Isabelle Lloyd, a BA History student explores the unique study destination of Prague, Czech Republic. This unusual choice has offered her once in a lifetime opportunities and endless stories to tell.
One of the main reasons I chose to study at Birmingham was the opportunity to study abroad. I love travelling, however living in another country is a completely different experience. On top of this, the uncertainty and restrictions over the last two years made me want to grab every opportunity I could. Although moving abroad has lived up to (and surpassed) all of my expectations it has not all been easy.
I encountered my greatest challenge before I had even left the UK: the Paperwork. Living in the Czech Republic now entails a complicated visa process that requires the filling of multiple forms, trips to the embassy and the use of official Czech translators. As this was the first year that required a visa for EU countries there was very little information available about the process, and therefore everything felt a lot more confusing and daunting than it needed to be. The joy of finally having that freshly-stamped visa in my passport was something else. A benefit of this experience is that I am now really good at navigating complicated government websites and handling bureaucracy.
The day I arrived in Prague was also a shock. The Uber driver dropped me off in the outskirts of the city among abandoned-looking 70s tower blocks - “KOLEJ” (college) the sign on the building read, my home for the next few months. It was not exactly the “city of 100 spires” I had imagined. I remember feeling totally overwhelmed - “Had I just made a massive mistake?”. However, by 7 pm I was on a tram heading into the city surrounded by people from my accommodation; “where are you from?” “Croatia”, “Latvia”, “Turkey”, “Ukraine”, “Ireland”, “Israel”, “France” etc. The dorms were certainly basic, but they were incredibly sociable. On some nights people would “cook for the floor” - 18 of us would sit on in the corridor and eat together; inevitably 10+ more people who just happened to be walking past would join us from other floors. Throughout my time in Prague, I have been in plenty of daunting situations, but they often hold the best memories. Although I will not be living in the dorms next semester (instead I will be living in the beautiful city centre), staying in them over the last few months was one of the best decisions I made.
As well as settling into a different living situation I also had to adjust to a completely different academic environment. At Charles University I was able to study an amazingly broad mix of classes. Over the last semester, I studied subjects spanning History to International Relations and Environmental Studies and Art Theory to Anthropology. I have presented my research on the Haitian revolution, created a comic and taken part in a morning-long COP26 review “conference”. Classes that focused on International Relations or “Historiography and Nationalism” were particularly brilliant as you are discussing topics with people from across the world who often have very different outlooks to you. Having such an interdisciplinary mix of modules has been exciting, but being able to study with people from all over the world has made the whole experience so valuable.
Beyond my studies, living in Prague has given me the chance to try all sorts of new and wonderful things: going to the State Opera, walking across Charles bridge with mulled wine at Christmas, singing in Czech on TV with the Charles University Choir, learning how to boulder and taking weekend trips to other European cities such as Berlin and Krakow. However, my favourite experience was a weekend spent hiking with friends in Bohemian Switzerland. It was only two hours on the train from Prague (a whopping £4 for a return ticket) and out of season we could afford to rent a traditional old wooden house – perfect for broke students. Every day we trekked through the most beautiful landscape surrounded by tall forests, waterfalls, rivers and dramatic rock formations, then in the evening we would cook and play card games.
The year abroad is really what you make of it. Moving to a different country, learning a new language, and having to start all over again is terrifying yet incredibly rewarding. I have been able to live in a magical city, met so many wonderful friends and my horizons have broadened in more ways than I could have imagined; spending so much time in a new country surrounded by people from across the world has made me realise how many different paths and opportunities there are in the future. Studying in Prague has really been one of the best times of my life. Writing this in December I still have almost six months left in the Czech Republic and I cannot wait to grasp the rest of this experience.
Blog post written by: Isabelle Lloyd