By Neil Nadpara
As a first semester freshman, I planned out my future semesters so that I’d be able to study abroad. Before starting college, my older friend told me that studying abroad in London was one of the best decisions he made. Although I was set on studying abroad, I was not sure where to go. I wanted a city that was modern yet had a rich history; a city that had a unique culture different from the United States; and a city with a geographical location would enable me to travel Europe. Prague was a perfect fit.
It took a whopping one night for me to appreciate the importance of language and communication. My study abroad program (UPCES) arranged taxi rides from the airport to the hostel we would be staying at for the first few nights of orientation. My friend and I were directed into a cab whose driver spoke no English. It was a 20-minute ride to the hostel, and we reached there at 9 p.m. so it was pretty dark. The driver dropped us off where the hostel was (or so he thought), he pointed towards the building, and he quickly drove off. It didn’t take us long before we realized that the hostel was nowhere in sight. Our phones were useless because we did not have internet on them. We tried asking people on the street and in shops, but they didn’t speak English. Communication and smart phones felt like luxuries and I appreciated them more in that instant. After 45 minutes of dragging around two luggage bags through dimly lit alley ways and on cobblestone sidewalks, the only thing we could do was laugh when we finally found the hostel. In a sense, I am happy to have such a “memorable” welcome to Prague.
The next day, we visited the main tourist attractions of Old Town Square and the Charles Bridge. Since the weather was ideal, Charles Bridge was packed with tourists. The entrance to the bridge is trulyextraordinary and historical. The bridge is lined with many statues on its sides that look fascinating during the day but can be surprisingly creepy at night (no exaggeration). Additionally, there are street merchants along the bridge that sell unique Czech instruments, accessories, and more.
Old Town square was filled with many street performers, magicians, and illusionists. One intriguing illusion is the one pictured below.
I don’t know what’s more amazing: the illusion or the fact that these guys maintain the same facial expression for hours on end every day. Immediately after seeing this, I had to find the nearest place with Wi-Fi so I could Google how the trick worked (yes, I cheated). If you’d like to know how it works, I encourage you to do the same because I don’t want to ruin it for you!
Although I knew before I arrived that basketball and football were not big in the Czech Republic, I was surprised to learn that soccer was huge. I am an avid sports fan who loves basketball, soccer and football, so I was excited to learn that Czechs loved soccer. In my third day here, I found out that there was a UEFA Euro 2016 (basically the FIFA World Cup of just Europe) qualifying match in Prague. The Czech Republic would be playing against the Netherlands, which is a soccer powerhouse. As we walked around the city during the day, I saw the anticipation for the match all around me. Even though it was just a qualifying match, the Czechs were veryexcited for the match and many were wearing soccer jerseys. The tension in the air was apparent and I even saw a small scuffle between Czech fans and Dutch fans. What was surprising was the number of Dutch fans that made the trip down to Prague for the match. I probably saw as many Dutch fans as I did Czech fans. The famous Charles Bridge was filled with Dutch fans who were having a great time occasionally chanting. One group of Dutch fans were all suited up in style, grabbing the attention of everyone on the bridge. For a second, I thought they were Dutch soccer players or coaching staff, but I soon realized that they were just extremely dedicated fans.
Although it was too late to buy tickets for the game, we went to a local pub and the spirit of the Czechs was amazing. The Czech Republic ended up winning the game 2-1, with the winning goal coming late in the game. All of Prague was so celebratory and lively following the win, even though it was only a relatively miniscule qualifying match. I appreciated the passion Czechs had for soccer and loved being part of the post-game celebrations with newly made Czech friends at the pub.
In my first three days in Prague, I learned two things: 1. Getting lost in a place where you don’t speak the language sucks. 2. Sports speak a universal language that I could understand and be a part of. Although I felt immersed in the Czech language of sports during the day of the soccer match, my next goal (no pun intended) is to become fluent in the Czech language of communication.
See you guys next time,