The Barrier

The Barrier

It’s like living in a soundproof hamster ball. There are people talking, yelling, laughing, screaming all around you but you have no idea what they’re saying. There are posters on the walls and you can’t read them. It’s like being 5 again and your parents spelling words over your head.

But I’m 21. And in the Czech Republic.

I’m taking an Intensive Czech Language course right now at Charles University. Believe them when they tell you that Slavic languages are not easy. There are entire sounds that I’ve never even tried to make before and letters that I did not know existed. I’m trying but I’m basically up to basic phrases and words with an accent so heavy it’s probably incomprehensible anyways.

The hardest part of the language barrier is going to the grocery store. There are mountains of bread and millions of things that I don’t recognize. Not only are all the words in Czech but a lot of the packaging is different here too. Like sour cream and coffee creamer come in cups that look like yogurt containers– I don’t even want to talk about how we figured that out. Grocery stores are gigantic mazes of words and packages you don’t recognize and all you want to do is find is the butter!!!

After piling your best guesses of mystery meats, cheeses and various colorful packages into your basket, you make your way up to the checkout to begin the next battle.

Sometimes the cashiers and waiters get frustrated with us. Many don’t speak much English, if any at all and they roll their eyes at my American ignorance. But other times they smile and point and pantomime and I realize how wordless and easy communication can be.

We speak different languages. But in the waves of confusion and miscommunication and frustration, there are flashes of understanding between human beings who cannot even say hello to each other. It’s connection between cultures and lives and continents and I don’t think that we are that different at all. I’m trying to piece together the syllables and perspectives that constantly pull us apart.

While it’s strange to live in a world where everyone is talking around me but I can hear nothing, it’s something like peace. And you realize how much you can say when you can’t really say anything. And how always having something to say might not be that important. And how you can contribute to the music without adding to the chaos.

I think you should go there. Where you can’t understand and all you can do is listen and learn. It can make you feel really far away and close to people all at once. There’s freedom in the noise. And you’ll eventually find the butter.

Things That Are Different Here

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I’ve been living in Prague for two weeks. I understand the phrase culture shock. I’ve gotten lost and yelled at and questioned and learned a lot. Things are different here. Small things and big things and medium-sized things. Things you don’t really notice until everyone else in the restaurant is staring at you and things that give life jazz. Here are a few of Prague’s things:

  1. Doors open the opposite direction
  2. You have to pay for tap water
  3. Drinking fountains do not exist
  4. You aren’t supposed to smile at strangers
  5. You might have to pay to use the bathroom
  6. Pastries are so cheap!
  7. Crosswalks are called “zebra crossings”
  8. McDonald’s is better
  9. People walk everywhere
  10. Dogs wear coats a lot

 

I’m a fan.

Praha

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I notice more here. Everything is different and new and fresh to me, seeing this world for the first time. There’s Gothic buildings and trams and Czech words covering the street signs and castles. But it’s funny because I notice more of the little things. It’s like waking up. A daughter holding her elderly father’s hand on the escalator down to the metro and a pigeon hopping around covered in sausage grease and little tiny flowers on the side of the road, miraculously alive in February. That stuff you saw when you were little but you forgot to look at once you turned 12 and a phone started buzzing in your pocket and life got covered in things you had to do. The stuff that made you believe the world might be magic. That’s how it feels here. Like magic.

London Weekend Guide

London Weekend Guide

So I began my adventure abroad in the chaos of London, England. London is a safe little step into Europe without excessive culture shock and bonus: you can already speak the language. There are actually many more differences than I had expected, but in subtle quiet ways like a lack of free public bathrooms, no salt or pepper on restaurant tables, people voluntarily eating outside in 50 degree weather and the best part, drinking wine at 11 am.

You definitely can’t experience everything London has to offer in a singular weekend, it’s a world of its own. But if your international flight lands in Heathrow, here are a few things to keep you occupied in the land of fish and chips and queens.


Places To Go 

The Royal Burroughs of Chelsea and Kensington

This is actually where my hotel was located and a perfect little neighborhood to explore. It’s called a Royal Borough because it’s actually where Queen Victoria was born but now the property value here is greater than the entirety of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland combined. It’s a perfect little fairytale land of pink houses, Mercedes and lots of pastries.

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Buckingham Palace

Always a classic tale, Buckingham Palace really connects you to the magic of the royal family. This gorgeous and historic structure is a symbol of architecture, the past few hundred years and Prince William’s house is not too far away, so.

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Things To Do

Take photos at a red telephone booth

These things are literally everywhere and no London trip is complete without it. Get brave, don’t be afraid of looking like a tourist and do it for the ‘gram. Still not sure if the pay phones inside actually work…

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Feed the birds at St. Paul’s Cathedral

Toppins’, toppins’. Mary Poppins was one of my favorite movies growing up so this was cathartic. St. Paul’s is a beaaauuutiful church with a gift shop, cafe and pigeons to spare.

 

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Afternoon Tea

Obviously Brits love their tea. I thought I loved tea but I never really got it until I drank tea at 3 in the afternoon and ate fancy cakes in a cafe style sunroom. Afternoon tea can be expensive (up to 200 American dollars!) at the big hotels but we stumbled upon this cute little hidden tearoom at the Fan Museum– yes a museum of fans. You get tea and cakes plus a beautiful environment for only 8 pounds!!! You’re welcome in advance.

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Food to Eat

Kensington Square Kitchen

This cute little place tucked away in Kensington Square had the most amazing caramelized banana french toast I’ve ever had in my life. They have lots of English style brunchy options that are maybe life changing.

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Pizza Express

I threw this in here for a quick and easy lunch option while you’re out exploring! There’s basically a Pizza Express on every corner and a decision made out of hanger and stress actually was a shockingly delicious find. This is also a chance to drink wine at 11 am so don’t miss it.

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Sketch

Sketch is a place you’ll often see on instagram or any trendy travle blog ever. But this place lives up to the hype. Incredible environment, wonderful French cuisine, fantastic cocktails. Dinner so good it is slightly making up for the face that European Netflix doesn’t have the American version of The Office.  And the bathrooms are weird little bean pods that play nature sounds (see photos below.) 10000/10. Pro tip: usually people have to book a reservation months in advance but we checked the day before and there was randomly an open one at 10:30 pm (the night before I had a 7 am flight and it was still worth it.)

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PS. Water isn’t free and they will try to give you fizzy water every single time. Say hello to a life without ice cubes. Good luck and enjoy your stay!!!

Leaving

On January 26th, 2018 I will be moving across the world. From a small farm in southwestern Ohio to the center of the city of Prague.

I didn’t know Czech was a language until a few months ago. I definitely don’t speak it. I have never been out of the United States (besides to the other side of Niagara Falls a time or two). I have to take an international flight completely alone. The longest I’ve ever been away from home is about a month. I don’t know a single person in Central Europe.

So clearly, the obvious thing to do was move across the ocean to the Czech Republic for four months.

And I will be quite honest; I am terrified.

But that’s the really wonderful thing about being alive. Being terrified of things. And doing them anyways. And trying not to vomit.

Sometimes stuff like this seem like a great idea 6 months out and then you wake up and you’re leaving tomorrow and you kind of want to blend into your comforter. Sometimes leaving can be hard even when you really want to do it. Sometimes packing all of your life into two suitcases can make your head hurt. Sometimes hugging your mom goodbye and getting on a plane all alone will seem like Mount Everest. But you can climb it and do it and love it.

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illustration by Maeve Scully (maevescullyphotography.com)

I’m leaving. Because in the chaos of college, we hear many well-intentioned voices telling us what we should do; what we should apply for; who we should hang out with; what we should major in; how we should spend our Thursday evenings; what we should enjoy; where we should go tonight. One day you’re talking about what you want to do in the future and realize the noise coming out of your mouth sounds a lot like everyone else and nothing like you. I’ve gotten pretty lost in the deafening roar of well meaning advice. I’ve been so busy listening to everyone else’s voices, I have basically forgotten what my own sounds like.  So I’m putting an ocean between what I’m being told I should do and what I actually want to do. Because I can’t remember what that thing is anymore which is crazy because this is my life and I almost got bored of it!!! What!!!

We grow in the discomfort and we learn in the new stuff. I miss how it felt to see things for the first time and learn from people I’ve never met. “A comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there.” I’m looking for some new scary, exciting, different, Czech-speaking soil.

So here’s to new things and old things and electricity converters and packing all the ibuprofen you can into a suitcase and having to narrow down your shoe choices to only 3 of your favorite 7 pairs of black boots and hugging soulmates goodbye and leaving your new home for an even newer one.

See you on the flip-side, America.

How To: Pack Your Entire Life Into a Suitcase for Four Months

How To: Pack Your Entire Life Into a Suitcase for Four Months

When I first decided to study abroad for a full semester, my first thought was excitement: I was going to get to live WHERE? But then my second thought was panic: I’m going to have to pack WHAT? My international airline allows me to bring one checked bag weighing under 50 lbs, one carry on and one personal item. For living in the Czech Republic thousands of miles away. For four months. As a former Girl Scout and life-long Type A, my motto is always be prepared. So for me, being prepared means overpacking for every possible scenario imaginable. Like bringing 6 pairs of shoes for a 3 day trip. Just in case.

However, the first tip any experienced traveler will give you is do NOT overpack. *sweat trickles down my forehead* I made an excel sheet listing everything I wanted to bring, (if you don’t make an excel list for everything, you do not understand me) and then cut it in half. Then cut that by a quarter. And thus, had a manageable amount of items to pack into a suitcase for four full months for a girl who truly believes variety is the spice of life.


THE PACKING LIST

 

HATS

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Hats are important because they add a little something to an outfit when you’ve basically been wearing the exact same thing for three days. They are more important because I hate washing my hair. Two birds, one stone.

BAGS

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For bags, I brought a small black Rebecca Minkoff crossbody for nights out and a larger forest green circle bag from Zara for more daytime adventures. Zipper closures are important, as well as preferably a crossbody style to prevent pickpocketing in touristy areas.

SHOES

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The hardest part; the shoes. Like any self-respecting hoarder, I love shoes. So only bringing one pair of black boots instead of the four I originally wanted, took a lot of self control. I brought only flat shoes because apparently cobblestones are a thing in Europe and I am hoping to only wipe out a minimum of three times on this particular trip. I also brought my comfiest of shoes because I will be doing a lot of walking and I am not in the mood for blisters. Black is a go-to for footwear and you can’t go wrong with classic white sneaks. I’ll be there until late May so I slipped in a pair of sandals for those balmier days. I brought rain boots for their versatility in both snow in the cold winter months and slush/rain in the springtime. Athletic shoes are essential in case I work up the nerve to *gasp* exercise, as well as comfy for travel days. And I love mules to dress up or down, and slip off whenever I feel the need.

MEDICINE

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You’ve probably been warned of this but European medicine is not quite the same as in the States. I was told to bring a healthy dosage of Advil, Tylenol, the works– just in case. I also packed allergy medicine, vitamins and supplements. My immune system never does well with a change in environments so prevention is key in this situation. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.

ELECTRONICS

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In classic millennial fashion I will be packing my MacBook, iPhone and DSLR camera along for the ride. (I have a Canon Rebel if you were wondering!) Don’t forget chargers as well as outlet adaptors for these bad boys. Pro Tip: The UK uses different adaptors than most of Europe so you may need to buy two different sets, I found both of mine on Amazon.

SWEATERS

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For the average person, this may not need to be an entire category. But I am a huuuuuge sweater guy. I packed sweaters for all the different occasions; thick ones, thin ones, turtleneck, v-necks, bell sleeved, fitted, you name it. This may seem excessive, and honestly it probably is, but I’m wearing a sweater almost always in the winter. They’re my favorite and my chunky cardigans transition into the spring too. Sweaters are nice to pack because they are a one-layer outfit that pairs well with the exact same pair of jeans every day. I have an irrational love, so maybe just ignore this entire section, I will never know.

SHIRTS

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So for the days you’re not wearing a sweater; here are other things that also cover your upper body. I brought a few different basic tees because when all else fails, a t-shirt and jeans never does. I also threw in a few statement tops because I couldn’t resist and many of these tops transition well from day to night. There’s a lot of variety in this category to keep life interesting.

JACKETS

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Jackets are essential for transitioning weather months. You should probably never go anywhere without a classic black leather moto jacket, least of all Europe. I also threw in a denim jacket, a plaid blazer in case I ever need to look professional and a camel suede jacket for kicks. Because “my perfect date is April 25th, because it’s not too hot, not too cold. All you need is a light jacket.”

PANTS

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Pantaloons. I packed a variety of denim ranging for white to black plus my favorite classic jeans. I’m also a big fan of striped pants so I brought along 4 pairs of loose fitting ones. In most European countries, the athleisure (leggings, sweatshirts, nikes) that we live in in America is not so socially acceptable in public. Loose fitting striped pants are a perfect substitute for leggings on days when the thought of restrictive jeans makes you want to vomit.

SOCKS/UNDERWEAR

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If college has taught me anything it is that you can only go so long without doing laundry before you run out of socks. That’s why I prioritize bringing as much socks and underwear as possible, even when traveling. I also brought a pair of black tights, a sports bra and 2 pairs of wool socks– crucial in any colder climate.

SWIMSUITS

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I’ve learned from past adventures: when in doubt, pack a swimsuit. You never know when a pool, hot tub, natural spring, waterfall, lake, pond, ocean is gonna pop up so I like to be prepared just in case.

 

COATS

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I’m headed to Europe in January soooooo coats are a must. I’m wearing a black pack-able down coat and packed my waterproof trench and a thicker plaid winter coat. Scarves are also amazing for travel to cover up with if you get cold, for more culturally conservative environments, to dress up a casual look or to cover your snoring face on a plane ride. Snazzy.


TIPS

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Packing Cubes Saved My Life: a memoir. You can find these little guys on Amazon and honestly they change the whole packing game. You’re able to cram way more things into one little space while also staying organized. Win, win, win people. I separate based on the my categories above but you could also pair outfits for a weekend or clean/dirty clothes coming home. Also ALWAYS, ALWAYS, stop, drop and roll those clothes.

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I’m bringing my Patagonia backpack for the actual studying aspect of studying abroad as well as most weekend trips. In my backpack, I threw an umbrella, sunglasses, my passport (+copy), planner, headphones, Swell water bottle, chapstick and a journal. Pro tip: my favorite brand of journal is the Leuschtturm 1917 pictured above– thick, line-less pages, bookmark, solid cover, 10/10.

Don’t forget your toiletries, hair products, makeup, etc. that aren’t included in this post for concision’s sake. This is Europe people, brush your hair.


So there we have it. A true testimony of the earthly belongings I’m bringing with me for the next four months of my life. (I also threw a various few odds and ends into my suitcase at the end for good measure) What a time.  I may be nervous, terrified, thrilled, ecstatic and/or nauseas but at least I’m packed. Let me know any other packing tips and tricks you may have in the comments below! Let’s get ready to ruuuuumbleeeeeee, kids.