Wednesday, 16 October 2013

I've got 99 problems...but making new friends ain't one of them!

    Settling in Prague in terms of formalities and technicalities did not go as smoothly as I had hope for. During my 2 first weeks here there were a number of things I had to do, which were tedious and sometimes it got a bit frustrating. Do not get me wrong: I really like the city, the people that I have met so far and I am glad that I came on Erasmus here. I am just going to mention a number of issues I had so far.

1- My place

   I am extremely lucky that I have a studio in probably the prettiest, safest, best located and best connected area of Prague, besides the fact that it is a touristic hotspot, I love my neighborhood  However, I had troubles getting used to my studio because it felt very empty and the disposition is a bit awkward. Explanation: To go from the bathroom to my room, I have to go through my kitchen and an entrance hall which I share with other people; therefore, if I walk half naked between my bathroom and room I might bump into a random person entering/exiting the building.

    I was a bit surprised when I moved in because I realize that a few things are missing in the flat. There is no washing machine at my place and no launderettes nearby so it is going to be a real challenge to wash my clothes: hoping for a charitable soul to help me or I’ll have to do it all by hand! The phone line and the internet were not working for the first 10 days, so I really felt disconnected and alone when I was in my studio at the time. Living on a street where there are at least 25 security cameras and guards day and night, I should probably feel safe. However, knowing that there is a serial stabber loose in Prague who has murdered 3 people not far from my place, that someone already broke into my neighbour’s place and that I’m defenceless girl living alone, I have started to become slightly paranoid.
My street with the numerous security cameras

The view from outside my entrance door- a view of Prague Castle


   When I went with my father to open a Czech bank account, it was all very easy, the staff spoke good English they were warm, nice and helpful. The next Monday when I went to pick up my bank card, things were a little different. When I asked if my card had arrived, the lady was wondering if I got robbed or if there was a problem with my account. When she understood the purpose of my visit, she went to another room, came back confused, checked my details and disappeared for 15 minutes… Then she came back with an envelop looking even more confused. The problem was that instead of spelling my name “Helena O’Rourke-Potocki” the name on the card was “M. H. Rourke O’ P.”…they very nicely explained to me that my name is too long and complicated for the computer system, that the card was therefore invalid and had no pin for it, that they had to cancel it and make me a new one and I had to wait another week. I walked out of the bank, feeling down and quite annoyed, wondering what’s the problem with my name and why does it cause problems. A week later when I came back, they managed to resolve the problem, helped me set up my pin code and internet banking, really making sure that everything is in order, and they were extremely apologetic. I walked out with my fist up in the air feeling victorious.   

   The Czech money is traitorous, it is very hard to get a feel for the money and you think that everything is so cheap so you just end up spending more. Life is quite cheap here, but it is very easy to go over budget.

The Czech crownes- a weird currency that consists of big notes or small coins

3- Telephone  

   The plan was to register with a phone company instead of getting a prepaid sim and having to top-up all the time. We went to a small shop near the Florence metro stop in a Mafioso looking street. The staff there did not speak a word of English, literally, so with a mix of polish, google translate and sign language, taking over an hour we managed to sign a contract and I got a sim card. As the sim needed a few days to connect to the network during that time I was using my Belgian number which was really not practical to contact other Erasmus students. It was fun for a week to be living alone with no internet and having a phone number that did not work. After a week, as the card still did not work I went back to the shop and showed them the sim. The people at the shop inserted the sim into their phones, had a look at my phone, searched the internet, again we had to communicate using google translate, we had a good laugh because the situation was just too ridiculous. They came to the conclusion that the chip had a default, so they filed a complaint against their provider, told me that they will try to contact me when they get a new sim card for me. When I walked out of the store, I just went to buy a prepaid sim card.

A few days ago, when I was on my way to the metro I realized that my bag was leaking, I opened it to discover that my bottle of water had spilled and my phone and camera were in a pool of water. I ran back home, put my camera and phone in cuscus hoping that it will absorb the humidity out … it was too late water had entered in the devices and destroyed them. For the phone, I lost all my phone numbers which was really annoying and I had no choice but to just buy a cheap phone. For the camera, I am furious because I lost a whole bunch of pictures that I took of this beautiful city and I have to wait a few weeks before I can buy a new one... :'(     

4- Paper Work

      Since I have arrived in Prague, I registered with the foreign police, filled in forms for the Erasmus office, queued 2 hours to get my student card, got my student travel pass, register for the online portal, discovered that some classes that I initially was going to take are no longer available, I had to choose new classes, discovered that I need a permission to take political science classes, send emails to ask if I can follow certain classes, went back to the Erasmus office to get some documents stamped, filled in forms to send back to Trinity, etc… All were necessary to do, all absolutely boring to do.

     When moving to a new country and settling in a new place there are always a number of things to do, plus getting used to the new environment can be quite disorientating. Having problems with my bank, with my telephone and breaking my camera and mobile were a bit much to have all in the same fortnight and made me wonder if these things only happen to me. I feel that I have gotten use to living here but I don’t feel quite settled yet. I know that most if not all the paper work is behind me, so now I have more time to enjoy the place and my stay. The reason probably why I didn't go insane in these 2 weeks trying to deal with all these different things, is because I have met other Erasmus students here from all over Europe and the world, I have socialized and truly started to enjoy my stay here. Moving to Prague I had a few “problems” but meeting my fellow Erasmus student is not one of them! 

My first erasmus party- a memorable one

That's all folks for now! 


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