Culture Shock is a blog that analyzes the experiences, from awkward to awe-inspiring, of moving abroad for a semester as junior Annie Cappetta studies in the Czech Republic.
Leading up to my semester here, and once I arrived, friends and family members were excited for me and asking all sorts of questions, most commonly “why did you choose Prague?” A more fundamental question, however, that no one seemed to be interested in was this, why did I choose to study abroad?
The lack of interest in this question makes sense, given that the reasons to spend a semester traveling throughout beautiful cities at a cost lower than that of living in Miami, taking less time-intensive classes, and making new friends from the University of Miami and across the world seem fairly obvious.
I like to think of myself as a person who has worldly interests and is fascinated by the history and socio-political culture in every place I see and study. Though, nothing frustrates me more than flying. And I can get a little cranky without a solid seven hours of sleep.
The truth is that when I first considered studying abroad, I dismissed it as a nerve-wracking experience where I would be away from my friends, responsibilities and comforts for an exorbitant period of time. Then, I realized what was holding me back from a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live abroad — the reasons for which were so clear to everyone around me — I was too comfortable with my life and I probably needed some more discomfort.
A lot of the fears I had about coming here were realized, but there has been something so liberating in that. I was fixated on potentially negative things that could happen, and even though they did, my experience has remained overwhelmingly positive.
It sounds cliché to say I am “discovering myself,” or “growing as a person” just because I’m living in another country. When advisors and UPrague alums told me this would happen, I assumed that they were feeding me disingenuous talking points.
Writer and philosopher Albert Camus described the primary reason for travel, the very means through which it derives value, as fear: “Far from our own people, our own language, stripped of all our props, deprived of our masks (one doesn’t know the fare on the streetcars, or anything else), we are completely on the surface of ourselves. But also, soul-sick, we restore to every being and every object its miraculous value.”
That is exactly how I feel. I am not “growing” or “discovering,” so much as I am simply being reminded daily of pieces of who I am that have been pushed to the side in the comfort of my routine. I climbed a mountain with trails covered in ice. I went out to clubs and actually enjoyed them (I know, I know, I live in Miami. I’m just normally lame, if you haven’t gotten that yet). I was moved to tears at an art gallery. I am pushed to do things here that I would not consider at home, and in doing so have let these neglected pieces of myself breathe again.