Study Abroad: A Case for CET Prague

Elyse Wyatt, Opinions Editor

On January 15th, 2019, I hugged my mom goodbye one last time as I turned to go through security before boarding my flight from Boston to Prague, where I would live for the next four months. I had been dreaming about studying abroad since middle school, and it didn’t feel real that all of my anticipation was about to come to an end. 

The benefit of hindsight has confirmed what I nervously wondered as I sat on my trans-Atlantic flight: had I made the right choice in study abroad destinations? Would I like the language, the food, and the people of the Czech Republic? My mom had been telling me for months that no matter where I went, I wouldn’t regret going there, but I still agonized over the decision. As usual, she was right. Looking back, I couldn’t have selected a better location either personally or academically. For that I have the CET program and staff to thank, as much as Prague itself. 

As a history major, Prague was like a dream come true. The city and the architecture felt more historic than any historic site I had visited in the United States. Gothic buildings rising against cloudy skies (especially if you arrive in winter, as I did) gives Prague an acute intensity, and pieces of the country’s complex and tumultuous history can be found on every street. Everything about Prague feels European. 

Admittedly, the Czech Republic (and Central Europe as a whole) had been notably absent from my history classes until I arrived in Prague. Aside from what I learned through a few google searches in preparation for my departure, my knowledge of the country began and ended with Neville Chamberlain’s pre – World War II appeasement policy. My Central European Studies concentration allowed me to study Czechoslovakia’s complex twentieth century experience in and outside of the classroom.

On our first day of class, my Nationalism, Minorities, and Migrations professor walked in, asked us all if we had brought coats and were willing to go for a walk, and took us on a crash-course historical tour of Prague. All within walking distance from the CET Center, where all of my classes were held, were a myriad of sites with immense political and historical significance. We visited the Prague Main Railway Station, where Nicholas Winton sent off more than 600 Jewish children to safety in Great Britain months before the outbreak of World War II. We walked along the street of political prisoners, which had been home to the Gestapo headquarters. We passed through Wenceslas Square, the site of many popular uprisings, including several demonstrations during the Velvet Revolution, which brought an end to the Soviet Occupation of Czechoslovakia. History literally waited around every corner. 

Not that it would have been possible to get bored, but thanks to CET, our experiential education on Central Europe was not limited to Prague. In early March, we packed our bags and went on a week and a half long traveling seminar of 6 other Central European cities. 

First, we visited Krakow and the neighboring town of Nowa Huta to learn about life during the Soviet Occupation (and to get some of the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted). From there, we headed to the town of Oswiecim, where we visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex. Then it was onward to Brno to learn some classic Czech folklore, to Mikulov to explore a town in the Moravian countryside and to taste some Czech wine, and finally to Vienna, where we wandered through extravagant art museums and tasted some of the best coffee Europe has to offer. 

That entire whirlwind trip was provided by CET, and it was only part one of the traveling seminar! A few weeks later, the entire program took a long weekend trip to Budapest, where we heard from professors about the fascinating, if disturbing political situation in Hungary. In addition to visiting amazing museums and touring the Hungarian Parliament, we took a day trip to Szentendre to visit the Marzipan museum (home to a marzipan Michael Jackson!), and of course got to swim in Budapest’s beautiful baths. 

When we weren’t off touring the rest of Europe, my evenings and weekends were spent exploring Prague and the rest of the Czech Republic. Much to my surprise, Czech food came to be one of my favorite things about everyday life in Prague. I had been nervous as a vegetarian entering a country known for its meat, but one traditional Czech dish was always there for me: smazeny syr, or fried cheese, offered the fried, gooey, cheesy satisfaction that only the beer capital of the world could create so perfectly.

Along with the unfailing kindness and support of the CET staff, it was simple pleasures like these that gradually made Prague feel like home. Months after returning to the U.S., I still find myself craving Czech beer and fried cheese, and my desperate attempts to recreate them back in the States have been insufficient. 

If you’re still not sold on spending a semester in Prague, allow me to appeal to your finances: Prague is cheap. I was consistently able to purchase all of my groceries for $20/week or less, a half liter of beer is usually less than $2 in bars (and less than $1 in grocery stores), and student discounts routinely get you as much as 50% off of things like museum admission, festivals, sporting events, and even retail purchases. Savings like these made it possible for me to travel on weekends and experience as much of Europe as possible, while still sticking to the budget I had created for myself. 

CET Prague provided me with a unique experience that was off-the-beaten-path of study abroad, so to speak. I was exposed to a country, language, history, and culture that I wouldn’t have been through any other destination, or through any education I would have gotten in the United States.