When you prepare to spend time in a foreign country, there are things you take with you and things you leave behind. Excess pounds of clothes are better left on one’s bedroom floor, and intentions and inhibitions are better left at the gate of the airport.
Sometimes the things you leave behind are the things you thought you’d need the most, like the nightly phone call to mom and dad or the favorite brands of toiletries or foods (stop trying to find affordable peanut butter in Europe, it just isn’t going to happen). But you may also find that the discoveries you make while abroad are more than enough to fill all of the nooks and crannies left vacant by the loss of the familiar.
Having been in Prague for a scant ten days, I’m more than ready to admit that the complicated culture and history of the Czech Republic still remain largely a mystery to me. But while I have four months to change that, I can say one thing for certain: it’s the small things that can turn an extended vacation into a meaningful adventure.
Every morning, I wake up in the NYU dorm known as Osadni. An apartment-style residence hall with a capacity of about seventy students, Osadni is known for its spacious rooms and prime location in the up-and-coming Prague neighborhood of Holešovice. From there, it’s a twenty minute tram ride to the NYU academic center located in the heart of Prague’s Old Town, which is near enough to the city center to hear both the timely chiming of the famed Astrological Clock as well as the cries of sausage vendors and disoriented tourists.
It is in this historic square that I have squandered many an hour and many a dollar in my pursuit of international enlightenment. I’ve taken time to observe the locals, the tourists, the students, and the aggressive pigeons, all while contemplating the existential life of a study abroad student. And by that, I mean, “eating my weight in cheap sausage.”
It sounds funny, but when you think about it, these concepts are closer than you think. If Prague is like a wiener bought from a street vendor, then we NYU students are the bits of fat nuzzled between the hearty chunks of meat and the complimentary bread. Sometimes you think you want to eat around us. Maybe you wish we weren’t here. But we bring the flavor. We make it a little bad for you, a little zesty, and that much more exciting.
So when we students go out on Fridays (and Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, and Sundays…) and coagulate outside of Cross Club, or fill the previously silent tram with excited shouting, or happen across a new bakery (I recommend Rembrandt Donuts on Valentinská Street), I realize that these interactions are the little things that make the experience abroad as good as the first bite of a hot klobasa on a winter day.