As the plane steadily ascended from the runway at JFK, the sky faded from salmon pink to a noble blue. After a few moments, the ocean morphed into the heavens and the two great masses crowded the horizon. Small boats illuminated the dusk, gliding across the ocean and creating small waves on the dark surface.
It was that moment that I realized I was no longer on US soil or above the land I called home. This was the beginning of an adventure. My heart swelled within my chest. All that was left before touching down upon Czech soil was an eight-hour plane ride. The excitement would need to be contained.
When I entered the Czech Republic, I thought that I would be alone and lacking friends in this foreign country. I thought that I would have to venture out and explore the town as a lone journeyman while making companions along the way. However, after I passed through customs, I was met by a large group of students from Colorado State University. After going to the initial informational meeting at CSU, I knew that many students would be embarking upon this trip. What I did not know was that many of us would arrive at the airport simultaneously. After brief introductions, a few of us learned that we had taken the same flight from New York to Prague without knowing that other CSU students were on the same plane. We likely all sat across from each other at the airport in Denver, unaware of each other’s existence.
Having fellow CSU classmates on this trip has been a blessing. Since none of us know much of the language, we have all had difficulty communicating with the locals. This common struggle has helped us bond. Our lack of knowledge about the culture, history, and linguistic idiosyncrasies has given us a reference point for getting to know one another.
We formed a large group almost immediately. We began exploring the city together, drinking together, laughing together, and dancing together. We all know that we are here to study, but we also came to have a good time. Being surrounded by good people has made this experience enjoyable.
School starts tomorrow, and none of us want to start taking classes. We have all done so much exploring, partying, and sleeping in that none of us are ready to pursue any academic ventures. The group of students from CSU has bonded so well and so quickly that none of us would like to sacrifice our freedom for textbooks and eight hour lectures. However, we all know that, first and foremost, we are students. Regardless of the experiences that we have had, or will have in the coming weeks, we are here to learn.
Over the next three weeks, I will be taking classes on European culture, marketing, and international business. It will be difficult to shift my brain out of travel mode and into study mode, yet it seems as though we all have already begun learning. We have learned to interact with people that do not speak our language. We have learned how to purchase bus passes and food with a currency that is not our own. We have forged friendships with people we would not normally spend time with. And we have made our way through a city we knew little about before coming to this country.
After being here for a little less than a week I have already learned so much. I will return home with stories about late nights spent in smoky bars mulling over both the simplest and the most complex ideas. I will return with postcards from ancient cathedrals adorned with more gold than I will own in a lifetime. I will return with a new appreciation for tap water and public restrooms, given the fact that, in contrast with the US, neither are free in Europe. I know that I will be presented with a wealth of information in the classroom.
When I left the US I was excited about studying at a foreign institution for higher learning, and I am still excited. However, even after such a short amount of time, I have begun to savor the sweetness of time well spent in a noisy train car and in the company of new friends. The transition back into the classroom may be a bit of a struggle, but if the friends that I have made are still there with me, then I know I will have a good time.
Looking back on my flight from the US to Prague, I could not have predicted my experience. I looked upon the horizon and saw the sky and the sea unite as the sunset painted the horizon with a triad of different colors. I should have known that the boats in the ocean were symbolic well-wishes for my time abroad. The anxieties that I faced before this trip have now been silenced. The trip has gone well so far, not without its hiccups of course, but I hope that it continues to be as exciting and surprising as it has been.
Collegian writer Natalaeh Small can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook here.