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 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.