Shannon - Charles University

B. Advanced Science (Genetics)
Semester 1, 2017

Academic experience

I studied a range of courses at Charles University from the Faculty of Science (you can only study from one faculty). These were Introduction to Ecology, Model Organisms in Developmental Biology (BIOL3222), Parasitology (PARA3002), Evolution of Phenotype, Ecology of the Cryosphere, Specialised Field Course in Zoology and Migration, Development and the Environment and a Czech Language Course. I had a lot of freedom as I had some electives. At first, I thought doing 8 courses would be overwhelming, but it was a lighter course load than at UQ as all of these courses had about 2 contact hours per week and fewer pieces of assessment. Definitely, do the Czech Language Course - it's very easy, a nice break from science and you will make so many friends.

I enjoyed this academic system because it was so different. We had classes of usually only 10 international students, which allowed a very one-on-one learning approach. Furthermore, the classes were on a range of topics that I wouldn’t be able to study at UQ. For example, the field course in Zoology was a 5-day hike through the bohemian national parks near the border of Austria where we spent days catching and learning about the wildlife from experts. 

Most of my courses required an oral examination where we sat down with the lecturer and had a chat about the course. This was intimidating at first, however, the lecturers were very kind and prompted you in a way that was not possible in formal written exams. In the end, I actually preferred this system. 

Personal experience

Going on exchange would have to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life so far, and I would recommend it to absolutely everyone. Students from all over Europe participate in exchanges (known as ERASMUS) and there are groups that have been put together to ensure that you make friends and have an amazing time. The Charles University International Club (IC CUNI) organised an O-week including a City Tour, some trips to nearby national parks and cities, traditional Czech Lunch and even a welcome party. And throughout the semester they organised trips and camps for a very reasonable price – and because of this I got to see the Cesky Krumlov – a beautiful UNESCO heritage listed village, Plzen – a town where we toured (also sampled) the original Pilsner Brewery, and to a village named Zamberk where we enjoyed a traditional Czech Easter full of witch-burning and whips (google it...). Through these clubs and also at the dorm I made most of my friends.

While I really enjoyed my trips within the Czech Republic, I also had an amazing time travelling throughout Europe. Prague is the perfect base for travel as it is right in the middle of Europe – and a few budget airlines operate at the airport. I managed to visit 11 different countries in my time abroad and took full advantage of being able to jet-off last minute to beautiful cities for cheap with like-minded friends who were just as keen to travel. 

Accommodation

I lived in the off-campus dormitory Kolej 17 Listopadu. I had a room-mate, and we shared a bathroom and kitchen with the neighbouring 2 students. This dormitory was pretty nice, as the others had shared bathrooms and kitchens amongst entire floors and were further from the city. However, I'd recommend Hlavkova kolej as it is literally right in the city centre – it is run by a different university however it was possible to stay there! I enjoyed having a room-mate/ instant friend, however, if this doesn’t appeal to you – there is so much to do in Prague that you'll find yourself in the dorm for only the bare minimum (7 hours of sleep per night). There is also the option in most dorms to rent out the entire room for a bit extra.

Alternatively, I had some friends who rented beautiful 17th-century baroque flats in the city centre, which was more of a hassle/expensive compared to the dorm but still cheap compared to Brisbane. However, it just depends on how you would like to spend your money – I chose the cheaper dorm and used the leftover money jetting-off nearly every single weekend. 

Budget

View from the Charles Bridge
View from the Charles Bridge

Life in Prague was cheap compared to Brisbane. I paid about 3600 crowns per month ($200) for rent. A 5-month travel card is certainly worth purchasing (1200 crown/$70) as there is a wonderful tram and metro network. The food is really cheap - with cheap Asian meals for around 120 crowns ($7). If going out is your thing, Prague is the right city as there is a big drinking culture and the local Pilsner beers were only 40 crown ($2-$3) for 500mL (cheaper than water). I’d recommend budgeting about $8000 to live comfortably in Prague, and then extra for travel.

Professional development and employability

During my exchange I learnt a lot about myself and became confident in my own abilities. I learnt science from an interesting and different perspective in fields I didn’t usually study – which both inspired and motivated me. However mainly my interpersonal skills developed as I had to chat with people from many different cultures and professions. Also, I certainly learnt to persevere and just keep trying (the visa situation was an absolute nightmare). While travelling in Europe, I found myself beyond lost, sick and faced with more challenges than ever before, however, its in these moments that you realise no matter how bad the situation, you can get yourself out of anything. 

I am so glad that I chose Prague for my exchange, as the culture is so different – very intimidating at first. While it would've been easier choosing a city more similar to Brisbane (English speaking and warm), I am so glad that I challenged myself. I learnt quickly how to be responsible for myself (having come from college) and made friends from all over Europe who taught me that there isn’t just one way of living. 

Highlight

Summer in Prague with my new friends. If you decide to go during semester 1, you will be greeted by a freezing cold winter. However, over a few months, Prague changed from a frozen fairytale wonderland to a bustling city of flowers and festivals. During the summer there is so much to do – there is literally a festival of some sort (usually beer, food or art) on nearly every weekend, and you can walk through many of the cities parks and find the locals having picnics, drinking beer and hanging out late into the evening when the sun sets. This all happens right at the end of the semester so make sure you stay a bit longer to enjoy the warmth with your new friends.

Top tips

  • The only advice I can give is to just go!
  • By the end of semester you will have amazing memories and friends - trust me, you will not want to go home!
  • Save up your electives and money, it will be the best 6 months – 1 year of your life!
  • Also go to Prague, it’s the most beautiful city in the world (in my unbiased opinion).
Shannon - Charles University