From a Dream to a Reality
Ever since I transferred to the College of Coastal Georgia and met our small, yet diverse group of international students, I knew that I wanted to study abroad. It took me a long time to find the right program and save up but eventually I was able to figure things out. Now Coastal does have a variety of study abroad programs, but we do not have any semester long programs besides one that gives students the opportunity to study in Athens, Greece. Most of our programs are summer programs that are expensive and don’t last for more than a few weeks. However, we do partner with other University of Georgia institutions and students can take advantage of their study abroad programs as transient students. This is fantastic because it gives students the opportunity to study through the International Student Exchange Program, a program that has hundreds of partner universities around the world. This program allows students to pay their home university tuition, room and board and makes study abroad for an American very affordable. Through the ISEP program I applied for and was placed at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic. I chose this university because the ratings were fantastic, it is located in the heart of Europe, and the Czech Republic is very cheap, so you get the best bang for your buck. The ISEP program is not for those who want a structured study abroad with a few select professors and students. This program was used as a gateway for me to enter a student exchange to where I got to choose my own courses, spend my free time as I wished, and immerse myself in a culture with eight hundred other exchange students.
Brno, Czech Republic
I entered the Czech Republic alone and not knowing the language but came out of it with incredible friends, once in a lifetime experiences, and memories to preserve a love for Europe for the rest of my life. While at Masaryk I used the electives that I saved up to take courses that would give me the most unique experience. My courses ranged from Intercultural Communication, to Czech Life and Culture, and I even took a Current Events course with a classroom full of mostly Czech students. All in all I took six courses, but they were worth my time as I walked away with outstanding knowledge and memories. Masaryk University also did an awesome job of creating events for the foreign exchange students that were engaging. Every week there was a pub quiz night, an international dinner with three different country presentations, and awesome after parties at partner clubs around the city. They also organized trips around the Czech Republic for cheap prices so that the foreign students would have the opportunity to become fully immersed in the Czech culture. Each week there was something new and exciting to look forward to outside of classes. These events also helped me to make the best friends I’ve ever made.
The Úvoz Tram that I Took to Many of My Classes
Everyone in the exchange program was from all over the world and brought unique qualities to the table. One quality that everyone exhibited however was that of friendliness. All eight hundred or so of us exchange students were a family. We all looked after one another, celebrated each other’s cultures, and made sure that everyone was having the time of their life. Although my study abroad program is over, I know that I can reach out to anyone from it with the assurance of a friendly conversation and an invitation to visit them in their country whenever. With these great people came great experiences too. We had so many nights that involved cooking together, smoking shisha, going to the clubs, ice skating, playing laser game, and traveling of course.
Photo of Me and some Friends Entering the Club (Credits: Oh my Brno!)
Travel Outside of the Czech Republic
I was able to make an abundance of memories while traveling with my friends outside of Brno too. We traveled to and took on the thermal spas of Budapest, the coffee shops of Vienna, the history of Krakow, the Christmas markets of Prague, and many other wonderful places. Each of these trips brought new life into our study abroad and memories that would last forever. They were all incredibly cheap trips too as Brno is in the center of Europe with cheap transportation via train and bus.
Christmas Markets of Vienna, Austria
Variety of Cultural Experiences
While on my study abroad I was able to take part in many different cultural experiences. Each Wednesday night I would attend the country presentations that the Erasmus Student Network would host at the Faculty of Economics. At the country presentations we would get to try traditional food and drinks from other countries, watch their fun presentations, and party at the clubs afterwards. These always gave us new cultures to learn about and exciting nightlife to look forward to in the middle of the week. I also became an honorary French person. My roommate Florian was from France and so were his (our) friends Theo and Adel. I can remember so many times cooking dinner with them, smoking shisha, drinking, clubbing, traveling, and embarrassing myself by speaking the dirty French that they taught me to their friends who visited. The time that I experienced German culture was particularly interesting. Me and my friends Arndt (German), Alonso (Costa Rican), and Ali (Mexican) traveled to Bratislava, Slovakia to play in a Headis tournament. Headis is a sport that is a mix of table tennis and the heading of a rubber ball. It looks very weird but is unusually fun. In Bratislava we competed with about one hundred other Headis players (most of which were German) and partied the night away before sleeping on the gym floor. The next day, after the European Cup of Headis in Brno, we took advantage of the free tickets for a beer tram that we got for competing in the Bratislava tournament. The beer tram was a tram run by the Starobrno Brewery that consisted of a ride around Brno and unlimited beer. The only things that I can remember from the tram were all of the Germans drinking ridiculous amounts of beer and singing traditional German songs. It was an amazing night of course.
Headis Tournament in Bratislava, Slovakia
Experiencing Czech Culture
I also was fortunate enough to explore the Czech Republic with fellow exchange students while alongside our amazing Czech friends. They toured us around their cities, welcomed us into their homes, and taught us all about Czech culture. My favorite trips within the Czech Republic were the traditional wine festival in Znojmo, a road trip with my friend Lucie to Český Krumlov, and Christmas in Znojmo with my friend Zuzka and her family. The wine festival in Znojmo consisted of ridiculous amounts of Burčák (young, unfermented wine), exploring Czech history, taking on the rides at the fair (while drunk of course), and nonstop laughter. The road trip that Lucie and I made to Český Krumlov was also awesome. We drove three hours to get there and hit up all of the cool cities on the way. Once we got there we battled the masses of Asian tourists (we were in the right place weren’t we now Lucie?), took some sweet pictures with sombreros (we met a nice family from Mexico), and explored the city the best that we could. That night we stayed in an Airbnb that had a cool Bluetooth speaker built into the bathroom light and felt like a hotel. The next day we drove back to Brno and on the way we visited the coolest castle in Lednice, accidentally drove through Austria (I had left my passport back at the dorms so it was a bit scary), and had great conversations along the way. Christmas in Znojmo was particularly special as my friend’s family welcomed me to spend the holidays with them. The coolest part was that besides my friend Zuzka and her little brother Mates, the rest of her family did not speak any English. This was nerve racking at first because I thought that it would be really awkward and would have to rely on Zuzka’s translations the entire time. However, we all adapted and were able to get our thoughts across eventually. It did help though that I grew close with her brother Mates and that both him and Zuzka translated for us all. The amazing thing is that by the end of the week I had picked up a lot of Czech and Zuzka’s family had picked up a good bit of English. Her family treated me as one of their own by giving me a bed to sleep in, feeding me, including me in their Czech Christmas traditions, and even buying me presents for Christmas. Imagine being the only American at a dinner table with your Czech friend’s siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. The questions that I got were quite something. It was the best Christmas of my life and I will be forever thankful to Zuzka and her family. Hell, I even walked away as a part of their family (they gave me a pen engraved with “Joshua Koszalkowski-Vojtěch”). All jokes aside, I truly have a place in my heart for their family and will always remember them.
My Czech Family in Znojmo, Czech Republic
The Sad but Eventual End
After returning to Brno from Christmas in Znojmo I was able to spend New Years with all of my student exchange friends and say my goodbyes. Most of them did not feel difficult as the fact of me leaving did not hit me until the last night. However, on the last night I couldn’t fall asleep until 4:00 am and I kept my friend Lucie up as she had to talk me through the emotions that were suddenly hitting me. The best experience of my life was coming to an end and I was realizing that I would never see most of these incredible people again. After saying actual heartfelt goodbyes (we were bawling) to my friends Lucie and Zuzka, I got on a bus and traveled for a week through Germany and Belgium. I then flew straight back to my university and battled through jet lag to start classes a day later. Study abroad in the Czech Republic was unlike any other experience that I’ve ever had. I entered the semester-long experience not knowing what to expect and departed feeling completely fulfilled. I will never forget my study abroad, the people that I met, and the memories that we made. I love you all!
The End of an Era