A New Found Freedom

A New Found Freedom

Before studying abroad, I had to carefully consider my options. I had friends convincing me to go to different locations, each with a convincing backstory to credit it. With so many choices, I had no idea which one I was going to pick – however, one friend said, “studying abroad isn’t about where you go, but whom you go with.” With a majority of my friends applying to Prague, I said why not and sent in my application. Now, after almost four months of living here, spending time with my friends, and traveling Europe, I can honestly say that this has been the best decision I have ever made in my life. The most rewarding aspect of studying abroad in Prague is the ability to travel to a multitude of countries for a fraction of the price. You get to experience completely different cultures even though these countries neighbor each other. From one language barrier to the next, you fight your way through these adventures and surely come out with a few stories to tell of your own.

Honestly, there aren’t many problems that you face. You’re told that having a phone with a plan is a must, however, although they are useful, it’s not necessary. Just about everywhere you go will have WiFi, so as long as you have a recent phone, you’ll be just fine. The biggest problem we faced while studying abroad would have to be the language barrier. Since every country has a different language, there was no way that we could be able to converse with all of them (or any of them for that fact). While traveling there are just sometimes where you have to give up talking to someone simply because they cannot understand you. The tables get turned – you are no longer the person in NYC trying to give tourists directions, you’re in their town now. While younger people in Prague do speak English, there are still some instances that have prohibited us from conversing with people at necessary times; therefore it might be a good idea to learn slightly more than “jedna pivo prosim.”

As I said before, one of the main reasons I decided to come to Prague was because I cared more about whom I was with than where I went and that turned out to be completely true. I admit it, some of our trips were subpar, but not because of the city, but who we were with. Though I had nothing personally against these people (they were extremely nice), we just had completely different interests. This is something that I’m going to take back with me home. Instead of caring where I go and what I want to do, I will instead just spend time with my friends and family whenever I have time. Years from now, I will remember two things, the time that I spent with my friends and this class. Because of this class, I reflected on my experiences, truly deepening my understanding of my own life.

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  • Study Abroad: Matthew Seepersad
A New Beginning

A New Beginning

When I first decided to study abroad, my initial thought was to go to Sydney, Australia. I had never been there before and it had always been my dream to visit. Prague wasn’t even in the question at the moment. However, that semester, most of my friends pledged a fraternity and gained insight on where to go. My friends relayed the message of studying abroad in Prague to me and the first thing that stood out to me was inexpensive. It is very true; the average price of goods here is cheaper. In Prague, just about everything is cheaper, ranging from food to alcohol to nightlife. All of this was told to me before coming and the fact that most of my friends were coming here, I decided to attend NYU Prague.

Some words of advice? Don’t stay in. Prague is an amazing city with tons of things to do. Regardless of what time it is, there is usually something to attend to. Whether it be clubbing, skiing, or a simple dinner with friends, Prague will always keep you busy. Surround yourself with people that you know won’t have conflicts. The biggest thing I realized during my time here is that it’s not what you do that matters but who you do it with. As long as you like the people that you’re around, you’ll enjoy what you’re doing. Another tip is to change up the scene from time to time. In Prague, you’ll realize that the music at clubs becomes very repetitive so instead of going out clubbing every single night, have some relaxed nights with friends. Go for a midnight stroll or midnight munchies run – something that gets you moving without having to actually do too much.

Although I did know a lot before coming to Prague, the one thing that I wished I had known was the actual recreational activities that they have available. Obviously as college students, all we usually hear about are parties and whatnot. However, Prague offers a variety of activities including go karting and paintballing. The weather in Prague is a lot better than Manhattan with it warming up sooner and not getting as cold during the winter. Do yourself a favor and go in the spring, end the semester with some nice weather! All in all, Prague is a great place to be and deciding to study abroad here was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.

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  • Bliss: Matthew Seepersad
Beach Bliss

Beach Bliss

For my whole life, the actions of lying on the beach on a sunny day with my family have been the most relaxing moments of my life. My family hails from a small island off the Northeast Coast of South America called Trinidad. Being an island and one of the wealthiest countries in the Caribbean due to tourism, naturally our beaches are beautiful and a part of everyday culture. When I’m in Trinidad, I get lost in the waves. Recently, when we traveled to Ibiza for spring break, I had that same feeling of bliss. While walking down the sidewalk, I came to the area where the concrete met the sand. Immediately I took my slippers off and planted my feet in the warm sand – a moment of complete serenity swept over my body. Right there, I was back home in Trinidad, staring out into the ocean, seeing it bend over the horizon. Hearing my friends laugh in the background, being surrounded by them, the people I call my extended family, just made me feel at home and at ease. All cares in the world whisked away – any stress immediately melted and all that was left was the beach, my friends, and me.

After reaching total relaxation, I sat down and encompassed myself with my surroundings. I started to think about life and sure enough, my best friend Serena was also there so we started walking down the beach. As we were walking, I talked about deceitful people and the bad antics they pursue to get ahead in life. Halfway through, Serena starts to explain the plot to Devils Wear Prada, a movie that apparently had to deal with the same thing that I was talking about. It was in this moment that I realized, it didn’t matter what we were talking about or how serious things were, what mattered is that we were spending time together and that’s what made the day amazing.

During this trip, I engulfed myself with the emotions that have evaded me since going to Trinidad. I was able to realize that I just want to spend time with the people that I love regardless of what we do. Sometimes it just doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re doing, just who you’re doing it with. Those are words that have struck me and made me realize what I actually, truly enjoy in life.

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  • Beach: Matthew Seepersad
Untrusted Taxis

Untrusted Taxis

When traveling, sometimes we forget that the societal norms change depending on the country that we’re in. When hailing a cab in Prague, I am very trusting of the driver. I show them the directions on my phone, lean in all the way from the window – I basically like to believe that essentially all of them are good people. However, this past weekend, I made the mistake of treating drivers the same in Budapest as I do in Prague. After going to a club in Budapest, a few of my friends and I decided to take a cab back to our apartment. Knowing that cabs outside of the club tend to rip people off, I had the address of our apartment loaded on my phone and started showing it to the taxi drivers, asking them for quotes on how much the trip would cost. After four or so taxis, I arrived at the man who single handedly ruined my whole night.

I approached the window of this man’s taxi as I did with the ones before it. When I showed him the address on the phone, he started to type it into his GPS, occasionally glancing at the screen and squinting. In a swift move, he pulled the phone out of my hand and began to drive away. I jumped back from the cab as my feet could’ve been run over and ten seconds later, he was gone. With a two-minute interaction, this man was able to completely take advantage of a situation and steal my phone. Although I was upset about the phone, I was more upset about what I lost. Pictures, conversations, documents, things that I had saved on my phone for years were now lost forever. I was angry – I began pacing and freaking out as to what I would do. Promptly after punching a stop sign, my friend called the police and after they arrived an hour later, we began telling them everything we knew. The whole time I was explaining the situation, I began to feel less and less confident about my phone being returned and by the end, I deemed it a lost cause.

After finishing up with the police, the manager of the club proceeded to call us a cab, giving us a way home and assuring us that nothing would happen with this taxi. After years of being in the city and months of traveling, I never thought that I would get my phone stolen by a taxi driver. While I can easily part ways with my phone, it’s hard to come to terms with all the information that I lost. While I wish that the taxi driver would be found, I understand that it is a slim chance. Hopefully, no one has to run into this man again.

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A Stranger's Hidden Meaning

A Stranger’s Hidden Meaning

Over the past week, my friends and I were on spring break in Spain. While traveling through the cities, we encountered many strangers along our way. The first city that we stopped in was Barcelona and immediately, we looked to strangers to find our way. Leaving the airport, we had little information on how to get to our home stay and had to ask people where to go. These strangers were pivotal for us to find our way and without them we would’ve ended up paying a lot of money for a cab. Strangers play an important role in our travels, they help us find our way and guide us towards actually experiencing the cities that we visit.

Perhaps my most notable stranger encounter was with two gentlemen from Italy while outside a club in Ibiza. These two guys randomly sat down next to me, smoked a cigarette and simply introduced themselves. From there, we had an hour-long conversation, comparing the differences of living in the city to Ibiza. Even though their English was broken, I was able to connect with them and understand a majority of what they were saying. These two strangers made me realize how lucky I was to be in Ibiza at that time. One of them stated that it was always his dream to travel to Ibiza and spend some time, and in fact had been saving up since he was 25 in order to do so. I’m not even 20 and yet I’ve traveled to all of these different cities thanks to the opportunities that NYU and my parents have provided me. Strangers help you realize the actuality of your situation and assist you in understanding what it means to travel to all of these cities.

Another notable stranger experience was during our time in Madrid. After a long day of walking through the city center, we needed a place to eat, but being poor college students, we wanted a place that was cheap. Randomly, we stopped one a guy on the street and hoped that he knew English so that we could ask him. Not long after, he was leading us to a great restaurant that was relatively inexpensive and even recommended a club to us (which turned out to be the best club that I had ever been to). Without his help, we would’ve spent hours trying to find a restaurant that probably would’ve been a tourist trap anyway.

Strangers help you actually see a city. Instead of just visiting the tourist sights, strangers know the ins and outs of their city, enabling them to tell you where all the hidden adventures are. Strangers guide you on your way to experiencing life in a city, helping you fully integrate yourself with the society and accurately grasp the cultural influences present in the city. From finding your way in a city to grasping the culture behind a city, strangers are essential during traveling.

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  • Ibiza: Matthew Seepersad
An Educated Traveler

An Educated Traveler

Prague as a city went through a lot in the past century. With its involvement in the World Wars, communist government, and liberalization, understanding the city is very complicated. While walking through Prague, you gain a sense of newfound freedom but also the feeling of distrust. In the book A Romantic Education, Patricia Hampl travels to Prague to regain an understanding of her Czech heritage. One thing that stood out is her analysis of the communist regime in the Prague. Although the Czech Republic was liberated in 1989, the current adult generation seems to have a residual distrust in the government. If you grew up in Czechoslovakia after the 1940s to 1989, you developed through the communist regime. Certain actions during this time were imprinted into the brains of the Czech citizens and while communism has ended, the people still have some of the actions that are left. For example, pickpocketing has been talked about as a serious topic, however, throughout my time here, I have encountered nor seen this happen at all. I actually believe that it is much worse in New York than in Prague, yet it’s publicized more here. This leads me to think that while I initially thought that Prague was fully freed of its communist ways, its people find it hard to let their guard down and just walk freely without worrying.

Throughout the book, Hampl explains that Prague is a “golden city,” however when she first arrives, it was gray. When I first arrived in Prague, I thought the opposite. The culture, atmosphere, and overall life were completely different than I have ever seen (even different than the neighboring European countries). After analyzing what I did the first few weeks, I realized what Hampl meant by this; Prague at a glance is just like any other city – tourists come and go to see the main sights. To actually understand Prague, you have to dive into its history, not the history of the Czech Republic, but the sole transformation of Prague and its people. Being the center and main city of the Czech Republic, Prague has a rich history and its people had transformed just as much as the city did. Their actions and culture had changed from communist ideals to democratic and liberal ones, allowing them to readjust what it means to live in this wonderful city. When experiencing the city, you have to look passed what is physically there and understand why an object is there and the meaning behind it. This book truly opened my eyes on how I should look at Prague and made it into an even more golden city.

Finally, A Romantic Education tells a story of how Central Europe was during communist times and the upheavals and surprises that its people faced. Today, the citizens of Prague have adopted more democratic ideals and have separated themselves from the communist regime that was previously there. Though the people are still adapting to these changes, this book made me realize how far Prague and its people have come since the Velvet Revolution.

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  • Old Town Square: Matthew Seepersad
Prague Redefined

Prague Redefined

When walking through Prague, there are a multitude of senses that you feel. Some of the most noticeable are the sense of new found freedom, happiness, and young energy. Twenty-five years ago, the Czech Republic was under communist control which hindered peoples’ freedom. In 1989, the Czech Republic was finally liberalized during the Velvet Revolution and spiraled into a new era of freedom. This new found sense is apparent through the Prague’s citizens and environment. As you first walk through the city streets, many street vendors who are persuading you into buying items and luring you into different establishments, approach you. Though seemingly annoying, these people are symbolic of the freedom that Prague has gained. With confidence and pride, these people are proudly getting rejected by random pedestrians simply because they are finally allowed to do something on this level. Around the town you’ll see people wearing an array of fashion from normal European styles to experimental fashion that thrives on obscurity. Prague is filled with family owned restaurants that are allowed to cater any dish they please, forming actual customer relationships and bringing the city together one person at a time.

Overall, there is less stress in Prague. The locals are laid back and relaxed – everything figures itself out eventually. One way to see this happiness is in the former President Vaclav Havel. In him, we see a commoner, someone who understands the struggles and lives of his people but also someone who genuinely enjoys life. Along with being a great leader he was a fun individual and that same happiness is eminent in the citizens of Prague. The openness of the city adds to its happiness. Whether it’s their openness of sex or their ability to freely exercise their opinions, citizens are open to all ideas. Their ideals on drug use are also emitted through the amount of paraphernalia shops there are. On every corner in Old Towns Square, there is a smoke shop filled with smoking products and other items. In the United States, many of these stores are outlawed and looked down upon, however, here they are integrated into normal society.

In final analysis, the people of Prague, their actions, and the environment (buildings, architecture, etc.) illustrate the atmosphere that encompasses the city. Prague is a very open, happy, and unique place – one that caters to a variety of nationalities and cultures. When compared to its communist days, Prague can be seen as a transformed city; a city that has been torn down and reborn into something completely new.

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  • Prague: Matthew Seepersad
The Commoners' History

The Commoners’ History

If the citizens of Prague were to resurrect a painter that captured the essence of life in Prague most accurately, it would be Alfons Mucha. This decorative man through his entire career depicted the history of the Czech and Slavic people. In paintings such as The Slav Epic and Le Pater, people recall seeing life in the paintings. The art recreated history in the minds of the Czech people, which is why there is a Mucha Museum in Prague today. When visiting this museum, you can feel the energy that is emitting from the paintings, as well as the viewers. Everyone is discussing a different hidden meaning in all of the pieces, but though that’s commonly seen for most artwork, his depicted history; something you would assume had only one meaning. When you look deep into the paintings, you realize that he doesn’t capture documented history; he captures the everyday side of it. When learning about history, we are usually all fed the same story about a general in X war who lead Y army into victory in Z amount of years – or died trying. In his work, Mucha painted a commoners’ history representing the everyday struggle and grind of Czech and Slavic people.

When analyzing Mucha’s work and finding meaning, you realize that the meanings still hold true today. The first thing that everyone realized while studying here is the importance of the professors. I mean, they actually mean something to Czech history. Most of my professors were proponents of the Velvet Revolution who continued to go on and work for the government. Instead of learning what happened in Czech history through a textbook, we’re learning from their past experiences. Instead of being force fed information, we get first hand knowledge and criticism from commoners – simply people who lived through that time period. I feel that modern day Czech people encompass the same ideas as Mucha did. Instead of capturing and spreading the mainstream news that everyone hears, you spread the commoner news. When asking someone about the Velvet Revolution, they don’t give you a simple answer. If they lived through that time, they usually tell you about how their involvement in the revolution and how it connected to them.

The epitome of this resemblance is in Vaclav Havel, the former President of the Czech Republic. Growing up, Havel was a playwright known for his satirical essays and short films mocking communism. Most importantly, he was a commoner. This commoner, however, became the most important advocate of the Velvet Revolution and eventually leading the country. His story is told to everyone in the Czech Republic so in essence, he spreads a commoner’s history. People don’t always realize how much more there is to a story than what’s told; Mucha worked to fix that problem through his paintings. By creating a commoners’ history, he spiraled the Czech people into a new era of thinking which fostered a number of movements. Mucha’s art helped me understand Prague’s history better, but also its people. That’s the wonderful thing about art, no matter how many meanings you can get out of a piece, there will always be more.

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Forging History

Forging History

Warsaw, a city that was completely destroyed after World War II, was rebuilt to serve as a tourist area engulfed with its rich history. Initially, I thought that it was a great idea; it was a place where people could enjoy normal city life but see history as well. After reading “Staged Authenticity: Arrangements of Social Space in Tourist Settings,” it made me think, was this simply forged history? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not undermining what happened during World War II at all, but why was Warsaw rebuilt focusing on the tourist ideals. Instead of advancing society, they simply rebuilt buildings with an older style to them. It occurred to me that Warsaw was built this way because “tourist settings are arranged to produce the impression that a back region has been entered even when this is not the case.” When visiting Warsaw I couldn’t help but feel like I had a better understanding and feel of what people went through at the time. Though this might be true to an extent, I felt like I was in a war-torn city when in reality I was in a refurbished city.

While in Germany, I visited Auschwitz (which I highly recommend), however, I felt as if there was a bit of staged authenticity there as well. Though the feeling was eerie, the camp wasn’t void of concession stands and coat checks. We might have been at the same location, but the camp that we visited was not the same camp during WWII. It’s true, we all visited there to see if we can grasp a deeper understanding of what the prisoners went through when we there. In a way, you could say that it was a way of spiritually reaching those who were tortured throughout WWII. Thinking about why you visit these places is never something you quite ponder. It has historical significance and if anything, you go there to pay your respects to those who lost everything. These places, however, are not the same and have been adjusted to fit touristy needs, so in this case, MacCannell is right, we do touristy things to fulfill a societal need of spiritual ascendance.

What does being “Trinidadian,” mean to me now? More. Being a part of such a rich history, first hand diving into actual society, all of this combines to make an experience that travellers will try to feel. Though they may visit the same places, they only dip their toes into the water, never fending the waves out in the deep. All in all, I agree with MacCannell’s point that people travel to get a better spiritual and cultural meaning behind the places they visit, even if it’s not completely the same as actually living there.

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  • Auschwitz: Matthew Seepersad
A New Understanding

A New Understanding

In The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, she begins the book by talking about a doctor’s life, Tomas, in Prague. While reading, I gained a new perspective of Prague as this book takes places in 1968 during Prague Spring, when the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia. In Part 1, you get feel of communist Czechoslovakia, as it relates to the chained theme of the book. Throughout the novel, Tomas was constantly reminded about the freedom that he obtained after his divorce and how Tereza stole this freedom from him. After the invasion, once he went back to Prague, he was no longer allowed to leave, forcibly being chained to a city he no longer felt for. Seeing the little freedom that he had in Prague shows the changes in the years since 1968; I’ve never felt as much as freedom as I have in Prague, understanding that this city was once a constraint on thought completely created a new perspective in my head. This city isn’t just great; it’s one that has strived and conquered, one that prevailed out of hard times to become a just and amazing city. Prague has a past and contains baggage but it’s a fighter and allows us to enjoy its attractions despite previous mistreatment.

As we go to school in Manhattan, we have discovered much of the city, allowing us to compare the two. I found Prague to be freer, more relaxed, and overall a much more beautiful city. In the book Sabrina and Franz say, “for them the essence of being Czech came down to ashes and nothing more,” after which they traveled to New York and basked in it’s glory “walk[ing] the streets of New York for hours at a time,” (57). Their experience between American and Czech culture captivates the differences between then and now. It’s amazing how we look at Prague’s post-communist regime as an old beauty. The characters in the book express a hatred for the communist regime in Prague (as they should) but it’s significant since it’s only been a few decades. The amount that Prague has transformed is magnificent and a beauty in its own respect. We’ll never truly understand what it was like to live during the communist regime; however, this definitely gave me insight as to what average life was like.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being was not intended to provide a description of Prague but to express the weight that everyone carried, the past that added to each character’s struggle. However, if we take Prague and treat her like a character, she contains her own weight. A communist regime along with the dying faith of her citizens added to her struggle to be free – to allow her people to enjoy what there was to offer. Juxtaposing today’s Prague to communist Prague allows us to visualize the changes that she went through, giving us a deeper understanding as to what went on. We may not have lived in that era, but Kundera gave us an insight on how it was – and how we should be thankful for the Prague that we live in today.

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  • A New Persepective: Matthew Seepersad
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