Many things have come to mind as I’ve considered the differences between traveling and going to school in Europe, versus back home in the United States. What I have found to be one of the best parts is the sense of community you find when you meet other international students or like-minded travelers. Something about the shared experience of being in another country brings people together in a humbling way.
At my university in Prague, I take classes with students from so many different backgrounds. I have flatmates from France. I have classmates from Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Korea, Germany, Ireland, Croatia, Turkey, India, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, to name a few. The class discussions are fascinating to me because there are so many more opinions and interpretations that come from having such a culturally diverse representation of students.
“I think that when people are traveling, they tend to be more open minded. In my experience, people tend to strike up conversations with strangers a lot more often over here than in the States.”
Being a part of an international group has also opened my eyes to the privilege that comes with being a native English-speaker. When we are in Czech language class, most of us are probably struggling to understand, but I can’t imagine taking all of my classes in a secondary language. The majority of my classmates do not speak English natively, but they have decided to study in an English degree program. It has made me realize that I am fortunate to be able to easily understand the lectures and to have so many options available to me simply because I was born a native speaker.
It is more common for European students to study abroad. Part of this is likely because of the geographical proximity of European countries and, at least for EU countries, not needing a visa. The good news for American students is that once we are over here, it is extremely easy to visit other cities on a budget. There are very affordable buses, trains and even some shockingly cheap flights available, i.e. a $15 flight from Prague to Bologna, Italy.
So far, I’ve traveled out of Prague to Ireland, Germany and Hungary. During these trips I have met a lot of other travelers from all around the globe. I’ve practiced my Spanish with people from Spain while visiting the Irish Island, Inishmore. When I took a bus from Prague to Munich for Oktoberfest, I sat next to a guy who was from the Czech Republic and we talked for hours on the way there about our home countries, traveling and school. I clinked beer steins and shared tables at Oktoberfest with people from the Netherlands, Belgium, Ukraine, Russia and even some other Americans we met there. When my roommates and I went to Budapest, we met some really lovely girls from Australia and England at our hostel. We had a lot of fun with them there and coincidentally their next stop was Prague, so we reunited a couple days later.
I think that when people are traveling, they tend to be more open minded. In my experience, people tend to strike up conversations with strangers a lot more often over here than in the States. The people that I’ve met so far have been so friendly and inviting. This is one of the reasons I like staying in hostels. What you sacrifice in personal space, staying in a room with 11 other people, you gain by making a lot of new friends.
It’s easy to bond over shared experiences. For instance, not understanding something about the transportation system, or how we miss free public restrooms. To everyone back home in the States: free restrooms are a rare occurrence in Europe. The restrooms in stations or other public places usually cost money, and food places often require you to have bought something to get the code.
However, more often we are sharing ideas of what awesome activities there are to do, where to go to get a great view of the city and where is good to eat or drink. My roommates and I went on a quest for eggs benedicts with our Australian friends we met at the hostel. No, egg bennies are not a traditional Hungarian dish. But when you have cravings you have cravings.
The network of other travelers and students is what is really making this experience amazing. We all have different backgrounds, but we are all brought together under similar circumstances. It has been wonderful so far, and I am looking forward to more adventures over the coming months.
Hayley Chase is a senior majoring in hospitality and tourism management. She is spending a semester abroad at the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, Czech Republic.