Hector Grimaldo - 2014 Program Participant
What led you to study abroad?
The first time I considered studying abroad was spring of 2014. I wanted to study in Brazil during the summer in order to be able to experience the World Cup in person. My idea was kind of shut down by my home university at the time (UTEP), and they explained to me how impossible it would be to actually get accepted. I left disappointed.
Luckily, I transferred to Central Michigan University and I asked about studying abroad again. They had a lot of programs to choose from, places I had never even considered visiting. But, it was all there, it all came down to picking just one!
What made you want to study abroad in the Czech Republic?
After taking weeks of hard work to narrow down my options, it came down to three contenders: Prague, Czech Republic, Florence, Italy, and Nice, France. I compared everything imaginable: top tourist sites, things to do, and even the cost of living. It actually all came down to location and price. The Czech Republic is honestly the heart of Europe, and the price of living is dirt-cheap. I knew I wanted to travel a lot while in Europe, so it would work out perfectly. Without knowing, I had made the best decision of my life!
Why did you select CEA Study Abroad?
I selected CEA Study Abroad by accident. Central Michigan University had several different programs, and I went by location rather than by program. Although, a former participant mentioned she studied through CEA Study Abroad in Prague during the summer and she absolutely loved it!
Were you happy with your choice?
After my program ended I was devastated. I had had the best time of my entire life! The people I met from CEA were all amazing! Even the first day in orientation, I was wearing a Barcelona soccer jersey and the president of the Prague organization started speaking to me in Spanish; she had worked in Barcelona through CEA Study Abroad as well! Spanish is my first language, so we just started blabbing to each other while everyone was waiting for us to finish. I felt welcome instantly!
What was your living situation like in Prague? What did you like about it?
My housing arrangements were better than I ever imagined! I still remember my address, it has been the best apartment I have ever lived in. We were a couple hundred feet away from most tram stops and a metro stop (Karlovo Namesti), which was a very busy area. Besides that, we were also walking distance to Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, which were very touristy and alive places to go both during the day and night.
I remember when the CEA Study Abroad associate picked me up at the airport and dropped me off at my apartment. My first impression was “wow, this is a very sketchy street!” It was a dark one-way street that was very narrow. We opened the door and went upstairs; I was the last one in my apartment. I remember my five roommates were all chilling in the living room and they all stood up to receive me. Jack was the first one to come up to me, and he put his hand out to give me a hand shake, I turned it down and gave him a huge bear hug and carried him off the floor. I knew it was going to be great semester.
In regards to our apartment, we had three huge rooms, a large kitchen, big living room, one full bathroom with a bathtub, shower, and two toilet rooms. But, the best part of it all was our balcony. We would all go out there, take in the fresh air (we lived a street over from the river), and take in the moment.
What was a normal day like as an international student in Prague?
Prague, how I miss you every day. I miss waking up, fighting for the shower, and sharing breakfast with my roommates. I miss going down to the street and deciding how I wanted to get to school that day, I could either take tram 22 and be dropped off a block from school or I would walk a street over and walk alongside the river to school while seeing the castle over look me all the way.
Once I got off of school, I would come back home, drop off my school stuff, talk to my roommates, and see what everybody’s plans were for that day. If we could, we would go to the park close to our apartment and hacky sack for hours! We got pretty dang good; I think 58 was our record. Or we would go paddle boating in the river, or cross the street and go to this social point we found where they had an Xbox and we would just go play FIFA for an hour or two, we got pretty competitive! Or just get lost in the streets of Prague.
If we couldn’t hang out, we would all go on our own route. I would fill up my backpack with my camera and water, and I would go get lost and after hours of discovering and meeting people I would try and find my way back home. It was usually a struggle; I only knew my address, but refused to pay for a taxi. I also knew my metro and tram stop, so I would go with that and try and find my way home. It was always fun! That way you find the best places, restaurants, pubs, and just everything!
I would get back home and all my roommates would be there, we would relax in our apartment for a couple hours, play backgammon, talk, and listen to music. Then later at night we would go out and hit the streets of Prague, never knowing where we were going or where we were going to end up.
What is your most unforgettable moment from your time in Prague?
I could not possibly narrow it down to one best experience. I had so many unforgettable memories that I think of every day. Sailing in the Amalfi Coast in Italy while listening to the song “Clean Bandit - Rather Be ft. Jess Glynne” is to this day one of the most beautiful sites and unforgettable moments I have ever had.
How about waking up at 6 a.m. just to get a table at Oktoberfest for my birthday? Or sitting on the roof of our hostel in Split, Croatia and overlooking the whole city. Or the time that I found myself singing “Cielito Lindo” at the top of my lungs with some Spaniards and my roommate Jack in the streets of Krakow at four in the morning. Or playing beach tennis in Positano against random Italian men with a Canadian partner that you would later find yourself carrying while dancing at a club. Or the Guinness I had in the gravity bar at James Gate in Dublin. Going to Disneyland in Paris! Walking the streets of Rome for 10 hours straight! Riding a bicycle through the streets of Vienna and Milan, tasting different wines in Cortona. Eating escargot in Paris. There is just too much!
Every single day I spent in Europe was incredible; it was new, exciting, and different! Every person I met taught me something new and made me feel welcome. Every country I went to was different and unique in its own way, and because of those experiences I want to visit as many countries, meet as many people as I can, and keep growing and learning.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered during your time abroad?
It takes effort to go to the places where you want to go. You have to take time, sit down, and actually plan some part of it. You have to look up flights, compare prices, times, and see if they fit into your schedule. You have to look into places to stay; will it be a hotel, a hostel, or an Airbnb? You have to look into it, you have to look into the city’s map, not knowing where anything is and having to assume that you have a good location. It takes time to look into all that.
Also, a challenge I faced every time I arrived somewhere new was how to get to my hostel; I did not want to pay for an overpriced cab, that is when talking to the locals starts. Besides having a language barrier, you had to try your very very best to understand what they were telling you and where to go. Imagine someone speaking to you in German giving you instructions of how to get from the bus station to your hostel “Yes go three blocks down, go down to the green metro and take it west, get off in god knows what stop, then exit through the south, and take a right until you see your hostel” It is hard enough to remember all this in our own language. I had to ask around seven locals for instructions before I even knew that I was somewhat close. I was ready to grab my backpack and go see all these places, but it never crossed my mind that I had no idea where they were or how to get there!
A challenge for some is getting out of their shell and asking for help and directions pretty much at all times of the day. But, part of the fun of the journey is getting there and how you struggled to get there; or how funny it was when you wanted to find a bathroom but the local and you could not understand each other, so you had to squat and make poop noises so they could understand what you wanted. At the end they are great stories to tell.
What advice would you give to other UTEP students as to why they should study abroad in Prague?
Prague is one of my favorite cities of the entire world, and now I can actually say that, I’ve been to a couple. It is the most well preserved city of Europe since it wasn’t affected by World War II; Adolf Hitler actually wanted to retire in Prague! The sights of Prague are beautiful. I took an Art and Architecture course while abroad and I learned about the different eras of architecture style, several artists, and learned the real beauty of Prague.
Not only are the sights breathtaking, but the people are so nice! I was nervous to go, they warned us not to smile, not to make eye contact with the people since it is not used in the Czech Republic. Knowing all this it was nerve racking at first, I did not want to anger anyone or be a disrespectful tourist. But, thinking back I cannot think of one single person that was even remotely rude to me when I asked them for help.
Also, the lifestyle is just like a dream. Having total freedom and the ability to go anywhere and do anything you want at all times is amazing! The city has a feel to it that is indescribable, almost like magic! I could not think of any better place to study abroad! Every weekend that I went away, yes I had fun and built memories that will last me a lifetime, but towards the end of the trip I always felt homesick; not because of the U.S., but because of Prague, that city became my home and always made me feel safe and with the world in my hands.
Would you go back to Prague if you had the chance?
I may sound crazy, but I am dying to go back to the Czech Republic. I loved everything about it! The people, food, lifestyle, the sights, and so much more! My biggest regret was not traveling within the Czech Republic. CEA Study Abroad offered two trips to different places within the country that I had to miss. But, everyone that went had nothing but great things to say about everything they did and saw.
As of now it is just a plan, but I want to move to Prague, rent an apartment in Karlovo Namesti, get a job, and live there. I don’t want to worry about driving, gas, and traffic. I want to just be able to walk everywhere, take the metro, travel during the weekends, or just relax in the city that has truly spoiled me to the rest of the world.
How has your life changed since returning home from Prague?
My life has not been the same since I got back. All I want to do is talk about where I was and what I did with people that can share their experiences as well. All I do is read of places from all over the world, slowly planning my next journeys. It sounds weird, but adapting back to the place where I had lived for years was hard, having to drive everywhere and always being rushed or running late. I still can’t believe how differently I lived, and let me tell you something, I prefer the European lifestyle hands down. It is much more relaxed and that is the kind of life that I want to pursue.
Why would you recommend CEA to other students? What makes their Prague program so special?
I’m sure there are some pretty good programs out there, but nothing like CEA Study Abroad. Everybody made you feel not only at home, but also like a family. They always have activities and offer things to do. The location that we had our apartment in was perfect; I could not imagine a better location. Everyone involved with CEA was always willing to help, answer any questions, and made the atmosphere so welcoming and comfortable.
Not only that, but the trips that CEA Study Abroad offered within the Prague program were unbelievable! They took us to Krakow, Poland, and it was one of the greatest weekends I have ever had in my entire life. Not only that, but it was educational. We had great tours and they even took us to Auschwitz. That trip made me really value the opportunity that I had of studying abroad. It made me realize just how lucky we are to live in the era that we live in. It made me realize that since I got the chance to be free, I needed to take advantage of it and exploit it to its fullest potential. Anything I want to do I should be able to do. I now live by the mentality of if I want it, if it will make me happy, then I will do it.
CEA really changed me as a person and helped me grow and become completely fearless.
Do you have any travel plans pending in the near future?
I am actually participating in a program in Zangzhou, China this summer, and I cannot wait to just grab my backpack and go get lost, because every good traveling story starts with “I had no idea where I was”.
If you could change one thing about your CEA Prague program, what would it be?
Overall my CEA Study Abroad program in Prague was so much more than I expected; I even became a CEA Ambassador at my home University. I want to help people experience what I did, and I know CEA will make their experience just as great as they did mine. As I said, what I do regret was not being able to go to Karlovy Vary and Kuna Hora with CEA. I loved my program, my experiences, and I encourage everyone to stop thinking and just do it! Go explore the world!
“The World is like a playground, when you go to a playground you don’t just go to the swings and stay there forever, no! You go to the slides, you play in the sand, and you climb, jump, fall, laugh, and enjoy everything that that playground has to offer. Don’t stay in the swings your whole life, they could and will get pretty boring.”