Friday, 6 September 2013

To Summarize the Past Year: Getting Ready for Erasmus!

Hey Guys !

As you probably know, Jan (tall Polish guy) and I are going on a year-long Erasmus exchange to Prague, to study, to get to know the city and the nearby area, to discover another culture, make new friends, and most importantly: HAVE FUN! As we both know that this is going to be an interesting and memorable experience, we decided to create this blog so our friends can easily Czech what we are up to, throughout our year abroad. We hope that you will enjoy reading this and that we will keep you updated as often as possible!

This first article is quite long but necessary to understand my whole preparation to going on Erasmus and to sum up my attitude before my grand departure. So to summarize the last few months and how come I’m going to Prague:

Step 1: Finding an Erasmus Destination.

Since I started at Trinity I was keen on going on Erasmus and I got quite excited when I saw online that my course offered the possibility to go to Poland or to Spain (because I was hoping to improve my weak polish, or my fake Spanish). Last October I started to investigate the different possibilities by asking around Trinity and emailing a couple of universities. Very quickly I was disappointed to discover that it was not going to be possible to send me to Poland or to Spain for both my subjects, and that in general it would be tricky to organize an exchange where classes would be in English and that would satisfy the requirements of both the Geography and Political Science departments. I knew then that I would not get one of my initial choices in terms of destination and I thought that I was not going to go on Erasmus at all...

Until one sunny November day, where after a night out Jan was laying in his bed surfing the internet from his Mac ©, like he usually does, and I was just hanging around the house in my pyjamas. Suddenly, Jan came out of his room with a proud look on his face and announced “I have found the perfect Erasmus exchange!”- I was very surprised: Firstly: I was surprised that Jan would come out of his room before 2 pm after a night out and, secondly: I was surprised that he was looking up universities on a hangover, but thumbs up for that. “Hein?” I replied. He continued “Charles University in Prague has very similar geography modules to those in Trinity, all of them in English and more than 40 politics modules in English”. My first reaction was: “Prague??? …”. At first I was not really thrilled by the idea because I don’t speak any Czech, I didn’t think that our Erasmus Coordinator would be willing to open this exchange and it wasn’t a destination that even occurred to me. But very quickly Jan managed to convince me to give it a try and dragged me into this. It was his idea: if I’m not 100% satisfied I’ll blame Jan. At the end of the day it didn’t really matter where I was going as long as I was able to study both my subjects somewhere in Europe. So after a bit of research we found a destination: Prague, Czech Republic.

Step 2: Playing the bureaucratic game and tough negotiations.

Setting up an Erasmus exchange is no mission impossible but can become frustrating as it’s a bureaucratic process. Our flatmate Kate managed to set up her exchange to Copenhagen within a few weeks and she was repeatedly telling us that if we show enough motivation that we will be able to set up our new Erasmus link. The different coordinators to whom we were suggesting Jan’s idea were glad to see students coming up with new Erasmus links and seemed happy enough to send us to Prague. For several months we had to chase around Trinity our Erasmus coordinator, a certain Dr. M.H., to check how the agreement was coming alone and strongly encouraged him to do his job. There were all the different requirements of the different departments making the opening of this exchange quite tricky. At certain moments I had a bad feeling that this exchange wasn’t going to work out, plus, I wasn’t sure that I really wanted to go to Prague; partly because I started to realize that I will miss living in Ireland : the place and the people there.

The daughter of my parents’ friends contacted me telling me that she heard that I was applying to Prague; she went there on Erasmus in 2007 and was strongly encouraging me to go. She told me how much is liked her stay, that she loved the retro aspect of this beautiful city, that I didn’t need to worry about not speaking Czech because everyone there understands English; and so on. Her enthusiasm about Prague was partly what re-motivated me to continue on with my Erasmus application. There was quite a bit of paper work to do for both universities. And then came the time to pick the modules I wanted to do at Charles University. It was a tough decision because there was a large choice of modules to pick from; on top of that we had to make sure to have the right number of credits for each subject: a real puzzle. When it was pretty much confirmed that we were going on Erasmus… Exams were coming alone and we had an extra pressure to study even harder as we were only going to be sent to Prague if we had at least a 2.1 for our year’s overall mark. To be honest, none of us wanted to screw up the exams after running after Dr. M.H. like we did during several months.

Step 3: Mental preparation.

After several weeks of stress because the exam preparation, several weeks of stress due to the exams and several weeks of stress because we were impatiently waiting for the results: everything turned out fine and it was confirmed that both Jan and I were going to Prague. On one hand I thought: “wow I’m going to C.U.N.T.!!!” … --->To Charles University Next Term” being really proud of myself that I got the Erasmus and about to live a whole new experience abroad. And, on the other hand I thought: “what the hell I’m going?” meaning: realizing how crazy it is that I’m going to live for a year in a country that I barely know – It was then, in my parents’ house in Brussels, that I realized that there is no turning back: I am going on Erasmus to Prague for a whole academic year, and have very mixed emotions about it.

On one hand: I am afraid and sad. I realized that I will not go back to Ireland for a long time, maybe for a year and a half, meaning that there are people that I will not see for a while, realizing how much I like Dublin and will miss it. Charles University having its different faculties spread around Prague, I will not have the advantages that Trinity has of being a campus university and having everything at one location: (OMG: having to go to different libraries around town to find the books I need instead of having the whole TCD library on campus #Heartbroken); also that I will have to adapt to an entirely new academic system that I’m not used to, which might be tricky at first. Furthermore the fact that it is the first time that I am moving to a country where I don’t speak the language at all, that I don’t really know the culture of – (even if I’m slave it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll understand the Czech culture and ways of life), that I have no connection to, where I don’t know anyone (besides Jan, but it doesn’t really count); made me realize that this might be the first time ever in my life that I might experience home sickness. This is true a paradox because I have no home country. This feeling of jumping into the unknown is what thrills me but also what scares me.

But on the other hand: I am very excited and really looking forward to this new experience: I’m having itchy feet. A number of my friends from Dublin are also going on Erasmus so I’m looking forward to hearing about their experience (Hint: Agata, write on your blog) and seeing how in a year’s time they’ve changed. I'm obviously looking forward to meeting new people there: checking out the people out on the Prague Erasmus page. Throughout my life I’ve lived in England, Belgium, Poland and Ireland, thus at this stage I’m used to changing country. When I first went to university in Ireland, I didn’t really know the country that well and I didn’t know a whole lot of people: but I’ve managed to very quickly fit in and feel at ease in Ireland. Even if, no matter how hard I’ve tried to claim that I’m Irish- no Irishmen would ever believe that I am Irish (maybe that I might be a wild geese)- it doesn’t really matter because I do feel comfortable on that Island, and realize what a wonderful experience I had there so far.

This makes me realize that I shouldn’t have too many problems trying to settle in Prague because I’m used to adapting to a new environment: it’s a challenge that I gladly accept. Moreover, it is more exciting to go somewhere that you know nothing about, that you have no preconceptions or prejudice, so you can truly get to know the place from scratch. Also, I am looking forward to travelling to nearby cities (Munich, Budapest, Vienna, Krakow, Bratislava etc...) having the possibility to go see friends that I have in Krakow, having people visiting me over there (one has already booked dates). Even if I’m a bit nervous about this now, deep down I know that I am going to enjoy it and I want to make the most of my stay there and take advantage of the fact that I’m young and have this chance to travel and life a crazy experience.

The picture above is a picture of my two older brothers, me and my father in Prague, I’m not sure what year it was but judging how young we look it was most probably more than 10 years ago: the first and last time I was ever in Prague and I don’t remember much, … expect for a big colourful clock, ... and a fountain? When I knew that I was going to Czech Republic, I realized how little I know. This summer I read a few short student guides to Prague plus had a look at a guide’s book that my friend ChloĆ© gave to me, where there was a brief history of the Czech Republic to update and refresh my knowledge of the country: to know who Kafka is, King Charles after who the Charles University was named after, what year Czechoslovakia split; that the film director of “One Flew Over the Cuckoos’ Nest” is half Czech etc…

But also to discover what is worth visiting in Prague and I started to make this surrealist list of all the museums, and bars, and restaurants, and clubs, and markets, and shopping centres, and castles, and theaters, and film festivals, and concerts, and beer factory, etc..., I want to see in Prague. Realistically : if I wanted to do half of what I’ve planned to do in the Czech Republic: I will not be going to college. So reading about the city and country really sparked a great curiosity and opened my eyes to how culturally rich Prague is and how many things they are to do there.

Throughout the summer, I told people that I was moving East and gathered a whole range of reactions and advice from different people of different ages: All said that it is a beautiful city; many said that it is a fun city with a great nightlife; a number of them said that it is a city with a great History to it and culturally rich. I got very different reactions ranging from people saying “Praha is a wonderful city for all music lovers, throughout the year and all over the city there’s classical music concerts everywhere” to people saying “Great city for guys: alcohol and cigarettes are cheap and the girls are easy” This gave me the picture of a city that suits everyone’s taste, making my curiosity greater.

Step 4: The physical preparation

It is J-15 before my grand departure and I’m starting to wonder what will I take with me. To take or not to take my Bucket, that is the question. How many dresses, what jewelry, should I take some books, etc… I know that I should take loads of warm clothes as in the winter I need to survive pretty freezing temperatures: The point being is that I haven’t even started packing and I’m not too worried! ... for the time being!

All this to say that it took us almost a year to get this Erasmus organised: in terms of paper work, doing formalities and mentally, so we've anticipated this for a while now, and the fact that we're now so so so close to leaving for Prague is making me very very very excited and very impatient to move!

Bye for now!


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