Prague = Amazing, USAC = Not so much Past Review

By (Public Health., Kent State University) - abroad from 01/18/2013 to 06/07/2013 with

USAC Czech Republic: Prague - Politics, Culture, and the Arts

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I would never choose staying at my home university compared to studying abroad in Prague. The experience was truly amazing. Prague still holds an incredible place in my heart and even a year later when I close my eyes- I'm walking the ancient, winding, cobbled streets of Prague at sunset. Every inch of Prague is soaked in history from ancient times when it was founded through Communism and revolution to today. If you're open to it, Prague will swallow you up and teach you some important life lessons. My experience with USAC, was less positive. Especially since I have experience with other companies and other study abroad locations, I was really disappointed in most of the details of the actual program. If I could go back in time, I'd find my way to the CEA office in Prague and beg them to take pity on me, have some mercy, and let me join their program. Considering I chose USAC because it was about $1,000 cheaper than the other programs in Prague- I probably got what I paid for. Looking back a grand would have been easy money to spend for competent and helpful program staff, classes on an actual campus, and some cultural integration. But overall, was it worthwhile? Of course. Nothing has ever been more worthwhile.

Review Photos

USAC: Prague, Czech Republic - Politics, Culture and Art Studies Photo USAC: Prague, Czech Republic - Politics, Culture and Art Studies Photo USAC: Prague, Czech Republic - Politics, Culture and Art Studies Photo USAC: Prague, Czech Republic - Politics, Culture and Art Studies Photo USAC: Prague, Czech Republic - Politics, Culture and Art Studies Photo

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? None

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

Academic rigor? That's a joke. Classes are beyond easy, it was like being in high school again. "Professors" basically held students hands through everything and in the end, just passed everyone along. There's a course that's actually just a field trip, and then you write a paper at the end of it- which again- everyone passes. However, what the professors lack in academic rigor and intensity, they mostly make up for in personal experience and just being awesome. The professor of the Czech Subculture course was actually at the Velvet Revolution in 1989, and one of the Czech language teachers was currently learning Arabic, as the fifth language she could speak fluently. They may not have been tough on us academically, but if you were really motivated- there are definitely some characters who could teach you a thing or two. Courses are offered "through" Charles University, but not actually on their campus. Your classes are actually held in a strangely shady building which might have been an abandoned pre-school? I'm not sure. It's got a cafeteria, which you have to make reservations for at least a day ahead, and then they only serve one option a day. The nearest place to eat off campus is a Korean convenience store. The building is in "Nove Mesto", which is decently far from all the action and anything you ever want to be around.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

*sad musical cue here* Thinking about host country program administration breaks my heart. The poor things. The USAC Prague program leaders are the nicest, sweetest, most well-meaning folks you'll ever met, but their actual program leadership skills are severely lacking. You'll love them- you will, but in a sad, sort of, "what are these people even doing around here?" type of way. They're quite a bit disorganized and asking one question generally leaves you listening to a 20-minute story that never really answered your question in the first place. I tried asking the advisors for help finding somewhere to volunteer while I was abroad. I'm a Public Health major, so I was looking for anything health and wellness related. Their reply was that there probably wasn't anything I could do if I didn't speak Czech, and that my best bet would be to go to a store, like a Goodwill, and ask to help out there, but that I shouldn't expect anyone there to speak English. So not abundantly helpful...

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

Living arrangements are probably not what you're used to, but hey- that's why you study abroad. The program has three buildings with apartments for students. 2 of 3 locations are awesomely located next to a main metro station, the bus station and a TESCO and an Albert(grocery stores), as well as walking distance to a shopping mall, Old Town and lots of bars, etc. The third location is a bit harder to access and I would never walk here alone at night, but the apartments are nicer, the nearby restaurants are stellar, most of the students are in these apartments (aka party central) and they do include an oven (the other two only have stovetops). None of the apartments have elevators, so be prepared for at least 3-5 floor walk up. Similarly none of the apartments have dryers, although they do all have their own washing machine. Most apartments are 2 students per room, 6-8 students per apartment. Some rooms are singles, which you can pay extra for, or if no one chooses them you may just be the lucky one who gets your own room. Advice- Don't expect American amenities, seriously you can live without a dryer for 5 months. Learn to live like the locals do, and have a pretty cool story about how you alternated stir fry and pasta every night because you didn't have an oven.

* Food:

Czech food is meat and potatoes. If you don't like the sound of that, you're not going to like eating in Prague. If you're a vegan/vegetarian/Celiac/special needs, I wouldn't even bother. Asking someone if they serve a dish without meat is like asking for a non-alcoholic beer; they just don't understand why that might be a thing you want. Vegetables in restaurants are generally in short supply, whereas things like meat, potatoes, cheese, cabbage and cream sauces are abundant. They say you lose weight when you study abroad, but not when you study in Prague. Beer consumption alone will account for much of your daily caloric intake; but on the bright side, the beer is delicious, heavenly nectar of the gods. If you don't drink beer, you're not really experiencing Prague. Prague has a fairly decent selection of non-Czech food restaurants however. They've got Italian restaurants with pizza and pasta, Mexican restaurants and even American eateries like McDonald's and TGIFriday's- if you must. There's actually a decently sized Asian population, so you can find some pretty good/authentic Korean food.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

Some cities may welcome you with open arms, sweeping you into the local culture with a smile and a warm hug. Prague is not one of these cities. Prague is intricate, diversely layered, historical and truly magical, but she's a cold mistress. People on the metro won't accidentally catch your eye and smile, no one will notice you're American and thoughtfully start a conversation with you- no, they mostly won't even give you directions to a bathroom. For as interested as you are in broadening your horizons and meeting new people, they are equally interested in keeping their heads down, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. I thought program directors could have done a much better job in helping students get involved in the culture. They do host Czech cooking nights, which is fun to learn how to make some of the food you're eating out in restaurants, but there's little to no interaction with individuals I'd consider true Prague residents (excluding teachers and staff), and I couldn't even describe a typical Czech student- that's how little we saw them. The program does have a few day trips to areas outside of Prague, which I highly recommend. The Moravia wine trip will massively open your eyes to life outside Prague and into life in rural CR. Going out to bars/clubs/pubs, seems like the next logical step, but most of the young people you'll meet out there are Erasmus students or British Stag parties (bachelor parties for British folks- Prague is fast, cheap and internationally known for their alcohol, so it just makes sense). That's all fine and good to meet people from around, but to be truly "immersed in Prague" might actually be impossible.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

I had to visit a doctor in Prague which was fairly different than the American system. All in all, I had to call my insurance company to find a doctor that I could see, and I ended up walking in without an appointment. Seeing the doctor, I went into his actual office, like with a desk and chairs where he asked me some questions and gave me a check-up. The pharmacy was easy enough to use. By this time in the program, I didn't even bother asking my program advisors for help. I figured a quick google search would be just as helpful to find a doctor in the area.

* Safety:

Overall, I usually felt safe in Prague. Even as a young female walking alone at night, I rarely felt unsafe in most areas of Prague. Of course, the standard travel rules apply with pickpockets and scam artists, but compared to other European cities, the people in Prague aren't really out to get you, or your money. One tricky issue with Prague is that they have these foreign police officers, who can ask to see your passport, and if you don't have it with you, they can take you in to the station and you'll have to do all this fingerprinting. It's a total mess, and most of them won't speak English. One of our teachers explained that they're trying to crack down on an drug ring operating in CR, which is supposedly run by Koreans. So it was only a problem for the Asians in our group, but- it's something to look out for. The police also wait outside next to metro stops where people usually cross the street to fine you for jaywalking. It can be a fine of 400-1000 CZK ($20-$50), so that's not really fun either. But at least those guys will speak English.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? No


* 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)

Prague is incredibly affordable. Things like food, beer, metro passes, shopping, etc. were definitely cheaper, so that helped me to be able to afford traveling to more places on the weekends. All in all, I probably spent as much money as I would have at my university (tuition, food, gas, etc.). Prague is centrally located, so travel through Europe is a breeze. Germany, Austria, Poland are all just a train/bus ride away, and tons of discount airlines make flights to other places cheap and easy.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $100


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

There's a 2-week language intensive at the beginning of the program that everyone has to take. It's just supposed to teach the basics. There's also a language course taught the whole semester if you want to learn more. But in reality, even after taking the semester course you probably won't be able to actually speak Czech like at a restaurant or grocery store. The 2-week intensive isn't long enough or intensive enough to actually teach you the realistic basics, and the semester-long course is more focused on learning to speak Czech- so the lessons are about colors and days of the week, adjectives for people and hobbies. The things you really need/want to learn like names of foods, names of places in Prague, how to ask for directions or pay a bill in a restaurant are things you either figure out on your own or never learn.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? None
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Beginner
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? 2 years of French
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? If you are really dedicated to learning Czech, you have to start before you get there. I even started before I got to Prague and it was still tough. Knowledge of other slavic languages probably helps but languages like French, Spanish, Italian, Latin- aren't going to be of much help at all. I would suggest talking to strangers in Czech as much as possible, but I'm not sure how much they would even talk back.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Apartment
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with? 0

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Local History
  • Cheap Travel
  • Cheap Beer/Food
* What could be improved?
  • Program Management
  • Helping students get involved
  • Apartments in one location
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Basically, I wish I had seen anyone talk about this program honestly. It's hard to look at an experience like study abroad (which is so incredibly amazing and a once in a lifetime experience, and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone) and realize you have negative things to say about your experience, but-it's true. If I could go back I would go to Prague, in a heartbeat, without a moment's hesitation- but I wouldn't go with USAC if you paid me.

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Avid Adventurer
The wardrobe you packed was better suited for a semester of camping than club hopping. Outdoorsy, you might forgo a crazy night out for an early all-day adventure. You'd rather take in the rich culture of an old town than the metropolis of a modern city, but for you getting off the grid is ideal.