Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic, is famed for its beauty. It is a magical place filled with cobblestone lanes, golden spires, and full-on castles. But, it is a real place too, with its own set of practicalities and realities for young women planning to make it their home away from home by studying abroad in Prague.
Here are 11 things girls should know about student life in Prague before studying abroad in the “City of One Thousand Spires’:
1. Cobblestones and Heels Do Not Mix
Seriously. You know all of those picturesque lanes for which Prague is famous? Well, they are hell to navigate in a set of high heels. It’s possible, sure, but it tends not to be worth it. Do yourself a favor, and leave the heels at home. It’s probably not worth the broken ankles.
2. Czech History is Fascinating
Why study abroad in Prague? The history alone should be enough of a reason. The Czech lands have a tumultuous, yet fascinating, history that is imbued into the very architecture of the nation’s gorgeous capital city.
Just in the last 100 years, the region has seen three different controlling powers – the Hapsburgs, the Nazis, and the Communist party – before successfully declaring independence in 1989. In 1993, Czechoslovakia split to become the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Czech history dates back well before the 20 century, of course (The city’s “new” town was founded in the 14th century).
Fun fact: The Christmas song, “Good King Wenceslas” tells the story of the 10th century Duke of Bohemia, whom the city’s central square is named after and is considered the Czech patron saint. Wenceslaus Square acts as a common meet-up spot for study abroad students in Prague.
3. Beer is Cultural
For the Czech people, beer (or pivo, in Czech) is more than just a beverage – it is part of their national heritage. You may have heard that, in the Czech Republic, a mug of beer is cheaper than a bottle of water, and this is often true for the country that drinks more beer per capita than any other. Beer is cheap, plentiful, and high quality. The most famous Czech beers are Pilsner and Budvar, but there are countless others; it can be fun to explore the distinctive history and tastes of these breweries and their beers while studying abroad in Prague. For the fullest, hoppy-est, experience, get yourself a nice Pils in Prague.
4. Recycling is Easy
Though America has made strides in recycling culture in recent years, Europe still seems to be leaps and bounds ahead, even at the most basic levels. Recycling in Prague is encouraged and made easy by the giant, bright recycling bins littered (pun intended) across the city. There are separate bins for glass, plastic, paper, and beverage containers, and they are usually within a few blocks of one another, so you are never very far from a recycling station. Student life in Prague is all about going green and using the three R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle!
5. Dryer Not Necessarily Included
Many students who participate in study abroad programs in Prague find themselves living in an apartment or homestay situation. One of the common differences between American apartments and Czech flats is the lack of a dryer in the latter. Say goodbye to those warm clothes freshly picked from the tumble cycle on chilly winter days. On the up side, drying racks and/or artistic draping does save energy!
6. The Czech People Tend To Be Reserved
Speaking in sweeping generalizations, the Czech people tend to be more reserved and formal than the average American. This is especially true for the older generations. Czech people will generally keep people at arm’s length until they get to know them well, but make generous and genuine friends. When studying abroad in Prague, don’t expect many smiles from strangers. The Czech people tend to find this disingenuous. But, one need look no further than the ubiquitous practice of Czechs giving up their seats on public transportation for elderly passengers to see how considerate Czech culture can be.
Insider Trip: Choosing to study Czech in Prague will go a long way toward breaking down the culture’s reserve and connecting with locals.
7. The Czech Language is Beautiful
Speaking of learning Czech...the Czech language is highly phonetic – unlike English – and quite beautiful. Most importantly (and like any language), learning how to speak Czech can give students some interesting insights into the complex and fascinating culture of the Czech people. Don’t be afraid to dive in through your elective courses!
8. Public Transportation is Your Friend
Welcome to another way in which European cities tend to set themselves above the rest! Public transportation in Prague is cheap, easily accessible, and can get you almost anywhere. While buses are used in the outer districts of Prague, the metro and trams make navigating around central Prague simple and fun. Public transportation is done largely on the honor system. For trams or the subway, buy your tickets at the station or at a shop and have them stamped when entering the bus, subway, or tram.
9. Women are Underrepresented and Underpaid
One of the most interesting parts of traveling and living abroad as a woman can be learning about the gender roles and dynamics in different countries. Much like in the U.S., though many women operate outside the domestic sphere in the Czech Republic, they are considerably underrepresented in government and make, on average, 25 percent less than their male counterparts in the workplace. Roughly 16 percent of women go to college, but concentrations of study are highly gendered; for example, seventy-nine percent of students studying to be teachers are female and only 25 percent of engineering students are women in the Czech Republic.
10. Czech Cuisine is Heavy
Like any international city, it is easy to find all kinds of food in Prague, but traditional Czech food is decidedly heavy. Think meat, potatoes, soups, pastries, cheese, and dumplings. A national favorite, guláš, is a stew made from beef, onions, and spices – often served with knedlíky (aka dumplings). Hearty and delicious – Czech food is often better after a few days of stewing! You certainly won’t go to bed hungry while studying abroad in Prague.
11. The Czech Republic is Naturally Blessed
To make the most of studying abroad in Prague, sometimes you should ditch Prague altogether and explore some of the surrounding countryside. If you want to discover your inner Lara Croft, you can go rock climbing, canoeing, skiing, hiking, even fishing. With mountain ranges, large national parks, and widespread natural forests, getting outdoors is a great way to discover more of the Czech Republic, and don’t be surprised if you stumble upon the occasional castle.
A question on a lot of student’s mind as they travel – especially solo – is the question of safety. Is Prague safe? Short answer: yes. Long answer: yes, but just like any meaningful travel experience, it’s important to keep your wits about you. Be smart and travel smart. Know your own limits and ultimately trust your gut.
Know that studying abroad in Prague is going to be a life-changing, earth-shattering, make-you-think-twice-about-everything kind of experience; so get excited, get prepared, and go!