Czeching Out

Czeching Out

Study abroad has been one of the most memorable experiences of my life. It was my first time stepping foot inside of Europe, and I was pleasantly surprised with what I discovered. Studying in Prague helped me learn, not just about the world, but about myself as well. I learned how I interacted in new environments, the type of traveller I was, and with a few existential crises, discovered who I am.

When I first started Art of Travel, I didn’t see much value in the blog posts. I looked at them as assignments that I would have to finish. However, after learning more about the course and our professor, I realized the course was as beneficial as I could make it. Art of Travel helped me recount all my travels and really helped me remember the significance of trips. I learned a lot from a cultural and historical perspective, but I learned the small facets of traveling that can really make or break your trips: the strangers who become your friends, avoiding (or maybe not avoiding) staged authenticity, and more. Art of Travel has really helped me dissect my trips and be able to analyze them more in depth. Also, it was a great opportunity to revisit the great memories I had in these various countries.

Surprisingly, throughout study abroad, I never got too homesick. Growing up, I had plenty of opportunities to leave home and explore the world on my own through various summer camps and extracurricular activities in school. I learned to be pretty independent on my own. This being said, I am still very excited to return to New York. Prague is a great city, but my first three semesters at NYU has solidified New York as my new home. I feel that when I do return home, I probably will be more mature. Regardless of what anyone says, studying abroad is a very growing experience. I have learned a lot and grown a lot as a person. I think with my more mature outlook, I am more self-motivated and driven to work hard and succeed. I’ve seen the value of the experiences I have had here, and with hard work, I can continue to have similar experiences in the future. Study abroad has opened my eyes to the world, and I only want to see more.

Studying abroad and this course were great experiences for me. I really enjoyed learning about the various topics we discussed and reading my classmates posts about their travels and experiences. While many disappointing or sad misfortunes have happened, there have been tenfold more great moments. Even as many years pass, I am confident that Prague is a city that will remain very dear to me. So many irreplaceable memories have happened while I was here, and it serves as a very important crossroad for me. Hopefully when I return to New York, I can continue to push myself to become more and more the person that I want to be.

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Tips!

Tips!

I am currently studying abroad in Prague, and it is one of the best experiences of my life. I would 100% recommend studying abroad here. The opportunity to travel all across Europe and explore the elaborate culture really helps open your eyes to the world. If you do decide to study abroad in Prague, here is are some amazing things to do.

Travel! The weekends provide ample amounts of time to visit different countries around Europe. However, don’t forget to explore Prague. There is so much culture and definitely some very interesting places to visit. The places you visit don’t always have to be tourist attractions. I live in the dorm Slezska, and I love walking around the nearby parks and exploring the area. Whether you’re in Prague or traveling, try delicious foods. Whether its Czech food, other boutique restaurants, or dessert parlors, the food is usually very good and very cheap (in Prague, abroad prices can vary).

As I said earlier, I live in Slezska and would recommend living there. It’s really close to a subway stop and just located in a pretty nice neighborhood. There are parks around the area and even a basketball court if you want to play. My dorm is a suite with a double and a quad together. All the rooms are pretty spacious, but the one downside is there is a common kitchen for everyone.

Study abroad was a very eye opening experience. No matter where you choose to study abroad at or where you live, your experience will be amazing, you’ll have a lot of fun, and you’ll learn a lot about the world and yourself. Below, I’ll list a few specific things that you should try in Prague!

  • Visit the Candy Store in Prague if you’re ever homesick. They sell a lot of American food products, like Arizona, Lucky Charms, and Oreos!
  • Go on the free trips that are available for students. Most of them are incredibly fun and you’ll go to places that you never would have considered regularly.
  • If you want to stay in shape, you better work out! The food and beer is delicious and cheap. Beers are the drink of choice whenever people go out, and you’ll often see people drinking beer at restaurants before noon.
  • Don’t be close-minded. There will be plenty of opportunities to try new things and go to new places. Definitely look at everything with an open mind and just have fun!

 

 

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The Best Day of My Life

The Best Day of My Life

The statement “the best day of my life” carries a lot of weight. To say so is implying that every other day of your life falls short if you were to compare it. About a month ago, I went to visit the Amalfi Coast, and I can confidently say that March 21st was the best day of my life.

The perks of studying abroad are limitless. However, the single downside is that many of your friends end up staying in New York or studying at different sites than you. The thought of not seeing some of my closest friends for almost an entire semester was terrifying, so we took the initiative to plan a vacation together. It was Spring Break for NYU New York, so it was a perfect opportunity for my friends in America to come visit the great continent of Europe. Another friend from NYU London made the trek to join us at the Amalfi Coast. Together with a few NYU Prague kids, we met up with them in a small town, Praiano, where we rented a villa for the weekend.

Our villa was situated on the side of a mountain, so traveling to and from the villa was a pain. However, my friends and I decided it was worth it to walk to the bottom of the mountain so we could see the water and beach up close. The journey to the bottom of the mountain was an eye-opening one. It was amazing to see the beautiful combination of the landscape, the soothing turquoise sea, and the seastone white buildings. The people of Praiano lived what many would consider unluxurious lives. They lived off of what they produced: many sold the lemons they grew for a living or produced wine from the grapes in their fields. Many of these people would be considered monetarily poor in the United States, but that fact was irrelevant. The people of Praiano were happy because every day they would wake up to see the beautiful Mediterranean, and they were content with what they had. Money meant little to these people, because in life, these people valued something entirely different than money.

When we reached the bottom of the mountain, I sat down by the water and began thinking. I began contemplating a lot about what I had been doing abroad, what my plans were when I returned to New York, and what I planned to do with my life after college. I ultimately was unable to reach any sort of conclusion about the last inquiry, but I did learn one thing. At this point, I had realized that what I saw and discovered about myself that day far surpassed any other experience I have had. It was the best day of my life, but I was nervous. I had just witnessed one of the most beautiful scenes the earth had to offer, but I didn’t want it to be the best day of my life. If it were, then life could only go downhill. It was here that I practically reconstructed my perception of life. I finally had the intrinsic motivation to learn, to work hard, and to succeed. It was a moment of pure bliss, and I knew what I needed to do in order to make sure life only got better.

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  • Amalfi Coast: Eric Duan
Lost in London

Lost in London

Many of my friends have been cursed with numerous misfortunes that come with traveling. Between stolen phones, lost luggage, and missed flights, the struggle is very real. I have been one of the lucky few to have not lost a significant item or gone through major ordeals while traveling. However, one moment sticks out significantly when I try to think about the most torturous moment of traveling.

About two months ago, my friends and I visited London to reconnect with some friends that were studying at NYU London. After a hearty English breakfast, I hit the roads to go explore London. After an exhausting touristy day under near perfect weather, I retreated back to my AirBnB for a quick nap before I headed out to explore the nightlife. From here, everything basically went askew. My friend at NYU London was feeling under the weather and could not make it out. So, three friends and I went to go take on the London nightlife by ourselves. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the club we intended to go to, it was closed, and from there, my misfortunes escalated. While trying to find the way back to our AirBnB, I managed to get separated from my friends. At 2AM, the weather was blistering cold compared to the afternoon. Here I was, wandering around London in a simple t-shirt and jeans, with no data (I don’t have an international plan) and no directions.

Because it was late at night, there was not a single cab in sight. As I was wandering aimlessly around London, I came across another person walking down the street. However, when I asked him for directions, he told me he wasn’t from here and didn’t speak much English. How many non-English speakers are in London? Talk about bad luck. From there, I waited at a bus stop and hopped on the next bus, just looking for warmth and assistance. Little did I know, you couldn’t buy bus tickets on the bus: most people use pre-purchased public transit cards. I tried to explain my situation to the bus driver and he responded with something along the lines of “I don’t know how to get to your apartment” and “you have to get off the bus at the next stop.” Great help from strangers. After being kicked off the bus, I walked across what I thought to be the London Bridge, while freezing, tired, and lost.

The ending of this adventure is rather anti-climactic, because I managed to grab a cab outside of a hotel and get myself back to our AirBnB in one piece. Getting lost is probably the tip of the iceberg when it comes to traveling misfortunes, but for myself, it was by far my worst experience. I have to agree that I am one of the lucky travelers. I haven’t lost my passport, gotten robbed, or worse. However, there are still six more weeks of study abroad and many more cities to visit, so knock on wood!

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Strange Phenomenon

Strange Phenomenon

A few times a week, a few friends and myself will head over to the basketball courts next to our dorm to play for a few hours. Recently, we’ve been playing with a local Czech teenager. He speaks very few works of English, but that matters very little when it comes to sports. This is a theme that surrounds sports: they are inherently universal for everybody. The sport is the same and the rules are the same. However, this phenomenon does not persist when it comes to traveling. When visiting other countries, I find it difficult to even interact with strangers because of the language barrier. I speak English, Chinese, and a handful of French words. The countries I have visited include Italy, Spain, and Germany. While the theme of strangers might impact people significantly in their travels, they have largely been non-existent in my travels. Perhaps if I had gone to NYU Sydney, I could have more in depth interactions with strangers. Where I have traveled to, I rarely have the chance to speak with strangers. The most I have done would be to ask for directions from a storeowner or asking for a local to take a photograph of me.

I can see how strangers can play a strong role in peoples’ travels. Strangers help give objective views and advice. They don’t know you, so they don’t judge you. Just like how traveling to a new place is mysterious, strangers are mysterious. Traveling forces you to learn and thrive in a new place, surrounded by people you don’t know.

I suppose that at the beginning of this semester, many of my friends now were strangers to me. These aren’t strangers in the sense of traveling, but they were strangers nonetheless. These strangers quickly became friends, which biases their originally objective opinion. At first, they could look from the outside and give me insight into my relationships with others and myself. But after we became closer and they became friends, their opinions cannot be entirely distanced, and therefore, they cannot give that objective advice that is so valuable.

Strangers are valuable in many senses. In New York City, strangers will help me find specific stores or where I should be. I could ask for objective advice from strangers on how I look, what I am doing, and more. However, the language barrier I face while studying abroad simply hinders this too much. Native people from non-English speaking countries can only answer simple questions. “What is the Wi-Fi password?” “Where is the bathroom?” The degree to which strangers can help you is significantly lessened. I have Spanish-speaking friends who used the aid of strangers in Spain, but I simply couldn’t. Strangers are an invaluable addition to traveling. However, in my personal experiences, strangers have rarely played a significant role in my travels. Or at least that is as far as I can tell…

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Perpetuating Themes

Perpetuating Themes

The Unbearable Lightness of Being that explores Czech society in the 1960s and 1970s through Tomas, a womanizing surgeon. The book delves into the artistic culture and intellectual life of the Czechoslovakia during the time after the Prague Spring, which helps understand how historical themes continue to perpetuate Czech culture to this day.

The book helps illustrate how communism restricted the Czech people during the 60s and 70s. In the book, Tomas is stripped of his surgeon’s title because of an anti-communist article. Tomas serves as an individual that just refuses to conform, which is why he lashes out against the norms of his society. He is politically, romantically, and intellectually liberal. Tomas helps represent the Czech people first in their disdain for communism. Even in today’s society, the police have relatively little power compared to those in other states and people dislike centralized power. All of these are a result of the reign of communism in their history.

Another theme of Czech culture is sexuality. Tomas is a womanizer and cannot keep himself loyal to his new wife. Tereza is Tomas’s wife and a victim of Tomas’s womanizing. Tomas represents Czech society in this regard. Women in the Czech Republic to this day are constantly objectified and looked at as just material possessions. This can be noted in various advertisements. Advertisements will use the nude bodies of women to attract customers. Tomas represents the Czech people because he tries to love his wife, but womanizing is something he cannot give up. The Czech people can’t keep themselves from objectifying women, even if they aren’t purposely trying to create inequality.

The culture that perpetuates Czech society is something that stems from back when they were still under communist rule. In our classes today, we constantly analyze the continuing impact of communism. Because I was given the opportunity to experience both of the cultures that surround these cities in depth, the differences are easy to note. In NYC, a city that has never experienced communism, expressing individualism is a foremost priority of many people. However in the Czech Republic, where communism has restricted people for the majority of the 20th century, this is less of a priority. People are more concerned with living free lives without the government or other external forces controlling their actions.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being overall was an enjoyable read. It helped give insight into the lasting impact of communism and other themes in Czech culture. The plotline is hard to follow at times and the book leaves you with many unanswered questions, which could make the novel a bit “unbearable” to read. Hopefully as my semester begins to wind down and I learn more, I’ll be able to answer many questions about Czech society on my own.

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Prague's Genius Loci

Prague’s Genius Loci

Prague is a place where cultures clash. There is the culture that stems from their deep Bohemian roots and times of communism that clashes with the rapidly modernizing and increasingly consumerist young population. Because of how many factors play a role in the atmosphere of Prague, it is difficult to say exactly what Prague’s “genius loci” is. However, there are some aspects of life in Prague that definitely help define the city.

History plays such a monumental role in Prague society. The country itself only became a democracy 25 years ago. Prague is an entirely different place than during the times of their communism. Because of this, Prague is heavily influenced by their past. Ostalgie, a term referring to a nostalgic feeling towards certain aspects of life during the communist period, influence peoples’ daily decisions and consumerist choices. Products that thrived during communism were brought back and were popularized purely because people missed having them. The history also affected the way people view their current society and the role and power of authority, because they did use to be communist.

The food in the Czech Republic heavily shapes their society. Czech food heavily revolves around meat, chicken, pork, or beef, and a side dish, which usually happens to be potato dumplings for many of us. Beef goulash is one of the most popular dishes and is seen as the poster child for Czech food. Czech food is very similar to other Central European countries, but as a whole, the food is entirely different than what is readily available in the United States or other western countries.

Architecture is another aspect that heavily influences Prague society here. The famous architecture here is largely baroque style, which comes from how much they grew during the Renaissance time. From the street layouts to the actual buildings, Prague is so unique in its architecture. Well-preserved churches and cathedrals are scattered around the city and the Prague Castle tops off architecture in the Czech Republic. Because of how well preserved the architecture is and how ornate it is, Prague’s architecture is unrivaled.

While history, food, and architecture play important roles in defining Czech society and life, they cannot fully describe the Genius Loci of Prague. The atmosphere and spirit of Prague largely revolves around the people. Prague is a rapidly changing country that has conflicting ideals from the past and the present. The people are what define the atmosphere here and establish the Genius Loci of Prague.

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Storytelling

Storytelling

When I first think of art, my mind immediately goes to drawing, painting, or sculpting. However, one form of art that I constantly overlook is photography. With photography, one can effectively capture and freeze in time the aesthetic value and emotions behind the subject of the photo. One artist, Jan Saudek, uses his background and his life experiences to portray his opinions to articulate the way of life in Prague.

Jan Saudek was born in May 1935. Because of his Jewish heritage, his family was imprisoned, and many died in concentration camps during World War II. When Saudek discovered photography, he loved it so much that he apprenticed under a photographer and worked in a print shop. He took his love for it to a new level and traveled to the United States to pursue it.

Saudek moved to Prague around the 1970s, a time characterized by communism and political suppression. To openly oppose the government was suicide, and as a result, arts suffered because people were scared to share opinions that conflicted with the government. However, Jan Saudek used photography to portray freedom in many senses. One of my favorite works by Jan Saudek is “Those Days of the Sixties”. It includes many different themes that Saudek is famous for. The photo itself depicts a nude woman whose breasts are covered by her hands and the hands of an unseen man on the womans torso. The use of nude models is common among Saudek’s photographs, because they represent the human body in the most basic but eternal form. Additionally, this model in this photo is an ordinary person, which emphasizes the human body in its most natural form. However, in most of Saudek’s photographs, the human body is fully revealed, but in “Those Days of the Sixties” the body is covered. I believe this shows the unnecessary censorship of human life and preventing people from living the simple lives they desire. This could easily refer to 1970s communist ruling in the Czech Republic and how the government tried to control many aspects of society and overall life for the people.

Although Czech culture has drastically changed since the times Saudek produced many of his works, there is still a lot of relevant meaning behind his works. Many of his works have been adopted as album covers in popular Western culture.

Saudek was not just a photographer; he was a painter as well. Because of this, many just classify him as a storyteller. His works all depict unique and original meanings and he uses photos or paintings as mediums to express these stories. Jan Saudek has taken his life experiences and articulated them to the world through his use of storytelling.

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Uhoumra!

Uhoumra!

After spending my first week in the Czech Republic either cooking for myself, eating pizza, or eating delicious Czech KFC, I began to crave some authentic Czech food. I had heard stories of the delicious goulash and schnitzel, and I immediately knew what I wanted for lunch. A couple friends and I wandered around to the city center, Wenceslas Square, where we saw a very peculiar restaurant. The restaurant’s name was literally “Typical Czech Restaurant”. When I saw this, I thought two things. One, this is the worst tourist trap in the world, or two, Czech people are just that straightforward with everything. There is no way that Czech advertising is that unconventional, so I went with option one. But why would a tourist ever eat at a restaurant like this? Dean MacCannell has shown me the light: because a typical Czech meal is literally all a tourist wants. Most tourists would even know that this is a tourist trap, but they still will eat there because they’re looking for authenticity, unbeknownst that it is entirely staged. Tourists, when traveling, only care to see what they think are the distinct and unique aspects of a city. This would mean sightseeing at the Prague Castle or going to eat typical Czech food at a typical Czech restaurant.

What I’ve come to realize is that not only do you understand the culture more in the “back region”, but the actual experiences are so much better too. When I travel to foreign countries, I try to make it a point to go somewhere outside of the city centers to eat. In Brussels, I made the mistake of eating at a tourist trap restaurant, and the food was subpar and overpriced. When you eat at smaller more authentic restaurants, the environment feels more natural, the food is usually better, and you feel more connected to the culture of that country. The restaurant treats you like any other customer; where as staged authenticity will play off stereotypes and cater to your American wants. In the Czech Republic, I never look for food in Wenceslas Square anymore. My dorm is placed in a more residential area of Prague, and I realize that the food around here is significantly better.

A few weeks ago, I went to a restaurant that was the Simpson’s themed. Instead of trying to pretend like the restaurant was typical Czech food to attract tourists, they were using American brands to try and attract locals. Ironic much? Inside, the servers spoke little English and the restaurant had little to do with the Simpsons. However, in the somewhat sketchy and small restaurant was the best Czech schnitzel I had ever had. The food was delicious, the portions were monstrous, and the prices were more than fair. I probably had my single best dining experience in the Czech Republic here. This was a restaurant that never tried to cater to Americans, only one server spoke English, or serve as a tourist trap: it was just a small restaurant that only locals went to. Had my friends not stumbled upon it a week earlier, I never would have even heard about it. It was at this moment that I realized that the best abroad experiences would be where nothing is staged, and I experience true authenticity.

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Budapest?

Budapest?

“Prague: A Novel” by Arthur Phillips follows the lives of five American expatriates who are living in Budapest, the capital of Hungary. Immediately, I wondered why the setting of this book is in Budapest. Is it not titled “Prague: A Novel”? The irony of this title and the location actually comes back to symbolize the desires of each and every character. A second significant theme is the time that this story takes place. “Prague” opens on May 25th, 1990, a time where Communism was falling throughout the world, and a rapid wave of change, challenges, and opportunities swept through Central Europe.

The irony behind setting the story exclusively in Budapest helps exemplify the desires of each expat. Many of the characters wish to be in Prague because it is the greater of the two cities: it is more vibrant, energetic, and alive. This gives a kind of “grass is greener on the other side” feeling. John Price is the character that embodies this idea the most. He himself is a dreamer. He constantly wants something better or something more. By the end of the novel, when John realizes that Budapest has nothing for him, he too leaves for Prague.

For myself, Prague is my favorite city in Central Europe. It provides a perfect balance of liveliness, but also a very historical and peaceful feel. Many of the mundane events I described in “Quotidian Life” become interesting because of the environment around me. I could not say the same for the main character John. He desires Prague simply because he does not have it. His emotional desires will always be unfulfilled, because he constantly just wants what he does not have, whether it be his brother’s love, Emily’s love, or a new city to live in.

A major part of the book focuses on history, particularly Hungarian. Nadja, a jazz singer, helps us explore history through her various stories about Germany, Hungary, and more. Her lifetime of wisdom helps give the young expats some prior knowledge as they set out to explore the world for themselves. This is also very interesting because I can personally see many of the effects of communism on Prague today. In this novel, we the readers can note the various effects of WWI, WWII, and communism on John Price, his fellow expats, or the local people. The history of the Horvath house, which extends from the 19th century to Soviet occupation, helps us see the drastic changes that each significant event within history has caused.

It was interesting to examine the lives of the expatriates, who left America for a foreign country, something that I am similarly doing as a study-abroad student. In a way, I understand how many of the expatriates in “Prague” feel. Every weekend, I travel away to a new city in order to explore the new country. However, I have yet to fully explore Prague, purely because this is where I am staying. Like John, I constantly want something more. This weekend, I’ll be taking a step back and staying in Prague. I’ll explore Prague, a place I have access too, instead of constantly wanting to visit a new place. Although this is only one facet of John’s desire for more, I think this will give me a good chance to enjoy what I already have.

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