Tanya Zarling - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

My inspiration to travel abroad was fueled by my longtime desire to travel outside of the country, as I had never been anywhere out of the U.S. previously. I spoke with peer advisors at a study abroad fair at my college, and after that, I knew I was going to be headed somewhere abroad in the near future. It became all I could think about, I just had to make the most difficult decision - where to go! My college had partnered with one program provider, CIEE, to offer 50 students a free passport, which I didn't hesitate to apply for. Fortunately, I was one of those lucky 50 students, so that also helped drive me to make my final decision to head overseas.

Prague, Czech Republic
Exploring Prague is best done with great friends!

While I knew that this was definitely what I wanted to do, I also had some doubts about whether this was the right decision or not. I did not want to miss out on any summer fun in Oregon (where I live), and not only that, I had never traveled abroad before, especially not on my own. But you know what? Letting go of all of those thoughts and being confident in my decision was the best thing I could do, so that's what I did. Nothing could hold me back!

Why did you choose the USAC Czech Republic program? 

I chose to go to Prague, Czech Republic with USAC because it was a great location for traveling to other areas of Europe, and the fact that I had never thought about visiting Prague before made it that much more intriguing. I really did not know much about central Europe, and in an attempt to stray from the typical Western European locations, which I knew one day I might travel to anyway, I went with a location that was more off the beaten path. I knew Prague was rich in history as well, so the plethora of learning opportunities was something I could not walk away from. This program was also very inexpensive, and the reviews of the program and its advisors were excellent! I also chose this program because it offered a study tour trip to Vienna, Budapest, and Bratislava, so I thought it would be an incredible opportunity to see those magnificent cities as well.

What was your favorite part about Prague?

Let me start by saying that Prague is absolutely magical. The possibilities for exploration along the narrow, cobblestoned streets are endless. You could start walking through town without any plan at all, and still end up finding something new and incredible. Prague is jaw-droppingly gorgeous everywhere you look. You can soak up all of the history around you, and truly gain a feeling for what life is like for the Czechs. I loved learning about the history of Prague and the Czech Republic, it really made me feel more connected to it while I was living there.

Some of my favorite days were wandering the streets of Old Town, where everywhere you look there are intricately designed old buildings, tempting bakeries, colorful souvenirs, and people playing music in the middle of the square. But what I enjoyed even more was going to the locals' spots, away from all of the tourists. There are some great parks in Prague that we would go to quite often with friends to sip beer, frolic through the trees, and take in the majestic views of the city below as the sun set behind the red rooftops and tall spires of Prague. It was simply magical!

Sunrise at Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic
Charles Bridge at sunrise.

What made your experience abroad unique?

Exploring the little towns throughout the Czech countryside, and hiking through the woods to find castles, that was pretty unique! I think it was all of the little excursions and little known towns that were really unique to me, because often times when you think of traveling Europe, it is pretty typical to try to hit all of the major cities like Paris, Rome, Berlin, etc. But, allowing myself to explore more in the Czech Republic was incredibly rewarding, and I learned about so many unique characteristics of the country.

How did local staff support you throughout the USAC Czech republic program? 

The Prague USAC staff is phenomenal! I really couldn't say enough good things about them. They are there for students when they need anything at all, and they helped me out immensely through my own little nightmare - losing my luggage. They organized the study tour very well also, and gave it this exciting appeal with their goofy, fun personalities. They make you feel welcome and right at home, which is so important for students going abroad alone for the the first time in their lives. It really gives you the comfort of knowing that someone is looking out for you!

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I had stayed longer in Prague/Europe, whether that would have been staying a few weeks after the program ended, or choosing to study for a semester rather than just a summer. I strongly recommend studying abroad for a semester because just when you really start to feel comfortable and confident in your host city, you have to leave! It was definitely enough time to get to know the city and country, however it wasn't as easy to integrate as a local, and truly feel like you were living there for quite some time.

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

I would wake up in my quaint little apartment, get ready for the day, and have breakfast and tea with my awesome roommates. Then I'd head off for class, taking the incredibly easy to use transportation system in Prague. The underground subway, the Metro, was very efficient and we typically used it daily. Prague has a great tram and bus system as well. I would get to the area of town my school was in early, so that I could grab a pastry from the farmer's market, or an espresso from my favorite little coffee shop. I would spend a few hours in class, enjoying every minute of learning about central European history, or Czech language, discuss all of the fun adventures we had been having with my classmates, then head back to the apartment after class. Once my roommates were also done with class, we would head out for some more exploration around Prague, every night more exciting than the last!

Salzburg, Austria
Salzburg, Austria

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

I got along with my roommates incredibly well, so we all spent a good amount of time together. We made some other friends in and out of the program, so we would all spend a lot of time just wandering around, going to museums, parks, and historical points of interest, paddle-boating the river, hiking, oh, and going to this great little 80's and 90's dance bar! A majority of my free time was spent just taking in all of the things that make Prague so unique. I was also able to travel a couple of the weekends, so I went to the see the Alps in Austria and Germany, and explore the quaint little mountain towns.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

The apartments we stayed in were pretty awesome, they had this nice ambiance with hardwood floors, tall ceilings, and huge windows looking out over Prague and the streets below. It could be quite noisy at times out on the streets, and sometimes we woke up to people yelling, but you quickly get used to that. The wifi sometimes had issues, but the program staff was quick to fix that, and any other issue with the apartments. They were also in a good location, right down the street from one of the Metro stations, so you could quickly jump on and be anywhere you wanted to go in the city in a matter of minutes.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in the USAC Czech Republic program?

Prague will take you in and never let you go. You will fall in love with the city and will never want to leave. So plan for that. Also, Czechs are known to be a bit unfriendly at first, but don't take that personally. Just remember that this is not your home country, and people did not grow up here in the same circumstances that we have been able to. And the beer is cheaper than water, so enjoy!

Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?

This experience has given me independence, and has proven that I don't need to wait for anyone's permission, I can go off and have the adventures I've dreamed up. I have found myself again somewhere along this journey, parts of me I didn’t even know were lost. My perspective on the world has broadened immensely, and I now have an even greater appreciation for history. I think the most important way my time abroad has impacted my life is by opening my eyes to the world. I realized that there are many issues humanity faces on a global scale, and that we cannot ignore each other, we need to integrate and embrace our cultural differences.

View of Prague from Letna Park
View from Letna Park in Prague

Would you recommend the USAC Czech Republic program to others? Why? 

I would definitely recommend this program, and USAC in general, to anyone who is interested. For one, Prague is a truly wonderful city just calling you to explore it, and you will learn so much about this region and what they have been through.

USAC is incredibly supportive, and helps you enjoy your time abroad by lending a hand with anything you could ever need.

This program was very affordable too, and its location made traveling to other countries easy and inexpensive. You will have the time of your life in Prague!