I continually wonder how I will look back on my semester abroad and how the semester will affect me after it’s over. To start, I must say that for me, studying abroad has not been quite what everyone made it out to be — or at the very least, what I thought it would be. There were many exaggerated adjectives said about going abroad. Most of those adjectives centered around the phrase “life-changing.”
First, I must say that my time in Prague has been absolutely wonderful, and I am so glad and fortunate to have the opportunity of studying here. I am sure that for some, or maybe many, life-changing is the correct word to describe their experience studying abroad. I really have no specific reason why I cannot use that description for my time. I have lived in seven different states at this point in my life. Maybe, the act of moving to a different location no longer seems drastic to me. Maybe, Prague is tamer than London, Paris, or wherever else Vassar juniors are running amok. I really do not know.
What I do not know, exactly, is what studying abroad has been. I think I will only be able to really know once I am removed from the situation, back home, reflecting on the trip. This is where I wonder how Prague will have affected me. The thing I hope I take from this trip the most, above all other things, is a maturation process. There are so many different situations and responsibilities that have led to my maturing, but I think the event that truly exemplifies it the most is my recent trip to Krakow.
Nobody in my program was interested in going to Poland. Being half Polish, I had a desire, and I thought that one trip alone could prove to be adventurous and simultaneously relaxing. Luckily, it turned out to be both. From the moment I arrived, everything felt incredibly peaceful. There was such an ease about the trip. I meandered through the city and stumbled upon whatever came my way. What I came to discover was a luscious, beautifully conserved old downtown. I made new Australian friends. I had some spectacular Polish beer and food that reminded me of my mom’s home cooked meals. While all of the things I did and consumed were the usual experiences of visiting a European city, what was on my mind was not. I do not know if I can properly tie what was on my mind back to my original point of maturing, but I can try.
Being alone, I basically had the whole trip to myself and my thoughts. All I could think about was how fortunate I was to not only be experiencing this great city but to have experienced everything else in my life. I think some of the sentimentality of being in my home country somehow conjured up these thoughts. I thought about how I got there, and everything people — family, friends, and peers — have done for me. Because of this, I just became calm. I wanted to take myself more seriously than I had before. I wanted to do things that felt purposeful.
I was rambling there, and I am confident that it all does not make complete sense. It is just extremely difficult to translate the feeling, the thought. I am sure a better writer could do a more justified job. Everything about being abroad adds up to just one more step in growing up, and to sum things up, the Krakow trip serves as the prime example of wrapping everything up into one weekend. It was in Krakow where I really had time to think of everything, and I guess discover what type of person I wanted to be going forward, when I get back to my family, Vassar, and the States. I realized how I wanted to approach things. I know what I want to work on and what I need to change. I am sure I write a bunch of vague ideas about what abroad and the Krakow trip did for me, but I will leave it at that.
The last thing I just wanted to quickly write about was that on my last day in Krakow, I made the trip out to the Auschwitz concentration camp. With many famous places or landmarks, you hear about them so much, and then you are finally there and the experience is surreal. With Auschwitz, it was different. The only word I can use to describe the situation is humbling. Never have I ever felt so put in my place. It was the ultimate reminder of the terrible things that happened there. I do not know how to properly talk about the subject as it is extremely important and meaningful to many people. With that, I must say that I was humbled in every way you can expect from it. I am very thankful that I was there. It was necessary and served a purpose that many other landmarks or sightseeing cannot. I would encourage anyone to make it out to Auschwitz if they can.