Bernadette - Charles University

Academic experience

During my exchange I studied in the Faculty of Humanities at Charles University and completed a range of courses: two anthropology courses, a combined psychology and linguistic course, a Eurocentric politics and migration subject, a class on feminism and environmental movements and a Czech language course. At first, I was intimidated by having to complete 6 or more courses but the workload is a lot lighter than UQ and the examinations and assessments are a lot more flexible. I had a lot of freedom in my subjects and the class sizes are a lot smaller so rapport with the other students and the professors is a lot stronger. 

I thoroughly enjoyed studying subjects that wouldn't be offered at UQ and within a prestigious university that boasts a lot of famous names. For my faculty, I found the enrolment process was well explained and easy to use (however, I heard some other students from other faculties had less information provided). Registering was similar to UQ, so you often have some choice in creating your schedule. If possible, I would recommend trying to create a timetable that allows you to have either Monday or Friday free (or both, if you're lucky!) to allow for maximising cultural experiences. 

I would really recommend doing the Czech language course which is offered through different faculties and provides you with a fun learning experience and basic knowledge of the language (they did not speak English in my dorms so some words of Czech went a long way!).

Personal experience

My exchange experience was overall some of the best few months of my life. It was amazing to be able to travel so far and find so many like-minded individuals and make such strong friendships so quickly. Immersing yourself in a completely different culture is something I would recommend to anyone and is incredible for your personal development. Prague in particular forced me out of my comfort zone in the best ways possible because I was often made to communicate in different ways and in different languages (my miming skills have definitely enhanced), as well as fully dive into an exciting new culture. 

Charles University is a buzzing hub for other international and exchange students (mostly from Europe due to the popularity of ERASMUS) and the International Club (IC CUNI) as well as other groups like Oh My Prague! organise a range of social events, weekend trips in and out of Czech Republic and weekly meet-ups, so there is always something going on - a super easy way to make friends. I made a lot of my friends through these trips (definitely go to Cesky Krumlov! - a beautiful little UNESCO heritage village) and through O-week programs, classes and living in student dormitories. I also had the option to join the 'buddy system' which paired me up with a Czech student from the university who lived in Prague - this allowed me to experience a different side of the city and meet a lot more locals. 

I was lucky enough to do a lot of travelling whilst I was on exchange, which allowed me to explore further into the Czech Republic (hiking in Bohemia, day-trips to smaller towns nearby and exploring the incredible nature of Prague itself). Additionally, due to Prague's perfectly central location and plethora of cheap transport options, I was able to travel to 10 different countries outside the Czech Republic with groups of friends which made for some incredible memories.

Accommodation

During the semester I lived in an off-campus student dormitory outside of the city centre (approximately 20 minutes by tram or metro), called Kolej Na Větrníku. I shared a room with another girl and we had a fully furnished room with single beds, a desk, wardrobe and mini-fridge. My floor had around 20 rooms which shared a kitchen and bathroom for both boys and girls. I enjoyed living at the dorms because most of my friends were also there, it was close to shops, transport and had its own bar/cafe. It was liveable for the semester, however, I would be hesitant to stay there long-term as it is quite far from the city, the staff don't speak English and you may prefer have your own room or facilities. The major advantage is how cheap this dormitory was and you learn to laugh at the curious things that occur when living with over 40+ people. 

Alternatively, I met many people who were living in other student dormitories elsewhere in the city that had different room arrangements, or who had found apartments within the city (although this seemed a bit more difficult to organise but still quite cheap relative to Brisbane). Prior to moving in, I was unsure which dorm I would be living in, and moving there without any help from English speakers made it a little more difficult. However, I preferred the cheaper dorm option and hanging out with a great group of friends there (as well as having an amazing roommate!) really made the whole experience worth while.

Costs

Living in Prague is definitely a lot cheaper compared to a Brisbane budget. The cheapest expense for me was my rent coming in under $150 a month. Prague has an extensive tram and metro network, so it is definitely worthwhile purchasing a five month travel card for students (around $70) which you can use the entire time. Take-away food is really cheap with a lot of meals hitting under $10, however I found that a lot of my groceries ended up being equivalent to what I'd pay in Brisbane - which makes those cheap kebab meals a lot more enticing. Also, for a country whose traditional dishes are based around meat, there are a multitude of delicious vegetarian and vegan restaurants around (try Forky's takeaway, I still dream of their menu).

Prague has a buzzing cultural scene for young adults, especially music concerts, where I saw a lot of my favourite bands for a cheaper price. Going out is popular and quite cheap if you can avoid the tourist traps and find the amazing underground hangouts. Beer is flowing like water over there and is cheaper than it too; half a litre of traditional Czech beer is around $2-$3. I'd recommend budgeting around $8000-$10000 to experience Prague to its full potential, and then account for extra travel expenses.

Challenge

My biggest challenge was the immediate language barrier. This meant I had to push myself out of my comfort zone in order to fully engage with the wonderful culture that is Prague. The Czech language course definitely set me up well to be able to overcome a lot of these challenges, as well as providing me with a rich insight into the beautiful language. Having a great support network of other international students and locals also helped.

Professional Development

Going on exchange requires you to leave your comfort zone and adapt to a new environment away from familiarity; I found that I was able to change my mindset from approaching the unknown with apprehension, to embracing it with excitement and curiosity. I became a lot more confident in myself and my ability to face challenges, make new friends and travel independently. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to study at a different university and take such interesting and inspiring courses that I may have not otherwise chosen. 

Prague was certainly a great choice for me, the city itself is incredibly beautiful and the people vastly different to any I've met before. It was challenging and sometimes confronting to live in a non-English speaking country during (my first!) white winter, however, I ultimately learned so much about myself and a new, rich culture, all whilst making strong friendships and exploring Europe! The exchange experience broadened my mind about the world and my own capabilities.

Highlight

My entire exchange is littered with highlights that will undoubtedly stay with me for the rest of my life; especially the friendships I made with the people I met whilst on exchange. I simply loved creating a routine and living long-term in a foreign place. I experienced snow for the first time, went skiing and simply enjoyed the freezing cold winter with friends after a beautiful season change from Autumn. Exploring new countries over the weekends or discovering great places to eat, study and hang out in Prague were just some of my fond memories whilst over there.

Top tips

- Go on exchange! You won't regret it, by the end of semester you won't want to leave and you will have so many amazing stories, memories and friends.

- If you can, save up your electives. It's a useful way to maximise freedom in choosing subjects that interest you or fit into your schedule.

- Explore more of the Czech Republic, it has so many underrated villages and towns nearby. But also take advantage of the incredible centrality of Prague and take trips to nearby countries! Weekend trip to Berlin anyone?

- Sign up for the social events and organised trips! You will meet so many different people and create a wonderful network of international students to experience the beauty of Prague with.