaurant I was feeling more and more uncomfortable.

I’ve always had a secret fear of getting an allergic reaction to food. I know it sounds sort of ridiculous–I’ve had no known serious food allergies but had been tested for them all–but it was a big anxiety of mine for some time when I was younger (yet another thing to make me avoid food, greeeeat!) The thought of having my throat close up and not being able to breathe absolutely terrified me

So there I was, with my throat closing up in the middle of Prauge…no I’m kidding, but it really was getting bad. The cough just wouldn’t go away and it was starting to feel worse, like my lungs were filling with water. As my roommates debated whether we should go to a bar or have drinks at home I choked out that I’d gone 0 to 100 with this cough and needed to go home.

By the time we got off the tram and were heading to the apartment I could barely speak. I told my roommates between coughs that I was pretty sure I was having an allergic reaction/was lowkey being waterboarded and trying to act normal about googling the European version of “911” on my phone. They followed with concern as I got in the door and immediately took a double dose of Zyrtec and found my inhaler (cheers to me for getting that literally two days before departure).

Somehow, I didn’t panic. That’s what I’m so struck by and another thing that I’m honestly proud of. Something I’d feared for a long time was *somewhat* happening–my throat hadn’t closed, but my breathing certainly wasn’t A+ –and I was just sitting on the couch telling my roommates I’d be fine while I focused on what I needed to do. I sat and sipped water and breathed as best I could while the Zyrtec kicked in and slowly I came back down to normal.

One thing I’m really starting to learn on this trip: there’s no point in worrying about what you’re going to do in the future. When you’re there, you’ll figure it out.

I’ve been figuring a lot of things out lately and I’m so excited to keep writing about them

Say Yes to Things That Scare Me: Check

On Wednesday I signed up for one of the free rock climbing sessions offered each week by my program. I’ve always wanted to try out rock climbing and when I found out that there would be FREE instructions each week I told myself I had to take advantage of it. So I showed up at the meeting point Wednesday morning prepared to be that one person that didn’t know jack about belaying and scaling walls and would probably whimper at the top if I even got there…..and then nobody showed up. The instructor and the woman who organized the sign up list came and she told us seven people had signed up and six had cancelled.

“So it’s just Kate!”


I ended up being so happy that happened. The instructor was honestly one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met. He didn’t waste a second with small talk and got right into asking me about my story and telling me his: about how he grew up in L.A. (yay fluent English!) and moved to Prague, how he got started with rock climbing because he was terrified of heights but had a girlfriend that was into it, how he now studies Chinese medicine and rock climbs/hikes/adventures/travels for fun (plus he told me some great bars/clubs around the area) and he loves reading about different life philosophies because his ultimate goal is to live a life where he doesn’t have expectations and can live in the present moment just doing what makes him happy.

If you know me, you know I immediately wanted to be his best friend.

All of that talking happened within a 15 minute tram ride to the rock climbing place, and it didn’t stop once we got there. It was a great distraction from my steadily increasing nerves as we got our gear and went to the bouldering room. For people who don’t know (i.e. me Wednesday morning) bouldering is rock climbing without a harness, so you’re free to go whichever direction you want and there’s a big blown up mat below you to prevent injuries (I wasn’t that comforted).

Cool hippy rock climbing guy might actually have just been 90% monkey because he could scale the wall even upside-down and made it look easy.

My first couple runs hardly took me anywhere–he tried telling me where my hands and feet should go next, but I wasn’t shifting my bodyweight properly to move in those directions. Slowly, I started getting the hang of it and going higher, but that’s where the whole “I’m a little bit afraid of heights especially when there is nothing to catch me but a mat 15 feet down” thing kicked in. Luckily the guy was really encouraging but understanding at the same time, so I’d come down when I really felt like I couldn’t go higher (mentally and physically–rock climbing is exhausting)

I’m definitely going back next week and hopefully every week for the rest of the semester. I’m proud of myself for jumping right into it and I hope like him it will help me overcome my fear of heights

Maybe next week I’ll have him snap a picture so you guys can see me starting to get stressed at about 5 feet off the ground

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