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Izzy's Take on Prague

Ahoj! My name is Izzy Smith, and I am a rising senior at Wofford College majoring in finance with a minor in business. This past fall I embarked on a semester abroad in Prague, Czech Republic.

I am a half Czech, half American citizen. My mom, Zuzu, is a Czech native who met my father, David, who was in Prague in 2000 for business. One year later, they got married and moved to the United States. Growing up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, I always wondered about my mother’s background. My grandparents Babi and Deda would fly over to visit us for months at a time (who I attribute my Czech language skills to).

My family and I would also visit them, though less frequently. While I had traveled to the Czech Republic, I had always wondered what it would be like to live there. I was curious about what it would’ve been like if I had grown up there, attended school with other Czech kids, and learned to read and write in Czech. The answer to that will always be unknown, but I still had many other questions about my heritage, questions that I had to find answers to myself. The only way this could be possible was if I lived in the Czech Republic.

During my senior year of high school, I had no idea where I wanted to go to college, what I wanted to study, and who I wanted to be when I “grew up.” The one thing I was sure about was studying abroad in Prague. I had always wanted to spend more than a summer in the Czech Republic. When I found out I could do just that for four months, I was more than convinced that Wofford College was the place I was supposed to be.

Fast forward to my spring semester of sophomore year, my dream of living in the Czech Republic came alive. I was accepted into the CIEE Central European Studies program in Prague for my fall semester of junior year. I cannot tell you how excited my family and I were. The child in me lit up, and the adventurous adult I had become was ready. It had been four years since I saw my grandparents, Babi and Deda. The last time I went was alone for my sixteenth birthday. This past fall was the first time I saw them in four years.

I arrived in Prague and was greeted at the airport by my mom’s best friend, Silva, who has always lived in the Czech Republic, and has been in Prague since her 20s. I was exhausted. The airline had lost both of my checked bags, and all I had in my backpack was one change of clothes (a big mistake indeed). Silva was very generous and gave me everything I needed during my night in her apartment. The next day, I took the train from Praha Hlavní Nádraží (Prague’s Main Train Station) to Luhačovice, the largest town outside of Pozlovice. This train ride is about five hours. A first-class ticket costs around 850 CZK ($37). My grandfather, Deda, picked me up from the station and off I went to their summer house. My grandmother, Babi, greeted me with Palačinky (crepes), řízek (schnitzel), bramborový kaše (mashed potatoes), and okurky (pickles). All my favorite foods from childhood. The time I spent with them was unforgettable, yet challenging because they only speak Czech. While I can communicate at a high level, there are simply words and phrases I do not know how to say because of the lack of time spent speaking and not having attended a Czech school.

When it was time for me to get on the train and start my semester in Prague, I was sad. However, I knew I would see them more in the next four months than I had in the last four years. I was excited about my new adventure, and even more excited that some of my best friends were flying into Prague the same day I was arriving by train.

The CIEE program was wonderful. They welcomed us all with open arms and encouraged us to explore and experience not only Prague but anywhere our hearts desired. We had school four times a week, with Fridays off. This enabled us to make weekend travel plans across Europe.

I would describe Prague as one of the world’s best kept secrets, and while it is getting discovered by many, people still ask me “Where is Prague?” “What is the Czech Republic?” and “What language do they speak?” When you step into the city of a hundred spires you enter a time machine. The city has been untouched since its beginnings and its rich history will inspire you to completely immerse yourself in its culture. While the Czech people may not be the type to smile and wave at you in passing, they welcome over eight million tourists per year.

Prague is hands down the best place anyone could study abroad and yes, I am extremely biased.

Here is a list of reasons:

  1. Prague is a real-life history book, founded in 1344. It holds buildings from all periods of its existence such as Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, St Vitus Cathedral, Josefov (the Jewish Quarter), and many more.

  2. There are incredible art and history museums such as The National Gallery, the Museum of Communism, The National Museum (Národní Muzeum), and many more.

  3. The transportation system is ranked second best in the world for speed and convenience. Getting anywhere in the city is effortless using the three metro lines, trams, Liftago, Bolt, and Uber.

  4. Easy travel to-and-from. Prague is the heart of Europe. There are many flights and airlines connecting Prague to many other large cities. Their train systems are also wonderful. I traveled to Zadar, Croatia; Vienna, Austria; Berlin, Germany; Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan, Italy; Budapest, Hungary; Bratislava, Slovakia; and Amsterdam, Netherlands.

  5. Food and drinks are dirt cheap, of course if you stay away from tourist traps. At Lokal Korunní (the famous Czech food chain) near my apartment on Slezská in Vinohrady, a 0,3 liter of Pilsner Urquell is priced at 48 CZK ($2.17) and a grilled sausage with mustard costs 129 CZK ($5.84). A good dinner will cost you under $10, depending on how many additional beers you buy.

  6. Traveling within the Czech Republic is also extremely historical and picturesque. There are many mountainous regions (they filmed Narnia in Bohemian Switzerland), stunning lakes and vast countryside.

  7. Nightlife comes in all shapes and sizes. Stylish bars such as Crazy Daisy, underground bars such as U Sudu and Dog Bar, fun pubs like The Dubliner, music clubs such as Epic, Roxy and Duplex, high end clubs such as MOONCLUB and more.

  8. It is an extremely safe city. We would walk home at the most random hours of the night and never run into trouble. Watch out for pickpocketers in Wenceslas Square and other tourist areas (this goes for the entirety of Europe too).

This list could simply go on and on. Prague is a special place, and it always will be, not just for me but for the other fifteen Wofford students that also participated in the program. It was the best four months of my life, and I would return in a heartbeat.

- Izzy


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