By Halle Seydel*
Why did I choose to study abroad?
I’ve told friends, relatives and a lady buying frozen schnitzel in front of me at a Prague supermarket that I’m part Czech, and want to explore the culture. I want to see the world. I want to learn. And now, I want good schnitzel.
While heritage, adventure, education and cuisine were all critical considerations in my choice to study abroad, I learned in the first three days of my trip that those reasons would have dissolved if I didn’t have a great support system. Ironically, the largest influence in my decision to move 5,993 miles away from my family…was my family.
Throughout every step of this crazy process my parents and three siblings have wholeheartedly encouraged my choice.
When I initially mentioned to my parents that I was sort of, a little bit, maybe thinking of the idea of studying abroad, I could tell they were both making mental eulogies for their retirement funds. But instead of locking me in a tower until my wanderlust years passed, my parents worked with me to find a suitable program.
My dad, who was most skeptical about safety abroad, offered me “I’m not Liam Neeson” jokes rather than discouragement. My mom bought multiple books on Prague, read blogs, and helped me find a reasonably priced dirndl for Oktoberfest.
In between shipping visa application materials from California to Iowa and somehow finding me a money belt that didn’t look like a cross between a chastity device and a fanny pack, she became a Rick Steves aficionado.
As for my older sisters, their role in my study abroad experience would be a long chapter in the novel I could write about their positive impact on me.
Alex, who’s work ethic can only be matched by our fathers’, encouraged me to take an internship abroad, apply to be a UI blogger, and overall, to push my social boundaries. (See, Al thinks I can be too introverted. As I sit alone in my apartment writing and sipping coffee, I must say I reject that). Regardless, she sets an example of how hard work and fun can coexist, a quality I hope to emulate while in Prague.
My sister Jacqueline, an experienced traveler in her own right, will always lead me down the path of adventure. She advised me to take chances in Prague, and try new things. Although not as outwardly sentimental as my sisters, my twin brothers’ best wishes were just as impactful.
However, It wasn’t until I was in another country, experiencing time change induced insomnia, food poisoning by sausage and a feeling called homesickness, (as foreign to me as the vowel-less Czech language), that I appreciated everything my family has done for me.
The first two nights I was in Prague, I texted my mom as I tossed and turned at 3:00am. On the third night, while making friends with a toilet, I texted her again, asking her what to do. With each response came that magical blend of motherly knowledge and soothing advice that can only come from raising four kids, (two at once!)
While my mother’s ability to nurse-away physical ailments clearly transcends continental borders, Jacqueline helped me solve a problem that scares me more than all the rotten street sausages in Eastern Europe: emotional stress.
I thought moving back and forth from Iowa to California had prepared me for moving from California to Prague. I thought, at the very least, homesickness would be an emotion I could file away and ignore. I was wrong. The first few days in Prague were such a whirlwind of excitement, uncertainty, and dehydration that all I wanted to do was grab some 99 cent tacos from Jack-in-the-Box and watch a calming episode of Game of Thrones on my couch.
When it hit me that the closest thing to a home routine I would achieve was goulash to go and people watching, I called my sister. She gave me the best study abroad advice I’ve heard yet: live your adventure. That means the ups and the downs. Accept that with every new friend comes a grouchy local, trying new food may be a gamble, and that homesickness is inevitable. It’s all part of the experience!
The next day I thought about how travelling, and especially studying abroad, is idealistically portrayed. If I had a dime, or the 2.40 koruna equivalent, for every time someone told me, “this will be the best experience of your life”, I would be living like an eleventh century Czech monarch. Although in hindsight it seems silly for me to think of my time here as one long string of elation, I’m going to give myself a break for panicking once life happened.
Moving forward, I’m going to enjoy my time with my fantastic roommate and great new friends in this exhilarating movie-like city. I’m going to remember that I have an amazing family to help me, and I am going to find some schnitzel.
*Halle Seydel is a Political Science and English major at the University of Iowa, and is originally from San Diego, CA. She's spending her semester in the Czech Republic on the USAC Prague Program to trace her own Czech roots.
Student blog entries posted to this International Accents page may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UI Study Abroad and International Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.