T-Birds Abroad: First Impressions of Prague

By: Emma Livingston, Staff Writer

One week into our Thunderbird experience in Prague, I asked some of our 35 classmates who have made the journey to this city to tell me why they came here, what their apartments are like and what their first impressions are of the city.

For many students, this is their first time in Europe and most feel the same as Vietnamese student Jasmine Pham, that six weeks in Prague, “will give you time to really feel the culture. And you can use the rest of the time to explore the other countries in Europe.”

Prost!
Waterspirit T-Birds have six weeks to learn about and experience Czech culture. From beer drinking culture in smoky pubs (above), to the Czech water spirit who likes to drown people and keep their souls in clay pots (below).  (Photos courtesy of Caroline Hafele and Jasmine Pham)

Thai student Sarunyu Thepbunchonchai, also visiting Europe for the very first time, is interested to learn more about European culture: “I’m curious about the culture because Europe is one of the oldest cultures in the world. How did ancient European people think? I want to [delve] deeper into people’s thinking process, from architecture to how people act. What is the difference between Europeans and Thai people? I love to link back to my hometown and compare what is the different and what can I bring back to my country, what can I share.”

For students like Jorge Cespedes, from Peru, who have been to Europe before, the attraction of Prague is more in the opportunities to learn about the regional business environment of Europe: “I was mostly interested in making a contrast between the U.S. global corporations’ success, with the biggest European multinationals’ performance. My intention was to have a taste of this business environment.” And thanks to being in Prague, as well as Dr. Olufemi Babarinde’s intensive course on European Regional Business, “I’m improving my comprehension of this region.”

Ad for Prague
Regional business culture on display at the Prague airport (Photo courtesy of Jorge Cespedes)

Most students are living in apartments spread throughout the city that they found using Airbnb. American student Caroline Hafele, who lived and worked two years in Spain, summed up the small European apartment experience best: “Tiny elevators, extra locks, and little kitchens, it’s great!”

Jasmine Pham likes the contrast of old and new in her apartment: “The outside still has the old feeling, so I can feel like I’m in Prague, but inside it’s very clean and new.”

Apartment view
Street view from Jasmine’s apartment (Photo courtesy of Emma Livingston)

Indian student Saumil Mehta is a fan of his apartment. “Our apartment is beautiful!” he says. He has just one tiny complaint: “One thing that surprised me: the hand shower. You have to take a shower with your hands! It doesn’t make sense!”

The Boys Contemplate their Shower
Roommates Jorge Cespedes, Saumil Mehta, and Raphael Rique try to understand the logic behind their “hand shower” (Photo courtesy of Jorge Cespedes)

The T-Birds’ first impressions of Prague almost all center on the age, the beauty, and the architecture of the city. Chinese student Xinyu Wang, who is also visiting Europe for the first time, says, “First impression is that Prague is just an old town. Although it’s the capital of the Czech Republic, it’s not a big modern city. It’s just a small, traditional, has lots of tourists city with old buildings and architecture.”

Sarunyu Thepbunchonchai was impressed with the city’s architecture. “Architecture here is very special. You don’t need to go to a museum. You just walk around the city and experience something special. I’ve never seen something like this before.”

Charles Bridge at Sunset
An example of Prague’s special architecture. Charles Bridge in foreground and Prague Castle in the background. (Photo courtesy of Caroline Hafele)

Jasmine Pham, on the other hand, has a familiar feeling in Prague. “Actually it reminds me of a city in Vietnam so I feel like at home.” The Vietnamese city “is also a little bit cold and a little bit old, because it was a vacation city for French people.” Pham has also been surprised by the number of Vietnamese people in Prague. There are over 60,000 Vietnamese in the Czech Republic, making them the third largest minority in the country. “I feel great because Vietnamese people, when they’re overseas, they try to help each other.” As an example, Pham gets her laundry done for free in Prague because she made a connection with the Vietnamese woman who owns the corner shop next to her apartment.

Saumil Mehta is blown away by the beauty of the city: “My first day we went to Charles Bridge and we had dinner at a place with a beautiful view. Charles Bridge, the view from our institute [the building on the Vltava River where T-Bird students take their classes] is just a million dollar view. It’s a romantic place.”

Caroline in the Window
Caroline Hafele enjoys the view of Charles Bridge from the Thunderbird classroom (Photo courtesy of Caroline Hafele)

The winner of the most profound answer to my question has to go to Jorge Cespedes, who, when I asked him what were his first impressions of Prague, gave me this answer: “When I arrived in Prague I felt a kind of nostalgia all around the city. I thought that Prague citizens were collectively calm because they were in need of resilience. Tempered by a quiet culture, Prague simply impressed me, because I come from a cultural region where noise is the norm. However, seeing people expressing openly their affection everywhere gave me an insight into what is happening underneath. Gradually, I discovered the dark magic of Prague, which is a blend of its artistic character and its enchanting, hidden liveliness embedded in an old city. Little by little, I have been embraced and captivated by Prague.”

Into the ivy
Come be captivated by Prague’s enchanting, hidden liveliness…(Photo Courtesy of Jorge Cespedes at Vysehrad Castle)

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