Walking Through World History

I’m sitting in the airport right now, about to board my plane and go back to the United States in less than an hour. The past 3 weeks don’t even feel real at this point. Did all of that really happen?

Whatever that was, it was the best blur I’ve ever experienced in my entire 21 years of life. I studied abroad in Prague, Czech Republic, in a music and culture program, mainly focusing on Czech and old Czechoslovakian music and culture. I arrived in the Czech Republic a night before my program started and was hit with different words and accents.

“This change in atmosphere in the program was good for all of us and reminded us why we were really there. We didn’t come to Prague just to see museums about music, but learn about the Czech people and Prague’s history.”

The first thing we had to tackle was finding our way to the AirBNB using public transportation. Back in the states we would have called an Uber but unfortunately Uber wasn’t available. I’ve never experienced the anxiety of not knowing the language of the country I was in, but it’s a very humbling feeling that has given me so much patience and respect for those who have moved to a country without knowing a word.

It ended up being an hour journey on 2 buses and a metro so we stopped to get KFC. Let me tell you, KFC might be (is) better than anywhere in the States — or maybe I was starving after the long flight. We continued on our way and by the time we got to the AirBNB it was 1 a.m. and we were exhausted.

This next morning the program started and we were able to really experience Czech culture. It was more than just museum trips and audio tours. We went to traditional Czech dinners and visited castles and synagogues.

We also visited Terezin Concentration Camp.

Learning about the horrible things that happened to these innocent people while you’re in America, several thousand miles away, is one thing, but actually standing on the grounds where it all happened was very surreal for all of us. The entire day at Terezin was somber, and those of us in the group rarely talked to each other. This was different from our usual excursions that were always upbeat and filled with talking and laughter.

We walked through the barracks, the trail where they would be placed for transportation and the dark mile long underground tunnel used to get to the other side of camp. The entire day is something I will never forget but walking in the tunnel made it feel ten times more real.

Even with a little electricity it was very dark and I had to hold onto the person in front of me. There were openings on the sides that cast dark shadows and made me feel very uneasy. Worst of all was the cold. Even when it was 85 degrees outside that day, in the tunnels it felt almost 50 degrees. I couldn’t even imagine how it must have been in the winter.

Lidice (where the Nazis massacred a village in 1942) was surprisingly quite beautiful. There was a beautiful rose garden and miles of grass that led to a cemetery. The grounds were well kept with birds flying and chirping above us. If someone were to visit without knowing the history, they wouldn’t known such tragic things happened there — only that it was a quiet place to nap or read a book.

This change in atmosphere in the program was good for all of us and reminded us why we were really there. We didn’t come to Prague just to see museums about music, but learn about the Czech people and Prague’s history.

Karlstejn Castle with some of my classmates
The dark, Gothic architecture of the Chapel of Czech Patron Saints
Pinkas Synagogue
Spanish Synagogue
Terezin Concentration Camp. The words on the arch say “Work will set you free”
Terezin underground tunnel
Terezin barracks

The music portion had to be my favorite part of the program. We went to a jazz club, listened to Roma and Jewish klezmer music and even received a performance from our professor who is a violinist. Before this trip, I never ventured out into listening to different genres other than what was playing on the radio. I was exposed to music that I would usually skip after a few seconds of it playing but knowing the history — and actually pausing to listen to the different parts of music we learned about in class — made me think otherwise.

I came on this trip with a friend who knows music and plays the guitar. She invited me to an opera which turned out to be a beautiful Italian Mozart! I said yes for the experience and left knowing a bit of Italian. Never gone to an opera before, I assumed the singers had mics but there was no mics in sight. Amazing!!

At the opera

Just as Prague started to feel like home to me, suddenly the program ended. I had a routine, was making new friends and even felt comfortable enough to take the tram and go places by myself. Because of the location, when we had enough time, we took buses to other countries. I went to Berlin, Germany for a day, Budapest, Hungary for a weekend and London, England for a few days. A bus ride in the United States wouldn’t get you to another country!

I will definitely be going back to explore and see more of the Czech Republic one day. I tried plenty of things that I normally wouldn’t do. If you have the means, take the leap and study abroad. And if you don’t — try!

Berlin Wall
Hungarian Parliament building, Budapest
Buckingham Palace, London


Briana Wiley is a fourth year anthropology major. She is traveling with the College of Extended Studies program Music and Culture in Prague.


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