My initial expectation of my exchange experience was that it would be fun, amazing, interesting and it WAS all that. I volunteered for AIESEC Praha’s Edison Project from April to June 2013. The project was in Czech Republic’s capital city Prague and it involves us, the exchange participants, to go to different schools each week and share our cultures. Because AIESEC is an international organization, this project allowed me to meet exchange participants from other parts of the world. I met individuals from Brazil, Thailand and Georgia just to name a few. Georgia was a country I never even heard of prior to my trip!
When I got off the plane, there was a person from AIESEC who greeted me. Her name was Pavla and she was a Czech AIESECer studying economics in university. She taught me some commons Czech phrases as we were taking the transit to the place they provided me to stay.
For my accommodation, I shared a flat with three other girls. We had a kitchen and laundry machine, things that make you feel at home and makes life easier because we can shop at grocery stores and cook at the flat . We also don’t have to search for laundromats or handwash our clothes. On weekdays, we travelled to schools via transit.
We were sent an orientation package prior to leaving the country about not only the Edison Project, but Czech itself. Two days before leaving Canada, I read from the package that they use the Czech Crown currency instead of the Euro! I also learned beforehand that not a lot of the older locals speak English. The younger generation learns it as a second language in school and they can speak decent conversational English by the time they are teenagers.
That being said, I had to adjust my presentation according to the age and English level of the classroom. It made me really happy when I realized just how interested they are in me and what I have to tell them about my country. The kindergartens openly give me hugs and the older kids asked me thoughtful questions about my presentation or me. In addition, I also enjoyed the free Czech lunches everyday we taught at school.
Things that stood out at me in Czech/Prague: the beautiful architecture and how beer is cheaper than water at restaurants! The biggest challenge for me was living away from home for so long and being independent. The experience really challenged my adaptive skills in that I had to work through language barriers, and learning how to be comfortable with living in a city/country/continent that I am not completely familiar with. What made it easy for me was the support AIESECers and the other EPs who know exactly what you are going through being in a foreign country. I think surrounding yourself with the right people is the best way to overcome any challenges. It’s also good that you learn when to ask the locals for help!