My First Week In Prague: Traveling With My Old Self, Yet With New Eyes

In The Art of Travel Spring 2017, 1. Anticipation, Prague by Ankita5 Comments

Exactly five days ago, I packed my bags and left my sunny home in California to travel halfway across the world. As I arrived at the airport almost 10 hours later — surrounded by strangers speaking a language I couldn’t understand — it finally hit me that I was in my home for the next four months: Prague. 

As my new Czech visa states, my name is Ankita, I’m a sophomore in NYU’s College of Arts and Sciences and I was born and brought up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Although I knew even before coming to NYU that studying abroad would be a part of my college experience, I never imagined that I would be spending my semester in Prague. It’s not the place most people think of when they typically imagine a semester abroad in Europe, as is with more popular sites like Paris and London. But I wanted to put myself somewhere completely new, a place that would challenge me. I also wanted to go somewhere with a strong curriculum in my major, journalism, so Prague became the clear choice.

When I started NYU, moving to New York from across the country seemed like adventure enough for me, but it was worth it. I had spent two years making the city my home — finding friends, a job and extra-circulars that I loved. I was honestly skeptical — and a little scared — to leave that all behind and essentially have to do it all over again. But I know I wouldn’t have the life I do now if I had stayed in California, and I wouldn’t be able to experience the world if I stayed in New York. 

“Why We Travel” and “On Anticipation” offer parallel yet diverging views on traveling to a new place. Iyer illustrates how traveling gives us freedom and anonymity, stripped of the labels we may have carried before, whereas Botton points out that even in a new place, we can’t escape our intrinsic selves. 

I have experienced both of these feelings, even in the short week that I’ve been in the Czech Republic. There is a sort of excitement in walking the new cobblestone streets, with the knowledge that others do not know me, and therefore, I have the power to paint the picture of who I want to be. As Iyer said, I may even seem “mysterious” in this country with almost no other people who look like I do.

But no matter where I go, there are characteristics about me that will never change, even if they can’t be seen from the outside. I get nervous about having to make a new group of friends. I can get anxious about school. I often think of my friends and my family back home. Regardless of where I go, those things will always be with me. 

But I think that being aware of these conflicting views will help me keep an open mind during my time abroad. While I can enjoy getting to know new people and places for the first time and being completely free, I can still stay grounded by the fact that I am still the same person in San Francisco or New York as I am here. I can stay tethered to the parts of myself that will never go away. 

My first day in Prague was chilly, yet the sun managed to shine through the grey clouds that loomed through the sky. I walked across the Charles Bridge, breathing in the cool air with my phone turned off so I could fully experience the breathtaking view that lay before me. I wanted to see the city just for myself — without worrying about how I could validate my experience for other people. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. The castle-like buildings dripped of hundreds of years of history and maroon-colored architecture. The water was calm, the rays from the sun dancing off of its surface. It was magical. 

What I’ve described is undoubtedly picturesque — a perfect memory illustrated in my mind. But as Botton cynically pointed out in “On Anticipation,” this is of course, not all that happened that day. My fingers felt a little numb in the freezing air. Huge crowds of people slowed down my walking. I was hungry and frustrated because I couldn’t decipher the Czech menus. 

Both of these experiences were my reality that day. I think that for me to gain the most out of these next four months, I have to accept that these two realities will always co-exist, sometimes harmoniously, and sometimes not. So I’ve given myself just one goal, a goal that sounds simple in theory but might be much more complex to enact. I’m going to stop trying to create the picture that I have in my mind, and just let the journey take me. I just want to open my heart and my mind, and be completely free. 

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Image source

  • Prague Old Town Square: Ankita
  • Standing in Front of Old Town Square: Ankita
  • View From Prague Castle: Ankita

Comments

  1. Hi, I’m Bhavani, and I am studying in Florence this semester. I have never been to the Czech Republic, but Prague is surely very far and different from California, so I can only imagine the adjustments you had to make, both physically – due to time difference – and mentally, due to the new culture you now find yourself in. Since you are from California, it must, however, feel more natural to you to travel to a place far from home and stay there fir a couple months. Your statement on refraining from creating a specific vision of your abroad experience and instead spending your time in Prague in a more open-minded, spontaneous manner really resonated with me, as it is fully my goal to do the same in Florence. I am from New York, so throughout my time at NYU, I tend to visit home quite a bit, but it is now impossible for me to do so as I am now on a different continent and not just a metro-north train ride away. Instead of dwelling on this, however, I am trying to appreciate the city I am now in and make it my home, just like you are in Prague. I know that being away from home for these three and a half months will provide me with unmatchable experiences and teach me invaluable lessons.

  2. Ankita,

    I don’t envy you because I hate the cold but I am sure Prague is beautiful! When I was reading “On Anticipation,” perhaps the lines that stuck with me the most were the very ones that you commented on, that when we write down our experiences or tell people about our travel stories it is always a very selective process. We pick and choose, either unconsciously or not, what we want to add and what we don’t want to add (trivial things such as while I was walking down the bridge a huge bird pooped on my head or a fly flew onto my arm).

  3. Loved the post!

    I love that you used both readings to explore the the feeling of being pulled in two directions by your exciting yet unfamiliar experience in Prague and your roots at home. Your advice on reconciling those conflicting forces was spot on. I relate to being in a chilly climate too…it does put a bit of a damper on exploring outside! The writing was beautiful too, especially the description of walking across the Charles Bridge. It sounds like you’re off to a great start! Enjoy the city 🙂

  4. Hey Ankita! I love the fact that you turned your phone off and just took in your surroundings upon arriving, while still describing the view as picturesque. You have that temptation to record everything and share it with whomever your phone connects you to (which plays on that idea of existing in more than one place at a time and being pulled in different directions by them), but remembering more than the view you can share is definitely a huge part about being abroad. Just like putting the phone away, letting yourself be free and open in a new place, despite discouraging setbacks like confusing menus, is a wonderful way to start the semester!

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