Prague! Amazing! Past Review

By (ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE/LETTERS., The University of Texas at Austin) for

AIFS: Prague - Charles University

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
My study abroad experience was life changing, though after returning to the United States, it is still unclear how many different complex changes the experience has instilled in me. Traveling and studying abroad, above all, helps you realize what it means to live in and be a citizen of your own country. It forces you to consider your own culture, history, and beliefs. My experience sparked a deep interest in American and European identity studies and inspired me to become an American Studies minor. Having been abroad I have a whole new perspective of American consumer culture and the terms "Americanization" or "globalization" and how these function and shape other countries. The experience was challenging and self-enlightening as you learn the extent of your capablities, your tolerance levels, your independence, etc. I now read the newspaper more frequently and with genuine interest and understanding about political economic and cultural issues in countries like France, Germany, Greece, and have a great interest in the EU. Ultimately I am more of a global thinker and feel enriched in all ways. I am proud to hang the artwork of Alfons Mucha and Gustav Klimt in my apartment and to read Kundera (read Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being, whether you go to Prague or not!) The experience was fabulous and I only regret that now it feels almost like a dream. Take advantage and savor every minute.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 0-2 weeks

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

Classes were usually small, enjoyable discussion based seminars taught in English. All of them had a mix of Americans, Canadians, and Erasmus students from various countries. Workloads varied from very light to heavy/on par with the course loads at my home university. Work was generally light over the course of the semester with an emphasis on reading assignments but at the end of the semester most courses required a substantial long research paper. Class topics vary but whether you are studying film, politics, history, art, or literature, all the instructors aim to educate you about the general culture and history of the beautiful town and country you are living in.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

AIFS was an amazing experience. It is a smaller program so you know all the students in your program and are able to form great friendships. The staff in Prague (Jana, Z, Marketa) is absolutely wonderful and they quickly become like your new family. They are literally always available, either in the office or by cell phone, if you have any kind of emergency, question, or just want to talk. Z is an older Czech gentlemen who acts as a grandfather figure to all the students and he is literally one of the smartest people I have ever known. He is a wealth of knowledge about the history, traditions, culture, legends, etc, of the Czech Republic and all the European countries you visit. AIFS is great but they don't directly deal with your classes - that is through ECES (Eastern Central European Studies) at Charles University. They have a whole different set of staff that are equally kind and readily available to help with any of your school needs.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

The dorm (Masarykova Kolej on Thakuorva street) where you stay with AIFS is a mild drawback, but the staff insists that it is of a much higher quality/better location than dorms from previous years. Student dorms in the Czech Republic can be somewhat terrifying so given that, this dorm is pretty nice. American students may complain because it does not necessarily compare to nicer American university dorms. Masarykova Kolej is huge and there is a wide variety of students living there, and it also functions as a cheap hotel. There is a restaurant in the lobby where no one ever ate, but the bar downstairs is great for very cheap beer and a place to meet up with friends. Dorm rooms are decent - 2 students per room attached to a small suite/kitchen area that is attached to another 2 person room, so 4 people per suite. Sheets and pillows are provided but they are often worn thin and uncomfortable so most students bought extra pillows and new blankets. Also some kitchens had leftover items like bowls, a cup or two, a kettle - others did not. Showers were somewhat gross, often with mold. Dorm staff speaks very little english and can seem rude, but AIFS staff can help you if you have dorm issues. The location is just fine, but could be better. It is outside the main city center but located 2 minutes walking from the metro. It is three stops on the metro to school/Old Town. However the location is a problem when staying out late on weekend nights when the normal trams/metros close after midnight. Cabs home from the city center can be expensive and the night tram can be a 30 minute ordeal.

* Food:

AIFS gives you a monthly allowance that is can cover at least one meal a day (though you can use the money for any purpose). Traditional Czech food can be very heavy on bread and meat and many American students complain. But try the beef goulash with dumplings because it's delicious. Czech food can be difficult for students with dietary restrictions. My roommate had a wheat allergen and had a very hard time. However Prague is a huge international city and there are a myriad of great restaurants and options ranging from KFC to Thai food to vegetarian. Clear Head is an amazing and very attractive vegetarian place. Go to La Casa Blu in the Jewish Quarter for great Mexican food and strong margaritas. I would not recommend studying in Prague if you do not enjoy beer. A glass of beer is cheaper than a bottle of water (there is no free tap water) and beer is a huge part of the Czech culture. Avoid drinking/eating in the touristy areas of Old Town Square because these places are ridiculously overpriced.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

AIFS is also invaluable for its offered trips to Vienna, Krakow, and Moravia, some of which are extra and others are included in the cost. These are weekend trips and tons of fun. There are also tons of day trips offered, like to Cesky Krumlov or Dresden, Germany. All the trips are wonderful because there is the perfect balance between free time and guided tours with Z. Also included in the cost of the program are cultural activities such as tickets to the ballet, the opera, and the orchestra. These are fabulous and are not to be missed, even if you don't think you're into it. The theaters are absolutely beautiful and historic. They also have tickets for local soccer matches or hockey games. All you have to do is sign up and pick up your ticket later. ECES also offers trips to Berlin, Cesky Krumlov, and Istanbul. Istanbul was very expensive and many students just decided to travel there on their own. This is an option but I recommend paying the extra expense to be with a tour guide, have guided tours and covered entrance fees into the mosques and palaces, and to be in a cohesive group. There are also tons of cultural field trips offered in most of the classes. Take courses that go on field trips to local art galleries or exhibits, special events or concerts.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

Many students living in the dorm were sick and contagious especially in the winter months. Sinus infections and strep throat were the most common. AIFS staff can help you identify what medicines you need and you can pick them up easily at a pharmacy. However if you think you need antibiotics or something specific there is an international english-speaking clinic right next door to the AIFS office. Doctors visits can be very expensive but if you have all your receipts for the visit and prescriptions, AIFS works with your international insurance to refund this money back to your parents after a month or so. The main safety concerns in Prague are mostly pickpockets and petty thievery. It is important to keep purses and bags zipped up and be aware of your belongings, and if you do this you should have no problem. Incidents occurred only when students were drunk and/or falling asleep on public transportation. For the most part, the Czech people want to eliminate this stereotype of petty stealing and it is not condoned. For example, a man attempted to pick pocket on a tram and was caught by other locals, who yelled at him and aggressively forced him off the tram. Other safety issues arise from walking around alone late at night or taking random taxis on the street. Taxi drivers are known to over-charge non-Czech speakers and tourists, so always call for a taxi ahead of time.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • International Students
  • Local Students
  • Americans

A Look Back

* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in the entire world and the AIFS program is a great way to experience it. The location of the Czech Republic is perfect for students who want to travel to other countries, and it is very easy to go for weekend visits to places such as Germany, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Turkey, Italy, and the list goes on. Every time you travel you will return to Prague and truly understand that of all the places in Europe it is one of the most beautiful and unique. This program is perfect for all those who have an interest in European history, architecture and art, literature (Kafka! Kundera!), and culture. A word to the wise - this is not a traditional language immersion program. Czech is a very difficult language and, while most Czechs know at least a little bit of English and the younger generations know quite a bit, it is still difficult to communicate with the local people around you. You are in this program alongside English speaking Americans and it is very easy to get stuck in the bubble. That being said, you must try! The experience is all the more enriching if you attempt to learn and use as much Czech as you can. Also, those who fear cold weather, beware. Prague can be bitterly cold but it tends to contribute positively to the magical fairy-tale vibe. Enjoy the warm months to the fullest! Sunny Prague is perfect for those who enjoy being outdoors even while simultanesouly being in a city. Hike up Petrin Hill, go to the beer gardens or one of the many beautiful parks, take a paddleboat out on the river. Don't spend all day in your dorm room and DO go out on walks alone! Prague is winding and magical and it is easy to get lost, but that's how you learn your way and find the coolest stuff.

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

Alternative Culture: Literature, Music, and Lifestyles

Course Department: CUFA SOC 342
Instructor: Pavla Jónssonova
Instruction Language: English
Comments: This class was relatively easy and fun, and a very cool and interesting way to get involved with the alternative youth cultures in Prague. Subjects include local graffiti and street artists, the history of the famous 70's Czech band Plastic People of the Universe, underground literary scene, hip-hop and electronic music, etc. Field trips to many different contemporary art galleries are a great addition. You also learn about all the coolest bars and venues to hear local shows. It is a great way to learn about some of the most influential artists, musicians, and intellectuals that have been influential in the Czech Republic and other nearby European countries.
Credit Transfer Issues: No problems. Usually transfers as Sociology but worked as an English credit for me.
Course Name/Rating:

Central European Film: Search for Identity (Comparison between Nazism and Stalinism)

Course Department: CUFA F 310
Instructor: Ivana Doležalová
Instruction Language: English
Comments: This class was challenging and very interesting, especially for those with an interest in film and history. European film teachers have a reputation of being pretentious which can certainly be true. Even though this class is about watching movies it is actually highly writing-intensive and hard work. A written reflection of about 3 pages is required for each movie and different students read their papers aloud each week. At the end of the semester the final is a 15-20 page paper, which seems ridiculous to some but it's not impossible to give a verbose comparison of 2-3 movies. What made this class amazing is the films we watched in it. In your other courses you will learn about the horrors, histories, ideologies, and long consequences of Nazism and Stalinism, and these movies provide an artistic emotional and human face for those lessons, and can really complicate everything you're learning. For the most part these are well-known films, many of them winning for Best Foreign Film, by awesome directors. Most of the movies I will remember for the rest of my life.
Credit Transfer Issues: Pretty much just transfers back as film/communications credit, or European Studies.