FForeign: The Golden City – Yay or Nay?!

Orna McDonald

Where does one start in summarising their first month in The Golden City?! Life is renowned for presenting you with a package of positive and negative points in every situation that you encounter, and in the context of this framework, Erasmus in Prague does not differ. Overall, my experiences have been positive but there has been some hiccups along the way, as can be expected when one packs up their belongings and hikes thousands of kilometres from their home, all in the name of fun and frolics… and study of course.

Thumbs-up for tutors!

Firstly, the tutoring system organised by the Erasmus club is outstanding and is something that I have never encountered in my home university. I have faced few major difficulties in establishing a life for myself here that I could not have rectified alone. However, I undoubtedly would not know where the appealing cafes and restaurants were, what the monolithic stone in Prague Castle meant or where one should go to meet with young Czechs if I had not met my tutor. I would not have been whisked down the Vltava on a peddle-boat or have spent leisurely afternoons drinking wine and eating cake in café Slavia had she not told me where to go. Your tutor becomes so much more than emergency assistance- mine has definitely become a good friend with whom I spend a lot of time and she has acted as a gatekeeper, allowing me to meet and spend time with young Czechs, that can be otherwise difficult on Erasmus. The majority of Czech students I have met are friendly, welcoming and very inclusive; they are usually enthusiastic about introducing you to their friends and showing you around Prague. There is a sense of pride among the younger generations and they revel in telling you details about their city, something that is very interesting for someone coming from a completely different background. The tutoring system therefore receives a very definite thumbs-up from me!

Prague melting pot

Social life in general in Prague is pretty unrivalled-no matter what your interests are, you will always find something to keep you occupied. I feel like I get to do things in Prague that are not accessible at home in Ireland and so many new opportunities are opened up, aided by the fact that prices are so reasonable- one can go to the ballet on a Monday, a techno gig mid-week and visit the Museum of Communism at the weekend without batting an eyelid – people can explore many different areas of interests and culture does not seem to be so universal, arguably narrow-minded, as in many countries I have previously visited. Prague seems to be a melting pot of many different traditions and cultures and this is definitely positive. Food is tasty and cheap, as is alcohol – it is difficult for a student to dislike a city where beer is cheaper than water! The Erasmus clubs are so helpful in organising events, especially at the beginning of term, making it so much easier to meet people who are like-minded. Orientation week was a whirlwind of attending organised theatre and museum expeditions, Welcome Runs and picnics-of course copious amounts of drinking and eating were enjoyed by all too. There were constant repetitions of the question hat trick“What’s your name? Where do you come from? What do you study?” to the point where I felt like I was Cilla Black hosting “Blind Date” ! There were endless amounts of corridor parties in Hostivar, or other student dormitories and apartments, and the clubs were laden down with bright-eyed students, eager not to waste time in delving into Czech culture – I’d say Prague did not know what had hit it with the mass-Erasmus invasion of September 2007.

Tourists, beware!

One thing I have learned in my time thus far is that, when you are spending a year here, it is wise not to fall into tourist traps, something that becomes easier to avoid with time. We had some visitors over from Ireland and managed to get persuaded by a gentle-looking woman into a musical excerpts concert near Old Town Square… big mistake. To start with, there was a saxophonist who was pretty good; he was not outstanding but not particularly offensive to the naked ear. All was well until the “singer” emerged on stage – I have never heard such bawling from someone who claims to be musical. In fear of sounding harsh, she lacked stage presence, tone, breathing technique, tuning – in fact every attribute that singers aspire to obtain. She swayed around with her eyes closed, something usually criticised as excluding your audience – yet, I was glad to not have access to whatever realm she was in! I’m a huge musical theatre fan and so it was hellish for me to sit there and let her massacre my favourites one by one, urinating on my dreams. Thankfully the saxophonist took over for “Memory” from Cats or there would have been public outcry. It was pathetic that the only things preventing us from staging a mutiny and taking over ourselves were the average skills of the saxophonist (who also had no stage presence and looked like he was pleasuring himself when nobody was looking) and the pianist (who looked like she had received so much botox that she couldn’t turn her head , a perfect candidate for a middle- aged beauty pageant). The irony of it all was that the concert was called ‘The Best of the Musicals’, as opposed to ‘Musical Murder’, butchered by…

Taxi drivers and other perverts

However, despite this disappointment and a few very minor grievances, such as exploitative taxi drivers, rip-off internet cafes and the severe lack of curtains on the toilets beside the computer room in Jana Palacha, allowing any willing pervert to have a gawk, my Czech experiences thus far have been overwhelmingly positive – the moral of the story being that as long as one does not act like a long-term tourist and lack motivation to uncover the secrets of this captivating city, one should have a splendiferous time!

Orna McDonald (21)

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