There are many different programs to get involved in when studying abroad. I would like to do a spotlight on the UCEAP Prague program, which offers a chance for students to earn two degrees from two different universities.
Although the study abroad program is run through the UC Education Abroad Program, or UCEAP, the program itself is through the Council on International Educational Exchange, or CIEE, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting international exchange. Once you leave the United States, most, if not all, of your contacts will be with CIEE staff. It’s a big program, with over 200 students every semester. Since many of the classes are taken through CIEE, you mostly interact with American students. But, especially considering that sometimes it feels like everyone at UC Berkeley is from California, this is a great opportunity to meet people from all over the United States. (This program is quite possibly the first time I interacted with someone from the Midwest.)
Prague is a gorgeous city miraculously preserved in a medieval bubble. Full of Gothic architecture and modern art, you can spend hours just walking around the city. Its main public transportation systems are trams and the metro, both of which are very easy to get the hang of. Everyone warned us that Prague citizens may come off as rude or blunt, as they usually don’t smile on the streets or make small talk, and I would generally agree but also note that it was never too off-putting. There were only a handful of genuinely rude encounters, but really, you can have a rude encounter anywhere. And the socially awkward side of me loved that I didn’t have to smile at everyone I made eye contact with on the trams.
With this program, you have four choices of housing: residencies, apartments, homestays or dorms. I lived in a residency, which are buildings where everyone living in them is a CIEE student. (I really enjoyed it and would recommend it, as most of my friends came from the building.) In the apartments, only a few of the rooms were occupied by students — the rest were inhabited by local Prague citizens. If you picked a homestay, you could live with a local family or citizen — these seemed immersive but also made it hard to meet other students. Dorms were similar to residencies except that they didn’t have kitchens. Not many people were fans of the dorms, but they were only a few minutes away from the school.
Czech food is hearty and meaty! Staples include goulash, bread dumplings and fried cheese. There are a million booths that sell “trdelník,” cones of cinnamon sugar-coated bread, but these tasty treats actually come from Hungary and only popped up recently in Prague as tourist traps. As a vegetarian, I was nervous about going to Prague, but the city has so many international cuisines and an oddly large number of Asian vegetarian restaurants. I had everything from Thai food to Mexican food. There were even a few restaurants selling vegetarian Czech food, so I was still able to try classic Czech cuisine.
The classes in the CIEE building are relatively small, and the ones I had were very rooted in discussion and presentations. Overall, the academic rigor was nothing compared to UC Berkeley and there were definitely certain classes that were much easier than others. The only caveat was that the attendance policy was very strict — if you had more than two absences, your grade would go down a letter grade. The program also offered classes through Prague’s Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts, or FAMU, or at Charles University. I took as many classes as I could at FAMU, which was much more lenient with its attendance policies. Taking classes at FAMU or Charles was also the best way to meet local and international students.
Prague really is in the heart of Europe, making it easy to visit a lot of countries. Budapest and Vienna are must-sees, and I would also recommend visiting places that aren’t conventional European travel spots, as it will never be cheaper to visit them than when you’re in Prague. Traveling by bus is usually the cheapest way to get around, unless you snagged a flight during a good deal. A pro tip is to use Google Flights to explore how much flights are around Europe for a specific weekend and then put the max price at $100. Then, you can click through each weekend to see what deals are offered where. There are also many great cities within the Czech Republic to visit! CIEE offered free weekend excursions to many of these cities, which are a great opportunities to take advantage of.