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2 posts from November 2017


The U.S Bubble Abroad

by Chen Yu, Tulane University and CNMJ Fall'17 Student

Studying abroad with CIEE has a ton of advantages: pre-arranged accommodation, pre-purchased metro passes and SIM cards, optional cultural excursions (included in the program fees), etc. However, as I soon realized after I came to Prague, the CIEE Study Center creates a U.S bubble itself, where the absolute majority of students are from the U.S and all classes are taught in English. Although I’m one of the few students enrolled in the fast track Czech language, I don’t think I can have a decent conversation in Czech yet and have a hard time getting to know local students. Here I’ll share some tips that have helped me get outside of the U.S bubble.

Charles University International Dinner

The international dinner takes place at the beginning of October, so if you plan to study abroad in Prague in the fall and want to make friends with other international students, this is the event you should not miss.

The international dinner is hosted annually by Charles University international club, which provides a welcoming space for both international and Czech students to mingle. At first I wanted to bring Chinese hotpot, but it was really difficult to get the hotpot soup base and other ingredients in Prague. I also checked the attendance list and found out that I was the only one from China, and I thought I would have my own table and therefore had to bring enough food for a table. I got really stressed out but still managed to cook several Chinese dishes, such as spicy sour potatoes, potstickers, eggs with tomatoes. The Chinese sauces in Prague taste very different from those in China and the dishes honestly did not taste as good as I expected. However, now that I reflect on the experience, the food did not matter at all, and most students only brought one dish. The more important part is to talk to other students, talk about your culture, and try other dishes as well. And don’t forget to add the people you’ve met on Whatsapp and hang out more! The more you hang out with them, the more natural it gets, and the more you learn about other cultures.

CinemaDance Bootcamp

CinemaDance is an intensive 4-day filmmaking bootcamp for beginning filmmakers to write, pitch, shoot, and edit over the 4-day period. The roles (producer, actor, director, director of photography) will be randomly assigned in the beginning of the camp. Professors from FAMU international, as well as guest tutors, will also attend the camp and provide direct critique and mentorship to students in terms of directing, acting, cinematography, and editing.

The goal of this camp, of course, is not to make a masterpiece-4 days will definitely not be enough. It is more of an opportunity to get to know other international students in other academic programs, such as the Erasmus program and APP (FAMU’s Academy Preparation Program). It’s also an opportunity to try other roles that one might not necessarily feel comfortable with, and make films of the genres that are outside one’s comfort zone (my group had to make a children’s show). I not only had fun shooting a funny children’s show, making Estonian cakes with an Estonian FAMU professor for film editors, learning Indian dance and dancing to Tunak Tunak, talking about international politics and social media, but also have a new perspective of life and creative processes. I don’t want to disclose too much information here and spoil it, but I can tell you very likely you’ll feel frustrated and confused. But remember, this camp is about having fun (because apparently you love filmmaking don’t you?), making friends, taking on roles of a film production that challenge you.

There are certainly other ways to get to know other international/Czech students, such as CIEE’s flat/homestay buddy system, the Tandem Partner program, volunteering programs, etc. Trying to connect with other international students or local Czech people while being physically abroad in Prague sounds very intimidating, and it is, because there’s very little in common among a diverse group of people. The classic conversation starter “hey how’s it going” does not work in Prague and will most likely get you very awkward answers. But it’s so important to abandon the U.S-centric mindset, stop talking like a typical U.S student and show genuine interests in others.


You're Gonna Miss Out

by Chen Yu, Tulane University and CNMJ Fall'17 Student

Whether you’re at your home school or at the orientation, everyone keeps telling you the ways to make the most out of your study abroad experience. But you know what, there is one thing I can tell you upfront. You’re going to miss out.

In the spring semester of my sophomore year, I was super pumped about the Film Studies program. I asked friends and writing tutors to read my application essays multiple times and met with my film professor whenever I could to discuss my portfolio. I was so ready to make the most out of it and become a kickass filmmaker. Then decision came in that I was not accepted by the Film Studies program, and I decided to switch to the CNMJ (Communication, New Media, and Journalism) program.

In the CNMJ program, I was so ready to “make the most out of it”. I wanted to take 18 credit hours (the requirement is 15 credits), become fluent in Czech (oh well that’s def not gonna happen), intern with a local organization every week, volunteer to blog and design the semester handbook for CIEE, audit two more film classes, offer to help on set with shooting for the Film Studies students, travel every single weekend outside of Prague whenever possible, go to every single excursion that CIEE plans, explore Prague as much as I could during the week, do all my readings and take detailed notes, and get straight A’s in all my classes. I soon realized that I was exhausting myself out: I was tired all the time, had very unhealthy sleep schedules, juggled multiple tasks, and was left with no time for myself.

I realized that there is a really intense peer pressure to compare how much you’ve explored Prague, the Czech Republic, and Europe. It seems like everyone is exploring new places and everyone’s constantly talking about the hidden places and cool places they’ve been to, and nobody wants to act like they’re missing out.

And there are so many excuses to exhaust yourself out. “When is the next time you visit Europe?” “It’s so cheap to travel.” “You’re studying abroad.” “You’re already in Europe.” But that’s just misleading.

You don’t travel just one semester in your life; you’re travelling all the time throughout your life. You’re constantly going to different places, and no one can possibly explore every corner of the world. Also, flights and bus tickets in Europe are not as cheap as we think, considering Europe isn’t even that big either. In the United States, the bus ticket from New Orleans to Houston can be as low as $1, and I got my flight from New Orleans to Chicago for $50. Instead of travelling as much as you can this semester, condensing the travel of your entire life to this semester and thinking that’s the only way to do it, can we make travelling more sustainable, still take good care of ourselves, and keep the curiosity wherever we go and even after we return to our home school? Can we explore new neighborhoods in our hometown, or go to other cities that we can easily go to by bus like we do in Europe?

I accepted the fact that I’m gonna miss out. And I’m missing out all the time. I don’t have time to audit film classes (well I might not even end up working in the film industry anyway), I won’t become fluent in Czech (probably not ever in my life), I won’t be able to visit every single country in Europe (but the world is so big and I can’t explore every country before I die so why should I overstress out about it?), I’m not gonna explore every single corner of Prague (well I don’t think locals can manage to do that either). I don’t want to be travelling the whole semester while I’m abroad. I want to live my life while I’m abroad.

So now this is what I do every day. I get 8 hours of sleep, do my readings and take detailed notes, drink a lot of hot water, eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, cook Chinese food, go jogging around the neighborhood, look up cool things to do in Prague, and just enjoy my presence in this city. I don’t feel obliged to drink or go out when I don’t feel like it. I know I’m missing out according to some people, but learning to live matters more to me.