By: Robert Calkins, Guest Writer
In the pursuit to help defer the exorbitant costs associated with an MBA education it becomes clear that one must relax the standards by which we live, but by how much? And can this quest go too far? A case in point may seem anachronistic; however, let me relay to you the experience of a wandering T-Bird on a module abroad in Prague.
Upon confirmation of the program I was certain that a pre-travel budget would be a snap as I had spent a semester studying in Prague in 2013 for an undergraduate exchange program with the University of Economics (Vysoka Skola Ekonomika). Not only was I familiar with the city but the further benefits of that association would make themselves evident as my inquiries to house myself in the same dorms (at 100 CZK, or USD $4 per day) were positively received. Any seasoned budget traveler must always capitalize on any knowledge gleaned from research and previous understanding so with another bit of foresight I was able to budget the majority of daily meals by considering the prevalence, seasonality, and relative costs of certain foodstuffs in local markets. As such, it was possible, by avoiding tourist traps and being fiscally responsible to effectively reduce food costs to roughly a dollar a day. Now by any measurements a daily living allowance of roughly $5 a day places me squarely in the realm of a true budget traveler, however circumstances conspired to create an opportunity to really observe how many locals exist, and to defray my living expenses.
During my stay at the dorms, which were clean, pleasant and offered innumerable opportunities to interact with students from around the globe, on certain weekdays a student from VSE who lived outside the city would drop in and was assigned to be my roommate for a night. It was just prior to the final weekend in the city when most of our educational deliverables were completed that my “roommate” appeared and seemed considerably stressed. I engaged him as to what his concerns were and he confided that he had recently taken on a position co-coordinating part time labor for a local logistics company that specialized in the delivery and setup of items for international firms participating in trade shows at local hotels and the main events center. His requirements for five individuals for the following day had not been met as apparently the locals were notorious for confirming then dropping out at the last minute and as it was a weekday none of his schoolmates were able to pick up the slack. I commiserated and guided him to the local Craigslist site where over the course of the evening he engaged just one person for the contract that would entail the next four days on, two days off during the show, then a final two days to break down the show and pack the materials for outbound shipment. Additionally, I advised him to try, unsuccessfully, to blast the Facebook pages of a number of his university associations and to enquire of the existence of local labor offices or the equivalent of a Home Depot where casual labor might congregate daily. By midnight he was still frantic and he asked if I might be able to assist him the next day so he could show up for the first day of the contact with at least some individuals. He was terribly apologetic and especially contrite when he admitted the remuneration would be only the equivalent of USD $4 per hour, certainly far below the standards of an MBA student from North America. Being a T-Bird and always yearning for any chance at an adventure, especially one that promised a learning experience behind the scenes of a convention where previously I had only exhibited at such events, I took him up on the offer.
To encapsulate the experience, we essentially had landed ourselves supervisory positions in what would have been a union gig in North America and we logged 12-hour days over the course of the weekend at an exhibition of aerospace and defense technology that provided considerable contact with the members of a high powered industry with near limitless growth potential. As such, I was able to engage a number of individuals in a networking capacity and they were happy to have an English speaking coordinator to assist them in their dealings with the local logistics firm. The majority of the exhibition involved defense, munitions and aerospace virtual reality training (ITEC), and was located at the large Prague convention halls. But it was the smaller venue of the Hilton hotel that provided the location for the aerospace/avionics and electronics conference (AEEC/AMC) and was extremely intimate offering me the chance to interact with firms such as Panasonic, Boeing, Airbus, UPS, Honeywell, and representatives of all the major airlines. The most interesting takeaway from the experience was the chance to consider that relative to the cost of living for my time in Prague, the wages which were commensurate with the average wages of the country as a whole were in fact relatively generous since the cost of a typical Czech meal at a restaurant was approximately 100CZK and the average Czech salaries are about 25,000 CZK per month (USD $1000).
The entire contract engaged me for just over 50 hours during the weekend and the last two days after classes ended providing me with the funds (5500 CZK) to cover the cost of housing in the dorms (48 days @ 97 CZK/day) and almost all of my supermarket shopping for the entire stay. It is clear that the average Czech salary and a little fiscal restraint can go a long way when living, studying or working in the Czech Republic and it certainly helps to employ some research on accommodation and living expenses (try Expats.cz). However, without a doubt I was not even authorized to be employed in the country during my study period so perhaps we had better just keep this under our hat and consider this narrative just a hypothetical example of how as students and travelers we can learn to live local.