Name: Nicole Bausch
Program: UMSL exchange at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic
Term Abroad: Academic year during sophomore term
I decided to study abroad in Czech Republic on a whim. I had already studied in Austria and Germany, and the Czech language came to my ears from a friend during my year in Austria. I guess I determined the next language I’d like to attempt to learn was Czech—and yes, it is a difficult language, but it’s also an intriguing language. I chose to study in Brno because it’s close to Vienna and close to Prague. Brno is also in Moravia—the part of Czech Republic famous for good wine. During my year in Brno though, I discovered not just good wine and many opportunities to go to Prague or Vienna, but also an international university city filled with friendly exchange students and curious, welcoming Czechs, who will all gladly sit down with you to have a beer and trade experiences.
If you are considering studying abroad in Europe through UMSL, I would highly recommend doing your exchange at Masaryk University in Brno. It’s a great program if you are studying economics, German, European history, IT/computer sciences, or psychology and they have an abundance of courses taught in English. In fact, if you are in the IT field, I would highly suggest going to Brno, because Brno has a lot of opportunities for beginning programmers, developers, and coders. Or if you want to learn a bit about your Czech heritage—if you have any—Masaryk has a variety of courses taught in English about the Czech culture to offer you. In order to get to this awesome destination through the study abroad program, you need to have academic priorities first. But there’s definitely more to this city than just the educational and career building opportunities.
As I mentioned earlier, Brno is between two major Central European cities: Vienna and Prague. Brno is also very close to Bratislava, Berlin, Dresden, and Budapest. While it would take at least 5 hours to get to Budapest from Brno and 6 hours to get to Berlin from Brno—Dresden is a stop on the way if you go with Student Agency to Berlin—you might as well try to make it out to these cities regardless. Other nearby destinations are cities in Italy like Rome, Venice, Milan, etc. There are also other Austrian and Czech cities worth seeing, like Salzburg, Linz, and Graz in Austria; and Plzen, Olomouc, and Kutná Hora in Czech Republic.
When you’re not traveling, Masaryk University offers a lot of afterschool activities through the International Club. The International Club and various other student organizations are also always coordinating events and get-togethers for international students and internationally-minded Czechs. For example, the International Club hosts a board game night once a week every week at Club Wash, a club that is exactly as it sounds—a bar/night club that also has a 24-hour Laundromat. There are other events throughout the week at Club Wash organized by the International Club too. You can also take a variety of different language classes taught by students (and you can also apply to teach one of these courses if you are in the International Club) on weekday evenings. There are also travel excursions around Czech Republic and sometimes outside of Czech Republic through International Club, special themed costume parties at popular local spots around Brno, and a tandem program to find other exchange students to partner with in order to take turns teaching each other a new language.
It is very hard to feel lonely in Brno, especially if you live in the Vinaršká dorms in Old Brno. This is where all of the international students and a good portion of Czechs live. The international students like to have parties nearly every night in the basement of the well-known A1 building, as well as special cultural potlucks and get-togethers. Also, since this is where all the international students live, it’s a good place to find assistance like if you need to borrow something or need help finding your way around town, because almost everyone in the building speaks English. . .well, except for housekeeping. But if you’re feeling down in your dorm, you can just knock on the door next to you and I guarantee you’ll meet another exchange student who is probably feeling a bit homesick or overwhelmed too. There’s also so much fun going on in A1 that it’s hard to feel lonely or down in the first place.
The food and beer in Czech Republic are amazing. Now, I may be a little bit biased on this subject, but I’ve sampled a lot of European cuisine during my travels and I’ve determined that so far Czech is probably my favorite European cuisine. Czech food is very heavy and sauce based with lots of meat, dairy, and dumplings. It is really not good for you to eat a hearty Czech meal every day, but while in Czech Republic, you might as well try to sample as many different kinds of Czech meals as possible. Dishes popular in Czech Republic you may be familiar with include goulash, various kinds of sausage, crepe like pancakes called “palačinky” (pronounced like pal-uh-chinky), potato pancakes, and schnitzel. Personally, my favorite Czech dish is svičková na smetaně (pronounced like svich-ko-va nas-me-tawn-eh), which is tender beef sirloin smothered in a creamy wine and sour cream sauce, cranberry preserves, and whipped cream, with white bread dumplings served on the side. If you can get up early enough to go to a local bakery right when they open, Czech bread is very tasty, but warm fresh-baked Czech bread for breakfast with butter and jam is an experience all people should have.
Drinking beer is an important ritual in the Czech Republic. The dorms for international students happen to be down the street from Brno’s biggest brewery, Starobrno (“old Brno”, named for it being in the old part of Brno), so on the way home you smell beer in the air in the late afternoon and early evenings. They have Starobrno on tap in nearly every pub and restaurant in Brno and chances are, it’s cheaper than the water. Czechs are very patriotic when it comes to their beer and oftentimes when you’re meeting new friends in Czech Republic, one of the first things they’ll ask you to do is come to a pub and have a beer with them. That is just polite and how Czechs break the ice.
Studying in Brno would be a great experience for anyone because there are numerous travel opportunities, the food is good, and if you like beer you’re in paradise. The international students and Czechs alike are all very friendly and helpful, as long as they speak English. Masaryk University has a lot of interesting courses taught in English and their international club is very well-organized and presents a variety of opportunities to get to know others and have fun lots of fun in the process. Sure, the language is hard and you probably won’t learn much of it, but Brno is a very fun, gorgeous city surrounded by other fun, gorgeous cities and you can get away with not having to know so much Czech there. If you have the opportunity to travel to or study in Czech Republic, you should.
Last semester, I heard horror stories from one of my friends about her roommate. They were not compatible food-wise and the roommate had at one point made my friend her maid. They were always having disagreements about what would be had for dinner. My friend wanted to eat as cheaply as possible, so she insisted often on pasta and bread dishes. But the roommate wanted to splurge and eat lots of meat and rich dishes. Of course, my friend was expected to do all of the cooking and the grocery shopping, so I could understand her irritation.
I was very lucky, on the other hand, concerning my roommate. She was so much like me that she even looked enough physically like me to make the Czechs around us think that we were sisters. My roommate, Ilayda, came from Turkey to study in Czech Republic for one semester and arrived approximately a week later than she had intended because of difficulties with her visa. For that first week, I wondered if I would be spending the semester alone and what had happened to my roommate. I was somewhat relieved though when she finally appeared on a Friday evening in the middle of the night. Yes, I had been asleep, and so I was a bit frightened when all of a sudden someone was unlocking my apartment door and all the lights were being turned on. But it was quickly explained to me that she would be my new roommate. “Oh okay,” I replied, and fell promptly back against my pillow.
On that first day with Ilayda, we ended up going out for Czech food and talking over our Svičková na Smetaně (roast beef served in a wine cream sauce with whipped cream and cranberries and bread dumplings arranged in a half circle on the side for soaking up the rest of the wine sauce). We found that we lived the same kind of lifestyles at home and even enjoyed the same kind of meals. Eventually, we would go to the grocery store together once a week every week, splitting the cost of our food 50/50 between the two of us, and sit together to plan our weekly meals. It became a weekly ritual for us.
Ilayda and I had no problem at all deciding on foods. We had exactly the same tastes, as I mentioned earlier, and were used to a diet of Mediterranean style dishes. I got to know her very well and she has become one of my best friends while we were cooking in our tiny kitchen every single night and then washing the dishes together after every meal. We mostly stuck to dishes with tomatoes, onions, red peppers, and rice because those were our “staple foods” in our refrigerators back in our homes. But I also got her to try some things she had never tried before, such as guacamole (I made it homemade) and bacon. (Bacon is forbidden in Turkey, apparently.) She really loved bacon.
We also made it a point to go together to any restaurant or café or bakery that looked interesting just so we could try the food. We weren’t sure what else to do, other than to study and drink Czech beer. During her last month in Czech Republic, we made a special trip to Prague together, specifically to eat as much of the local cuisine in Prague as possible before she had to go back. So much of what we did for fun that semester was based on our wanting to try a new restaurant or play around with recipes. I feel like food was the only reason why I was able to connect with my roommate and get to know her so much better than many other people who have been in my life. I will miss going to cafes with Ilayda for the rest of the semester and having someone who would share my excitement whenever peppers are on sale at the grocery store. It’s the little things like this, I guess, that have made my first semester abroad so amazing.