Special to the Ledger
[Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of study abroad column entries from student Sean Hull.]
Seeing Prague from the sky was an experience I wasn’t prepared for. Sixteen hours and four different planes brought me here. Amidst intensely green and perfectly plotted fields of hay arose the chaotic mass of red roofs and intricately intertwining alleyways that constitute Prague. I did not know at the time, but my experience here would be just as chaotic and beautiful as the city itself.
For months before I left Kansas City I didn’t think I’d be able to come here, but with some help from the Gilman Scholarship, a congressionally funded scholarship meant to encourage poorer students to study abroad, I made it. For a communications student, this opportunity is immensely beneficial. The scholarship can be applied for at the Gilman Scholarship website, and usually more than one student from the college receives it every semester.
I severely under-packed for this trip I would find out, when my study abroad advisor at University of New York Prague (UNYP) heckled me for my small midcentury suitcase. Others brought wardrobes that would rival the most audacious celebrities. I should’ve expected it honestly, I packed the night before I left. I forgot almost all necessities. I only brought one pair of socks, the ones that I was wearing. This meant that the next day I had to go into the city and buy all the things any responsible person would have brought with them on a three month trip.
Luckily for me, there is a small store located just down the street from the student accommodations. They have a little bit of everything a person needs. The store is called Linda’s Marketplace, and it’s owned by a Vietnamese family. Students quickly took to calling it “the Vietnamese store.” I’ve found myself in the store two or three times a day now. I go so often the store owner lets a massive grin grow over his face every time he sees me. Many times a week he asks me to switch places with him; I’ll work in the store, and he’ll play me in class. Sadly, I decline every time. He came to Prague thirty years ago to study himself, while the city was still under Soviet control. I wish I could allow him to relive the youth he longs for. I’d give him youth if I could, but we’re stuck in the roles we’ve chosen.
I’ve done many things I never thought I’d do in my life during the short time I’ve been in Prague. I’ve walked along the majestic Charles Bridge at night, marveling at the statues that adorn the cobblestoned walkway. I’ve captained a pedal boat down the Vltava River (the main waterway that cuts through Prague), while drinking the famous Czech beer. This city and the people I’ve met here have torn me from a place of comfort I’ve been cultivating for years. I’ve shared a table with old and wise German men at Oktoberfest. I’ve met people from France, Germany, India, The Netherlands, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine; anywhere I can imagine, and many place I never have before.
Study abroad for the stories you can tell one day. Study abroad for the people you’ll meet, and the lives you’ll change. Don’t go abroad for the grand moments. Don’t go abroad for the prospect of partying like you can’t in the states. Go for the small moments. Those are the ones you’ll remember. Study abroad for the shop owner who makes you smile every day, and the roommates who make you laugh. Study abroad for yourself and the memories you can take home with you. Explore the world, it’s smaller than it’s ever been.