Nicole, outbound to Czech Republic

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Hi guys! So, I've been in the Czech Republic for a little over one month and if you’ve read my bio, you're probably wondering why I'm not in Turkey right now. My Country was switched due to safety issues but it's okay because I couldn't imagine spending my Rotary Youth Exchange year anywhere else. Even though I've only been here for a short while, I've already experienced a wide variety of emotions. The culture shock that they try to prepare you for hits you hard, whether you're ready for it or not, and while I've already experienced life changing and unforgettable experiences, there were times when the frustration of trying to learn a completely new language and the social cues of a completely foreign culture temporarily made me question whether or not I was the right person to handle such a unique experience. You just have to remember that while the temporary obstacles you face may seem astronomical for the moment, the once in a lifetime experience of being amerced in a culture completely different from your own is all you have to remember to remind yourself of just how precious this year is and how lucky you are to be one of the few to be chosen for this truly life changing journey. 

The Czech Republic is absolutely breathtaking and the scenery is something I never seem to get tired of, especially since Florida is completely flat, which means no mountains. While this Country may not have the same charisma as that of Spain or Italy, it's inevitable that you'll begin to fall in love with it not long after you arrive here.

You've been told this time and time, again but I feel inclined to remind you that even though it may seem like it by the way the past exchange students talk about all the amazing adventures they've had, this is not a vacation. You will feel drained from constantly having to translate words in your head before saying them and you will be frustrated and even though you may not realize it, you will be going through constant culture shock but don’t worry because all of the stress that it causes you won’t be that bad because it’s volunteered stress and in the back of your mind, you know that you’re in control of your exchange and that it will be as good or a bad as you decide to make it. You will have a boatload of wonderful memories that you will make when you're here but just the same, you will also have a few memories that you will look back on and feel relieved that you don't have to go through it, again. Like I said before, there will be ha rd days and you will all go through your own personal experiences that are unique to you that no one can prepare you for but what's important is that you have some sort of support system to help get you through it. That person may be a teacher, a friend from school, another exchange student, or even a previous exchange student. It doesn't matter. Just make sure you have someone you could go to because this isn't easy and trying to handle it by yourself like I tried to do will only leave you feeling isolated and overwhelmed. 

Culture shock hits everyone differently and you may not follow the exact scale that you are shown at the orientations. My first few days here were amazing. I was in a new Country with new set of expectations. I was able to reinvent myself. I had finally made it to what I've wanted for so long and it seemed like nothing could change that feeling of complete bliss. Then, you get used to your routine; you start school and have a whole new set of challenges to deal with. You are the kid that stands out, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it does make it more difficult to seem relatable when you’re constantly being asked questions about your Country and you’re already having to work extra hard to fit in. Oh, and the language barrier? Yeah, I'm not going to lie to you, it sucked for me not being able to simply walk up to my classmates and talk to them. Luckily, I’m at a language school so they all speak English well or at least some form of English, d epending on their age. This worked out for me quite nicely because whenever I had a question about Czech or just wanted to tell them something without using three Czech words that I probably didn’t pronounce, correctly, I was able to and they get to practice their English so they’re usually willing. 

Advice that I feel you need to know, even though you’ll be reminded of it several times is, STUDY THE LANGUAGE BEFORE YOU ARRIVE IN YOUR COUNTRY!! And, I say this because, even though I was told by the other exchange students to study, I didn’t take them completely seriously. Sure, I studied a few words here and there but your life will be so much easier if you learn some of it before you get here. I’m not saying to be able to know how to have a full conversation because you won’t in the beginning, you just won’t and you’ll pick most of that up when you get here so, don’t kill yourself and try to learn too much at one time because you’ll just end up being left frustrated and convince yourself that you’ll be fine if you wait until you get here. If you do wait until you get here, it’s not the end of the world. I’ve only been here for a month and my vocabulary has advanced a lot more than I ever thought in such a sort ti me because you live everyday using these words but even though I’m able to communicate better now, there was a lot of stress and frustration that I had to go through that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. So, at least learn the alphabet and how to pronounce the letters. Don’t even try to learn that one R letter (You’ll understand when you see it) when you get here they’ll help you. Learn basic words and phrases like, house, car, hot, spoon, cold, happy, tired, he, she, you are, they are, I am. How much does it cost? Thank you. What is your name? I’m hungry? How are you? I’m cold. How do you say this? Just take your time and don’t let it stress you out because as long as you’re trying, you’re already on the right track 

Czech people are friendly.. After they get to know you. Coming from a Country like the United States, I’ve always been used to people being more friendly; Being curious and easy going and having a good time, for the most part, anyway, is an atmosphere that I’ve just always been accustomed to and here in the Czech Republic, well, it’s not always the case. They are more reserved, confident and calm attitude to things and just.. Well.. They have a more serious nature. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s a different culture and they’ve been brought up with different experiences and expectations. This explanation doesn’t account for everyone, of course. There are some people who have been very helpful and welcoming to me since my arrival and have been patient with me. The thing is, when students are hanging out in a group, they’re going to speak Czech and you’re not going to understand. This was and is without a doubt the most challenging part of my exchange, so far. Even if you know how to say a few phrases, when they’re speaking with their native tongue and using complicated words at a fast pace, you will not be able to keep up. You may pick out a few words after you’ve been here for a little while or be able to have short conversations if they speak slowly but it’s inevitable that there will be times where you’re just feeling lost even if you’re hanging out with a large group of people. Oh, and try to speak in Czech as much as possible. There is nothing more annoying than someone who continuously speaks in their native language and it just makes you seem rude and uninterested in their culture. I know that it’s not easy and you may feel like it’s easier than trying to get your point across with the minimal Czech that you do know (I’m guilty of this as well) but it will show that you’re trying and you’re Czech language will only improve as you use it. Just give it time and you’ll be just fine.

To say that Czech people don’t like Americans would be a little over the top and while there are many, many people who accept American culture as simply different, just as I accept their culture as different. Not bad or wrong, just different. However, there are some who don’t accept American culture as whole heartedly as others. It’s more common with the older generations but there are some people our age who aren’t a huge fan of our culture for a wide variety of reasons that you need to witness for yourself to fully understand. You have to remember that they didn’t volunteer a year of their life to getting to know another culture. They may seem a little close minded because that’s all they’ve ever heard from their parents. They may disagree with our cultural norms. All you can do is keep in mind that many of them haven’t been to America and that they get most of if not all of their information from American movies, the Kardashians, kil ler clowns that are running rampant in the streets, and memes of the presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.. Who, by the way you will have to explain to them over and over and over again. I’m sorry but there is no escaping it. I mean, just think about it, how does all of this make the United States sound to you? Pretty strange, right? We may know that this isn’t all that America is about (for the most part, anyway) but they don’t so that’s where you come in. All that training that you endure for a year actually has a purpose, believe it or not. And, it’s to prepare you for situations like this. You just need to be patient and understanding and just be a good person and overtime, as they see that you’re an American and you don’t represent the things listed, they’ll put two and two together. 

If there’s anything that the Czech people deserve the most credit for it’s that, for the most part, they’re not lazy. In fact, they are in very good physical condition. I don’t mean that they’re out running marathons every weekend, but weekend activities like what for us may be going to the mall or the movies or Universal or even just staying inside and binge watching Netflix isn’t something that is too common here. Activities like, what for us is hiking, too them is simply going for a walk uphill or “short walks” which really mean like, two to four miles is something that definitely took some getting used to for me. Don’t let this get to you too much because even though you may not be able to imagine it now, you’d be amazed at how quickly you adjust to things. This experience may be unique to my exchange but in my opinion, I’d say that if you’re going on exchange in the Czech Republic, you’re more likely t o lose a couple of pounds or at least are less likely to gain excessive weight like if you were going to a Country like France or Italy but if you do gain weight, it’s not the end of the world. You are on exchange and you are going to want to try the rich foods that you’ve heard about from past exchange students. That’s why it’s emphasized so heavily before you get here. Because it’s normal! 

Advice that I probably would’ve liked to have had before I arrived here would be:
When they tell you not to bring more than 30% of your clothes, take it seriously. I didn’t and I ended up wasting a ton of space that could have been used by more important items than clothes. They have malls here and you’re going to end up buying them and not touching your old clothes. Also, we’re from Florida and it’s only “hot” here for like, one month. Don’t bring more than a few tanks and shorts because you won’t use them and Czech people usually wear the same clothes more than once on one week without washing them.

Expensive dictionaries really aren’t that important. There are so many apps like Pimsleur, or memrise that you will spend most of your time using, aside from your tutor and what you learn from the people around you. I haven’t touched my dictionary at all since I have been here.

It gets cold. Really cold. I suggest not buying winter clothes until you get here because you won’t know what to prepare for until you get here.

For the love of god, bring snacks! If you want to, anyway. The shipment cost from the United States to the Czech Republic is insane so you most likely won’t get too many gift boxes from America. So, if you want to bring cosmic brownies, craft macaroni and cheese or pumpkin spice poptarts, I highly advise you to do so! Oh, and bring your favorite book because when you’re feeling homesick, and you will whether you think you won’t or not, skimming through a few pages won’t hurt your language learning too much 

Experiences that I’ve had and noticed since I’ve had since I’ve been here:

For the most part, Czech people (especially the younger generations) don’t like Czech music. They usually listen to American music, even if they don’t know what the words mean. So, if you’re in a small restaurant in the middle of nowhere and you hear Maroon 5, don’t be surprised. 

Europeans don’t go swimming in the nude like we imagine they do. Yes, there are some that do but it’s usually only allowed at the pool at certain times. And yes, speedos are a common thing here. While I haven’t gone swimming, naked, I have been to a sauna with my host mom without a top and it’s really not that weird. It was actually kind of fun. However, I don’t think I’m open to going to the sauna completely naked, just yet.

Czech food usually includes pork. It is very common here and definitely took some getting used to for me. Other main food items include bread, potatoes, beef and chicken. They even have McDonald’s and KFC, is also very popular here, as well, which, I was surprised to find out. There is a burger King but you have to go to Prague to get it. Overall, the food is a lot more clean here than in the U.S. and while fast food is available, it’s not nearly as abundant as it is in the U.S

Recycling is very common here. You will notice that plastic bags aren’t used much at checkout in most stores. Sometimes you have to pay extra for it.

That’s it for this journal entry! I hope this very, very long entry helped you out in some way. If you are considering becoming an exchange student, I can’t emphasize enough how much I recommend it! This was without a doubt the best decision I’ve ever made and I wouldn’t change it for anything! You will love the changes that you notice about yourself along the way! You will become more independent and your confidence level will be higher than you ever thought it could be. You will learn so much about yourself as a person! The best piece of advice I could give you is, don’t take things too seriously. This is your exchange. Enjoy it!