Since I first started thinking about college, I always knew that I wanted to study abroad. What I didn’t know was where exactly I would actually study. Would it be China? London? Australia?? The possibilities always excited me and I could imagine myself in so many different places. What I did not imagine, was that I would spend four months living in Prague. Not because I had anything against Prague, but to be honest, before coming to NYU, I had no idea where Prague even was. Only after coming to Stern and speaking to upperclassman about their travels did I come to realize that Prague should be a major item on my radar. And when it actually came down to making a decision, Prague became more and more clear as my obvious top pick.
But even when I was weighing the pros and cons I could never have known exactly how much I would love it here, how much I would get to travel, or how many awesome, new people I would meet and become friends with. Especially those who are not in Stern, as that has been most of my friends circle for the past two years.
The most rewarding aspect of my studying abroad has absolutely been all of the traveling I’ve had the fortune to do and all of the unbelievable experiences I have been able to have. I traveled to eleven countries in less than four months, and I think that is amazing. It has without a doubt been an experience I will never forget and will continue to influence me for many years to come.
But there are definitely also some things that I cam starting to miss about the U.S. and am looking forward to coming home. I certainly have a new appreciation for the accessibility of all kinds of food at any time of day in New York City. I cannot even convey how much I miss Thai food, American pastime foods, authentic Chinese food, and even Chipotle, now that I have been deprived of them for so long. I miss the easy access to newly released American films in English (NOT dubbed or with subtitles) and I miss 24/7 Duane Reade, with anything you could possibly want at 3am in the morning. But most of all I miss my family, especially my twin sister who I have not seen in months—the longest we have ever gone apart! These things, plus the fact that I am done all of my travels, make me quite ready to return home.
I must say though, before I sign off for good, is that this Art of Travel course has allowed me to reflect and ponder on my study abroad experiences much more than I would have otherwise. And through my wonderings, I have come to appreciate the things I have experienced much, much more. So I am very grateful for having the opportunity to write my blog posts, as well as read those of my fellow travelers. Their own musings have allowed me to see from different perspectives and gain insight into the life and culture of countries I have never even seen before.
And when I look back on this Spring 2015 semester, I might not remember the details, or even everyone’s names, but I will remember just how fun, caring, and helpful practically everyone I have met this semester was. Whether it was people I met in my dorm, in my classes, on my travels, or even on this blog, the amount of positive feedback and encouragement I have gotten is pretty crazy and I would not change anything, even if I could.
Thank you all so much for reading my posts and I hope you have a great rest of the year! Bon voyage! Or as the Czech would say: Nashledanou!
- JohnLennonGraffitiWall: Dreamstime.com
If you want to travel Europe, study abroad in Prague. If you want cheap expenses and easier courses, study abroad in Prague. If you are an NYU Stern student, definitely study abroad in Prague! I am sure this will not be news to anyone who has started investigating their options for study abroad, but Prague is by far one of the more laid back, cheap, and ideal-for-travel options of all the NYU sites. From the professors not assigning busy work, to the courses usually being once a week, to lacking the dreaded “Stern curve,” there are many purely academically motivated reasons why one should choose to study in Prague.
If you want to start looking beyond the academic spectrum, there are still an overwhelming number of reasons why one should choose Prague. First, things are cheap. One U.S. dollar equals around 25 Czech Koruna aka Czech Crowns and that means you can usually get a solid meal for $4 or less. Most local supermarkets do not take credit cards, so cash is necessary, which also means you should check with your bank about international ATM withdrawal fees. But that said, there are also “hypermarket” stores such as Tesco who operate on a larger scale and do take card. On that note though, one thing that I have struggled with in Prague is the lack of bulk sizes for grocery items. Whether it is granola, milk, cheese, or candy, most items seem to only be sold in quantities meant for a couple days use, which necessitates going to the grocery store much more frequently than I am used to—I live and breathe Costco back in New Jersey, so bulk size items mean a lot to me. That said, you can find most of the items you need if you Google their Czech equivalent and look hard enough, though frozen meals, beef jerky, and conditioner are all things I struggle even now to find.
Moving on to housing in Prague, I would definitely recommend either the Machova or Slezska dorm; they are within ten minutes walking distance from each other. I personally live in the only quad in Machova and love it, but I have also visited Slezska and have seen how equally spacious and new their rooms seem to be. The only big difference would be that in Machova every suite has their own kitchen, whereas in Slezska there is only one giant communal kitchen on the top floor and a smaller kitchen on the bottom floor. That said, I would recommend choosing either dorm as long as you coordinate with your friends also traveling abroad so that you all stay in the same dorm. Having close friends who also live right next to you really makes a difference on the frequency that you hang out and the ease with which you can coordinate for group projects, movie nights, or going out together. Regardless or which dorm you pick, my only serious recommendation is to not choose Osadni. The dorm itself is very nice and if you are a music student it does have music practice rooms, but besides that it is just too inconveniently placed. While the other two dorms take about 20 minutes to get to campus, from Osadni it usually takes more like 30-40 minutes and they are very out of the way from city center and the rest of the NYU Prague community.
My last major tip for prospective NYU Prague students is in reference to traveling. Prague provides the unique position of being ideally placed to visit all of Europe. I have personally visited eight countries already this semester and still have a trip to Rome planned to go. Being in Prague allows one to access practically all of Europe by train, bus, or plane and really opens up the spectrum of international opportunities that you can experience. From going hawking in Ireland, to lying on a beach in Spain, to climbing a waterfall in Morocco, there are so many possibilities of things to do and you will find having a boring weekend at home to be a very rare commodity. Instead, NYU Prague provides you with the chance to really put yourself out there, meet people, and do things you could never have imagined, and that is why I most definitely, absolutely recommend you to study abroad in Prague if you can!
- PragueAtNight: NYU Local
The phrase “great good place” sounds repetitive when you first hear it and yet it is perfectly representative of how I felt about our Airbnb villa in Malaga, Spain this past Spring Break. The journey to get there had been a long and complicated chain of flights, buses, and taxis which left us all feeling weary and ready to lie down. But once we rounded the bend and saw the house numbered “12,” all traces of fatigue fled the scene. What stood before us was a beautiful white house with three levels of pillared balconies, a pool, and even gardens in the back to complete the view. To top things off, there was a furiously fluffy orange cat wandering the premises who we named “Alfonso” and I showered with love from the moment I lay eyes on him.
That villa in Malaga become the most perfect way to end our vacation, because it was the longest time we spent doing nothing. As opposed to our delightful experiences in other cities sightseeing, eating out, taking pictures, and climbing waterfalls, in Malaga, we finally took a breath to relax. For two days we spent our time eating, talking, and relaxing under the sun and it was the most cathartic, blissful experience imaginable. The gorgeous weather enabled me to lie by the pool, in the sun, for hours and relive the incredible things we had done only days earlier.
Now I don’t really keep a journal, but that experience of peacefully reflecting over all the things I had done and seen this semester really helped me put things into perspective and emphasized how unbelievably lucky I am to have such opportunities. Everyone says that studying abroad is a life-changing experience and I can honestly say that being abroad has been one of the best times of my life. I have seen things I would never have imagined I would see and been places I never would have dreamed I would go. All once again displaying the power that traveling has to change your views and way of looking at things entirely.
Such were my thoughts as I basked in the southern Spain sun, and it was absolutely a moment of travel bliss if ever I’ve experienced one. That peace has lasted within me to this day and now that we have only a month left of the semester abroad I am afraid to lose it. Things in New York City are so rushed and fast-paced that I know once I get back it will be a while before I am able to find another break in time to sit, relax, and reflect. Which only makes my current leisure seem all the more valuable. Thus, now that I am back in Prague, I find myself reevaluating everything I see and I have a totally new appreciation for how laid back and quiet this city is. The people seem unhurried, rather than slow. Thoughtful, rather than conservative. Uncomplicated and at peace, rather than simple. And looking with these new eyes, I feel as though I have suddenly uncovered a hidden side to this beautiful city.
- MalagaVillaView: Kaylyn Kavi
While traveling has been an overall exciting and wonderful experience, there have also been downsides; the lowest of which occurred when I had my phone stolen right out from under me in Lisbon, Portugal this past spring break.
So we had arrived in Lisbon around 11am on April 6th and it was an amazingly beautiful day. For the first time since I had come abroad, the weather was actually warm enough for shorts and a tank top, with my flip flops on and sunglasses out. My group of fifteen had just finished checking into what had to be the nicest hostel I have stayed in yet, called Poets Hostel. With Michael Jackson playing in the background the instant we entered, I knew that this was going to be a good trip. Things only got better as the manager showed us to rooms with big, clean, white beds, brightly colored thick comforters, and big open windows looking out onto the picturesque streets below. As we explored further, we found an expansive lounge room with a dozen beanbag chairs, bookshelves, old-fashioned leather upholstered chairs, and even a typewriter. As if this didn’t get me excited enough, it turned out that the Wi-Fi password was “LogOutAndReadBooks.” I mean, come on! If that doesn’t capture the atmosphere of the place, I don’t know what can.
And so, fully excited for a solid day at the beach and then our ability to come back to this awesome hostel to relax, we set out. Music blaring from my friend’s speaker as we strolled down Lisbon’s sunny streets, we came to the decision to stop at a local café before hopping on the train down to the beach. I, myself, ordered a wonderfully crispy croissant with ham and cheese inside, as well as some lovely egg custard pastry and a coffee to go with it. And as I basked in the sun, it seemed as though nothing could dampen my spirits.
Nothing, but one opportunistic gypsy lady who saw me for the naïve and vulnerable tourist that I was in that moment.
And so it was, just as we were all finishing our food and settling back to enjoy a few more moments of sun before setting off, that I heard a friend next to me saying “Sorry, I don’t have any money.” I looked over and saw to my dismay that our table was being visited by a middle-aged haggard-looking gypsy lady in a ragged blue dress, clearly asking for donations. I waited, not making eye contact, for her to make her way around the table, until she finally reached me. I glanced at my iPhone 6 sitting on the table in front of me before turning to the lady and giving her my apologies as well. But instead of moving on, she lingered, pushing some laminated piece of paper in front of my face, as though she wanted me to read it. I rejected her again, and turned away, trying to send a clear message. The other five people sitting at my table reiterated our refusal and eventually she beat it.
It wasn’t for another five or ten minutes of sitting there that I decided I wanted to take a picture of this quaint little café and reached for my phone to do so—reached, and found nothing. Instantly, I whirled, checking to see if my phone had fallen to the ground or if any of my friends had taken it as a joke. Alas, neither situation was the case. Which left me with no option but to confront the blatant truth: the seemingly needy gypsy woman was much less needy than she had seemed. And as she’d waved that paper in my face, blocking my and my friends’ view of my phone, she had snatched it.
I cannot accurately describe the flood of emotions that came with that realization, but safe to say disbelief, anger, confusion, and desperation were definitely among them. And the next thirty minutes that I spent futilely searching the nearby streets for any sign of her did nothing to pacify the self-berating that filled my head.
And I wish I could say that I found the lady. I wish I could say that the police found her. Or that she felt enough remorse to come back and return my phone to me. Instead, I found myself undergoing a very different experience. Instead, I gradually realized that there was nothing I could do and I was not going to let some thief steal the rest of my good day as well. So I went to the beach. I lay in the sand and I swam in the ocean. And by the time I arrived back at Poets Hostel, I had come to a new, admittedly cliché, realization: No one can determine your mood but you. Things might happen that seem terrible at the time, but if you focus your thoughts and choose to move on, that, not vengeance, is the quickest path to peace and renewed happiness.
- LisbonCafe: Expat In Lisbon
There are indeed many types of strangers that one encounters amidst one’s travels; from being a stranger, to meeting a stranger, to being helped by a stranger, to even being robbed by a stranger. These are actually all experiences that I have had during my recent spring break and I must say it was those experiences that made my trips so much more memorable and incredible to look back on today.
One stranger in particular, however, stood out to me so much that that is the specific experience I am going to write about today. And that was our tour guide to the Ouzoud Waterfalls near Marrakech, Morocco. His name was Mohamed and he was the native Berber guide who took us on an all day hike up and down the Ouzoud valley and waterfalls. Now, we started out as strangers and if I’m being honest, my group of nine people were actually a little skeptical of the legitimacy of this tour given the demand for cash payment and the two hour distance that we had to drive just to get to this place.
But once, we arrived, all of our worries were completely erased. A man came up to us in traditional Berber clothing and then introduced himself as “Mohamed.” He then went on to speak in perfectly clear English about the history of the Ouzoud Waterfalls and how it is the highest waterfall in North Africa, the second highest in all of Africa, and seventh highest in the world. And as our hike continued into the day, not only did Mohamed wait for us patiently every time we stopped in precarious positions to take numerous photos, but he also kept up a smile and a constant flow of information, jokes, and questions back at us about where we came from and what we were doing with our lives.
A specific example of Mohamed’s excellence as a guide and a human being became clear when we arrived at a large pool of water formed by a smaller waterfall that cascaded down the valley from the main largest one. As soon as we expressed interest in swimming, even though the water was freezing cold, even though there were hidden rocks at the bottom, and even though it would require him to sit and wait for almost an hour for us to finish, Mohamed instantly said yes. He showed us the safest part of the pool to swim in, he took pictures of us in the water when asked, and he did indeed sit and wait for an hour as we swam and laughed and had one of the greatest experiences of my life. And once all this was over, Mohamed waited patiently for us to change back into dry clothes and carry on with our trek. He took us up as close as possible to the giant waterfall, showed us the best place to have the authentic Moroccan cuisine “tagine,” got us oranges and bananas to feed to the monkeys coming up ahead, and then even brought us all the way back to our car and a candy stand where we could recuperate and fill up on Snickers bars and fresh water.
Now, I know some of these events sound incredible, and they were, but just my words cannot even come close to just how awesome of a day that was. And we owe it almost entirely to Mohamed. This man who we just met less than 6 hours earlier, had rapidly become like a good friend and trusted guide to us all. He showed me the power that one good stranger can have to impact my life and I am forever grateful for the help and friendship he offered us that day.
- OuzoudWaterfalls: Kaylyn Kavi
Prague, My Love: An Unusual Guide Book to the Hidden Corners of Prague by Hilary James is a fascinating read that takes you through a thousand year span of Czech history, across the region’s trials and tribulations, as it was built up and torn down. And living up to its name, the book acts like a tour guide who teaches in a whole new, never before seen manner of writing. In addition, considering how intricate and beautiful a city Prague is, James provides insight into much more than what meets the eye in Prague, leaving the reader with a lasting feeling as if they have seen the city in person for themselves.
Prague, My Love specifically begins in the Primeval period, then covers the Romanesque period, Gothic period, Renaissance period, Baroque period, Revival period, and finally the Communist periods. But what is so unusual about this guidebook is that it is told in a story format, following a young Englishwoman named Alice who is visiting Prague for the week and is shown around by a Czech professional guide named Blažej. And as Blažej narrates Prague’s history to Alice, he also takes her to various “off-the-beaten-track” sights that one would not usually come across in your average tour book. But throughout the many sights that Blažej takes Alice through, the biggest takeaway for the reader is simply how magical and mystical of a city Prague is.
Going further, there were some very specific ideas that I pulled from Prague, My Love that I really identified with. When Blažej is showing Alice around, he describes Prague as being at “the crossroads between communism and something different” (173), a theme which I absolutely feel expresses the stage of shifting culture that the Czech Republic is going through. Considering the Velvet Revolution and the fall of Communism happened only a few decades ago, there is still a lingering Communist influence, which the Czech people are constantly working to rid themselves of. And without the censorship that used to control the city, Czech artists and visionaries have since chosen to express themselves and their thoughts in new, experimental ways, which show themselves in new styles of writing, filmmaking, playwriting, and even their music as well. Blažej goes on to say, “The past belongs to you and it’s used by you” (173), which is another apt description of how culture is like in Prague these days. There has been an upheaval of conventions and a major shift back towards Western-ideals, but one cannot throw off the Communist influence completely, and it is that rich and heavy past that still guides many of the older Czech people even today.
On a more detailed note, throughout the book Alice also tends to stumble a lot and trips on the cobblestone, at one point saying, “I think the most essential thing in Prague is a comfortable pair of shoes” (219). And this is definitely a statement I can agree with. Since Prague is one of the few European cities, which escaped bombing or destruction during World War II, the entire city is actually like a giant relic of culture and history, staring with its streets. Since there was never any need to rebuild and repave them, Prague still maintains much of the old, uneven cobblestone steps from before the war, which while beautiful to look at, can also be a huge pain to walk on. And if you are in a hurry, it only increases the need to watch your step, because the chance of you tripping is extremely high.
All in all, I really enjoyed reading Prague, My Love, because it not only expanded on the knowledge I have gained this past semester about Prague and her history, but it also delves into topics and places which I have never heard of due to their obscurity. Thus by reading this unusual guidebook, I have definitely been given a look at Prague from a totally new perspective and I cannot wait to go out and see what new things I might notice that have so far escaped me.
- PragueSunset: CzechTourism
I am going to use this post to talk about Ireland, because I just returned from a trip there and given that it was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had, I feel it my duty to write about it. There is a spirit within that place that I have not felt since I visited New Zealand three years ago and it is also most definitely a place that you could say had a genius loci residing, because it is indescribable. But that said, I will try my best to put it into words.
Everywhere I went it was as if some spirit of peace and earth was surrounding me. A country aptly nicked named the Emerald Isle, everywhere I looked in Ireland, there was green. From the lush green of the grass to the bright green of the moss to the dark pine green of the trees, my whole time in Ireland felt characterized by this feeling of nature and a personal calm. And my contentedness while in Ireland was clearly shared by the people as well. Whether in their great enjoyment of the outdoors, their love of just sitting in a pub and talking, or their exceptional friendliness and helpfulness, these are a people living in paradise and they definitely seemed to know it.
That appreciation for the little things, like a gorgeous, sunny spring day or a tender, juicy rack of ribs has really made me fall in love with this country and her people. I mean, what better way to achieve happiness than to find it in your day-to-day things? It does help, of course, when the country is so beautiful that practically everywhere you look, there is something natural and stunning to look at. For example, I went down to Wicklow National Park and hiked around Powerscourt Waterfall, the tallest waterfall in Ireland. And literally everywhere I looked all I saw was beauty. The fresh air was almost addicting and all around me were vine covered stone walls, birds building nests in the trees, little streams running through the forests, and just green, green, green. Even the sign posts and tree trunks themselves had a light sheen of green covering them. So when we discuss “Genius Loci” and this idea of places having their own guardian spirit, well, I absolutely know what Kipling means. How else could an entire country be made so naturally picturesque that you must constantly stop and wonder whether you are dreaming.
Now, I was only in Ireland for five days and there is much I never saw, but if I could, I imagine it would be more of the same. The people strolling by as if they had not a care in the world. The food as tender and full of flavor as you could want. And the birds singing from the moment you wake up to the second you fall asleep, as if all the time in the day were not enough for them to express one’s delight at being in such a peaceful place.
Thus, when I look back on my time in Ireland, it almost all blurs into one large mosaic of shades of green mixed with my exclamations at how otherworldly of a place it was. I know it is hard to capture the essence of a nation, or even a piece of it, within one blog post, but I can only hope I have conveyed some part of the serenity I have found in Ireland, because it is a rare feeling indeed.
- Powerscourt: Kaylyn Kavi
The biggest artistic inspiration that I have witnessed since coming to Prague is definitely the work by Alphonse Mucha. Mucha was a Czech Art Nouveau painter whose works were greatly influenced by his home country and the passion that he felt for Czechoslovakia at the time. In fact, Mucha considered his life’s masterpiece to be The Slav Epic, which is a series of twenty gigantic paintings all depicting the history of the Czech and Slovak people, something Mucha had wanted to accomplish since he was a boy. Mucha’s painting style itself was very distinctive and the “Mucha style” actually came to define what Art Nouveau was in Czechoslovakia at the time. But, unfortunately for Mucha, this meant a lot more attention on his commercial works, as opposed to his creations which he believed stemmed only from within himself and the influence of Czech art around him—not a desire to conform to a certain artistic style as some of his viewers thought.
The specific piece of art designed by Alphonse Mucha that I was able to admire in person was his stained glass window in St. Vitus Cathedral within Prague Castle. This beautiful, towering stained glass masterpiece depicts St. Wenceslas as a child with his grandmother and surrounded by depictions of various religious episodes in the history of Christianity’s spread to the Slavic people. This stained glass window is not only extremely vibrant in color and detail, but also just goes to show the amount of passion and patriotism that the Czech and Slovacs have for their own history. The country itself is very aware and proud of their personal struggles to throw off the yoke of communism. And since the Velvet Revolution and the cultural liberation happened mere decades ago, the bitter memories and joyful relief is still strong in many of the Czech peoples’ minds.
That said, when I stepped into St. Vitus Cathedral within the Prague Castle complex, I was forced to stop in a moment of awe as I gazed up at its vaulted ceilings and heard the whispered murmurs of my fellow visitors echoing around me. Mucha’s stained glass window was the first thing to catch my eye, and that only heightened my awareness and scrutiny of all the other Czech artistic wonders within the cathedral and Prague itself that I had yet to see. Thus, I think going to that cathedral so early into my study abroad journey really opened my eyes to the beauty and history to be found within Prague. And my travels during the semester have only continued to raise my appreciation for Prague’s architectural beauty and the peace to be found within the city and her people themselves. It can be hard to feel at home in a totally new place where everything including the language is foreign. But the past two months have done a really good job of moving me to see Prague as a second home that I look forward to returning to. Though I’ll admit, the extremely cheap prices provide a nice incentive to come back as well!
- StVitusCathedralStainedGlass: Kaylyn Kavi
After reading Dean MacCannell’s Staged Authenticity, what stood out the most to me was the idea that the mere existence of back spaces makes people think that there is something that is more than meets the eye going on—even when there isn’t. And as a tourist, almost by definition, we are all trying to find that back region that will show us the players behind the performance and thus witness an “authentic” experience of the region we are traveling to. After all, why else would one visit a foreign country than to try and experience its true essence?
I, myself, can absolutely admit to actively seeking an authentic experience, even if I knew it was the staged, fake kind of authenticity. For example, when I traveled to Budapest this past weekend my friends and I decided to eat at an “authentic Hungarian restaurant with a real live gypsy band”. Not, that I really believed such a big restaurant was genuinely serving us a traditional meal that real Hungarians would eat regularly. Or that I actually thought the quartet playing next to my table was really a gypsy group playing gypsy music. But being in the situation, it was much easier to acknowledge that I was getting only some small part of the real Hungarian culture, than to reject it entirely and just futilely miss out. I am not saying that MacCannell is wrong about how staged many tourist attractions are, I just don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing. Sure, being fooled into buying “authentic” jewelry or clothing does usually mean you are being naïve or gullible and need to be on your guard more. But I think that if you can tell when something is authentic or not you can then make judgments on whether it is still worth your time. To deny certain experiences because you think they are inauthentic is not the answer to genuinely immersing yourself in a new culture, location, or way of life. Because sometimes those “fake” experiences might be your closest chance to experiencing the real thing.
One thing that I do not agree with MacCannell is his statement that “tourists progress from stage to stage, always in the public eye, and greeted everywhere by their obliging hosts.” Because if there is one thing that I have been most surprised by as I travel Europe this semester, it is the decided lack of anything resembling customer service from the retail and service industry employees whom I have encountered. Whether it is a waitress in a local Czech restaurant, the clerk at the nearby bus station, or the cashier at Tesco, I have been met so many times with a blatant lack of desire to please the customer that I am already becoming desensitized to it. So while MacCannell might be set on seeing everything I as a tourist encounter as inauthentic, I find it hard to believe that such unwelcoming behavior could be faked as well. In fact, this hostile and unfriendly behavior might be the most authentic thing I have encountered since coming to Prague.
- CountryStyleHungarianRestaurant: BlogTo
In his book The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera seems to tell a surface plot about the main character Tomas and his sexual exploits as he struggles to strike a balance between the different kinds of love that he feels for his wife as opposed to his many mistresses. But underneath these very candid concerns, Kundera remains obsessed with the philosophical comparison between lightness and weight. Which, in his words, is defined as “an image of life’s most intense fulfillment” as we traverse through what fate has to offer us.
Kundera believes that a man with burdens will be “closer to the earth” and therefore heavier, but also “more real and truthful.” Whereas “the absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air…to take leave of his earthly being…his movements as free as they are insignificant” (5). This question of how to assess meaning in a person’s life is continually argued by Kundera throughout the book, as he says, without the ability to tangibly and effectively compare a person’s life with another’s or even with a different version of his own, we cannot find real meaning. And the closest thing we can get to real meaning can only be found when one achieves an “unbearable weightlessness.”
And throughout his novel, we see Tomas struggling daily with the same concerns that Kundera addresses. Tomas is convinced that his many affairs or “erotic friendships” are harmless, because for him love and sex are two separate matters. But when his wife Tereza disagrees and is unable to come to terms with her husband’s way of thinking, we see directly into his conflict with what exactly gives a person’s life true meaning. Is it the freedom and lightness of having no burdens that brings him to an incomparable and truly meaningful state? Or is it only when he is accepting of his responsibilities to Tereza that he is grounding himself and finally attaining actual meaning?
Kundera does a remarkable job of raising such questions, not only in the thoughts of his characters, but also into the minds of his readers. One need only flip through The Unbearable Lightness of Being to find the queries of how to even possibly measure the meaningfulness of one’s life when you cannot possibly redo it in another scenario and compare the results. Thus, it is left simply to our own judgments and values to determine whether it is being heavily rooted in the earth or unbearably light and flying high that makes your own life worthwhile. And I think this is a concept that comes very much from Kundera’s time in Prague, as well as his past of being suppressed and exiled from it, which raised exactly such questions in Kundera’s mind. “Home is where the heart is” they say, but when you are banned from your home how then does one find meaning? How do you start anew and find roots in some place that means absolutely nothing to you?
These are the issues that one addresses when traveling. We must figure out for ourselves what we choose to hold as important as we journey on, as well as decide what will make these experiences worthwhile. For some this might mean flitting from place to place with no sort of obligations or responsibility. And for others it could be the “home” and sense of belonging that we seek as we are on the move. And regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, it cannot help but define the way your abroad experiences impact you, as well as how you might be impacting others. Thus, from reading Kundera’s book, if there was one thing I think should be taken away, it is the spectrum on which he shows that one can define the meaningfulness in their lives. It does not matter what your roommate or parents or neighbor might think. All that matters is for you to find your life’s travels to be worthwhile and they will be. You just have to let things be.
- PragueSpring: code(love)