I am actively doing my best to avoid being stuck in the “NYU bubble,” because it is very real and ubiquitous. Going to an NYU study abroad site has its pros and cons, as do most things in life. The application process is relatively easy since all we have to do is write a good essay and maintain a good GPA. You do not have to worry about navigating through a different collegiate system, sending your transcript, figuring out if your credits and financial aid will transfer, etc. Your parents and you will also feel safer knowing that you will not be on your own; and that hopefully, your academics will not be interrupted. There is only one con, at least in my experience, but it is a huge one: you risk being sucked into the NYU bubble. Because your classes are at an NYU campus, and you live at an NYU dorm, you are constantly surrounded by NYU students and staff, save for the very few students from different US colleges who are attending for the semester. Of course there are sites that allow students to take some courses at a local university and live with host families or in apartments, but that is not the case with NYU Prague. A small sense of comfort is helpful with the living transition and to lessen the culture shock but to what degree is some comfort too much comfort?
I did not plan my study abroad with other friends. In fact, I did not know anyone before the program began. There are a lot of younger class students who did come with some or all of their friends to NYU Prague. This to me, not only increases the risk of never being able to escape the “NYU bubble,” it also means you are susceptible to being stuck in your friend group’s bubble, which decreases your chances of meeting other NYU students and locals. I have had the fortune of making two friends who attend Duke and are at an NYU institution just for the semester. I have also tried going to cafés around the city to do work, and with the hopes that I will meet local college students. This has not worked because as I have discussed in a previous post, Czech people are not particularly welcoming. By going out to pubs and the like, I have made some non-NYU friends but they are also foreigners. I try going to NYU sponsored events that take place outside of NYU, again with the hopes of meeting locals, to no avail.
I really do not want to repeat my NYU Paris experience in this regard. Although I did have the chance to live with a host family or live in an apartment, I chose to dorm because as a commuter student, that was my first opportunity to have a dorm experience. I also had the opportunity to take classes at La Sorbonne, but unfortunately the courses that interested me conflicted with my mandatory NYU courses. I did make a friend through a language exchange program but sadly, I lost touch with her shortly after I returned to the states.
Thus, I accepted an internship with Forum 2000, an international human rights conference started by Václav Havel, the Czech Republic’s first president. I decided to have an internship for several reasons: I only have class twice a week and I like to be kept busy, so I wanted to fill up one of my free days with an internship; I wanted to be more involved in Prague and meet locals, and the content of the internship is directly related to my studies at Gallatin. Last week I went into the office for the first time to work on tasks beyond conference reports, and at one point, one of my supervisors sat down to talk to me about Prague and the US. Hearing her perspective about Prague as a Brno native, and about the US, as someone who has never traveled there, was the kind of conversation I craved because it broadened my ow perspectives.
Furthermore, I signed up with a friend to co-teach conversational English through the International Student Club of Prague so that I can meet local and international young adults. So far, I have taught one class, and it was so much fun! It exceeded my expectations. We had ten students in the hour-and-a-half long class. There was one South Korean, one Russian, one Polish, one Japanese, one Spanish, and five Czech students, all of whom had varying levels of English proficiency. We tried to make the class enjoyable and had several activities lined up. During our section on class rules, one student suggested we grab a drink after every class. The class unanimously agreed to the rule, and while I was hesitant about it at first, I am so glad we did it. Hanging out together without the structure and restrictions of the classroom helped everyone become more comfortable with one another and get to know each other a little bit more. My friend and I now know how to better cater the curriculum to their interests. Even more importantly, we all realized that our main objective is to get to know people with different life experiences than our own. I cannot wait for my next class!