I cannot believe that my semester is coming to an end. I have handed in my last finals, watched some of my friends pack their bags (and even thought about beginning to pack my own) and browsed around for some last-minute gifts to bring back. Tonight was our closing dinner, which was delicious (goose liver pate (a first for me, but a good adventure!) with pear compote, pork tenderloin, and baked potato stuffed with plum sauce (think dessert pierogi, basically)), but also made the end seem that much more real.
This has been a truly incredible semester, one which I know I will treasure and think back to for many, many years to come. Because of the program that I chose, one in which I would not live with a host family and did not need to know how to speak the language prior to coming, I have struggled a little bit with being here. In many ways, I feel like a glorified tourist, as though I don’t completely fit in here. And in many ways, that is true. But in many ways, I have been completely wrong about my time here. I do fit in.
In the past few days, I have been offered a menu in Czech, even after they heard me greet them in Czech. I have communicated how many of something I wanted to buy, including verbs, not just the numbers, in Czech, and was understood. And I managed to understand when someone else asked me where a tram was going and managed to give them the correct information. I can weave my way from street to street, from Christmas market to Christmas market, taking side streets and ducking into shops to chat – in Czech, of course – with the shopkeepers. I may not be fluent, nor will I ever be, but I definitely belong here.
Through this semester I have learned more about myself than I thought that I would. I discovered that I am more than capable enough of travelling throughout Europe on my own and planning the trip by myself. I can arrive in a country that I have never been to in a language that I speak not a word of and make it to wherever I am staying. And do it on the first try. I also never realized how much I enjoy a city that is not visited that often. I never realized how much I dislike tourist attractions. Walking through Rovinj’s seemingly glowing city streets at night remains one of my favorite memories from this semester. That being said, certain cities, like Paris, remain forever a favorite – just don’t expect to see me hanging out around the base of the Eiffel Tower.
As for things about myself, I learned a lot about my personality and my needs that I didn’t know before. I have learned that I need down-time. I didn’t realize until this semester how much I value curling up with a good book or a good movie and ignoring the outside world for a few hours. As independent as I am, and let me tell you, I am pretty independent, I never realized how heavily I rely on the community around me and how much I treasure having a group of close friends, people to whom one never has to explain exactly why they need to look something up for the hundredth time or need to get to the airport two and a half full hours before a flight, because your neuroses just don’t seem that crazy to them. And finally, well, not actually finally because this list could continue on forever, but finally for this post, I underestimated just how much I enjoy learning. That is not to say that I didn’t learn here. I did. Just not the same way that I am used to learning at home. I think in many ways that is why I enjoyed writing this blog so much: it kept me accountable to some sort of deadline, even if it was self-set and completely imaginary and it also meant that I couldn’t completely let my mind melt. It was really nice to have to think for a few minutes, pretty much daily, to put together interesting, well-written posts (in a completely modest way, I promise).
So thank you, Prague. Thank you for accepting me with open arms, for allowing me to learn about you and experience you, and for forcing me to figure out how to navigate on my own (whether you choose to interpret this as navigating life or the city is your choice).