Study abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity to spend a few months in a whole new country without the usual hassle of moving and doing research on your own. NYU provides a safe environment where you can arrive in the country and get oriented with proper guidance and at a relatively leisurely pace. All you have to do is relax, follow the curriculum, and then explore what you want to see.
The system is great. We arrive at the airport with RAs there to take us to the dorms (for the most part), where all the basic necessities like bed sheets, pillows, lamps, kitchenware and cleaning products are already provided, and there are always people available to answer any questions or provide whatever help you may need. It can be almost too good, because it’s completely possible to spend the entire semester within this safe little bubble of NYU, and enjoy all the perks of Prague (like the cheap food and beer) without any of the trouble.
But that’s not the point of studying abroad, and indeed, most students make much more of it than just learning about the country from the classroom. If I could only give one piece of advice, I would say travel. It’s probably something you’re planning on anyways, but I want to stress that I think it’s great to learn about these countries in class and then see them with your own eyes. It makes the whole experience much more engaging and thought-provoking. Venture outside of Prague, but also take time to explore the city itself, really experience the local culture, visit farmer’s markets, watch circus shows and operas, visit bars, and make good use of the spacious kitchens that one rarely sees in the congested city of New York.
I also recommend taking advantage of the NYU programs, whether they’re the longer trips or just short events like concerts, comedy shows, or even guest speaker lectures, which, despite their unexciting name, are actually really interesting and do the most to help you understand the local culture. And, most importantly, they’re free! I definitely had a couple times where I regretted making travel plans too early because I had to miss some of the free events that NYU provided. I realized too late that plane tickets really oscillate, so it isn’t always best to buy it as soon as possible.
Another thing I would recommend is the internship I did at the Londynska elementary school. (If you’ve been reading my other blog posts, you already know about this.) It takes very little effort; you just have to go to the class for an hour each week (or more if you choose), and there’s no additional preparation required. But it’s really a great experience if you want to get to know more about the Czech people, learn more of the Czech language, or introduce a group of young kids to a world out there that they’ve never seen before, while opening your own eyes as well. It’s always a lot of fun. The energy of the kids makes all the little things seem interesting again. Veronika, the teacher I work with, is also really nice and easy to work with, and she appreciates our help so much that I almost feel bad. But even if you don’t do this internship, all the internship opportunities here are great chances to plunge into the local community a little more and break through that bubble that NYU tends to create. They’re also great for your resume and will give you more experience and knowledge about the international scene, so definitely keep an eye out for those!
Basically, the most important things is to be open to different opportunities and really take your time to explore and reach outside your comfort zone. The Czech people may seem a little cold at first, or they might make you uncomfortable with their staring (if you look really different from them), but it is all part of their history and culture, and challenging yourself is part of the package. You will definitely come away from it with a broader understanding of yourself and others, and you will grow as you learn.