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Off-Campus Study: Living Abroad

Fátima tells us what it is like to live in apartments, use the tram, and have free time while studying abroad.

Fátima tells us what it is like to live in apartments, use the tram, and have free time while studying abroad.

Being abroad for a term can often mean that we have a lot more flexibility and independence than we do at a regular Carleton term. While academics and organized excursions take up most of our time, our schedule is otherwise pretty free, without the responsibilities that keep us busy on campus (like athletics, an on-campus job, volunteering, or student organizations). In our case, being abroad also meant we got a chance to experience the big city lifestyle, and its many challenges and advantages!


Half of a student's room, featuring a bed, two storage units and desks.
My side of the room I shared with Daphne. It was incredibly spacious, though not very well illuminated.

Some OCS programs have students living with host families or dorms in universities in their host country. In Prague, however, we stayed at our very own grown-up apartments (adulting!) in a building we shared with other exchange students from around the US who were doing their own semesters abroad in Prague (including some St. Olaf students!).

The 19 of us split a total of 5 rooms, with four to six people living in each. Each apartment then had double or single rooms, a shared kitchen and dining room, and a bathroom. We shared a couple of laundry machines and a common lounge with everyone else in the building.

Students sitting around the table sharing some food.
The boys’ room sharing a meal with one of the girls’ rooms early in the term. This was not an uncommon occurrence. (Photo courtesy of Harald Lundberg).

Although we were divided into different apartments, we ended up spending a lot of time together in the building. My own apartment was the set of dinners, movie nights, homework sessions, and even a couple of birthday parties! Other rooms were known for hosting DnD game sessions, night-time conversations, or communal meals.

Moving Around Prague

Despite being the Czech Republic’s capital and largest city, Prague is not a particularly big one. The city is divided into 22 “administrative units”, which basically serve as zones to orient oneself. We lived in Praha 4, which was not far from the center of New Town, Praha 1, which happened to be where we went to class! To get there, and most other places in the city, we would take the tram, an extremely effective public transportation system that most Prague citizens take advantage of.

Over time, we also became familiar with the metro system, which covered more ground, and, once we had learned our way around Old Town and Praha 1, we also felt comfortable walking to and from various destinations. As someone who grew up in a city with underfunded public transportation and poor urban planning, this was one of my favorite parts of living in Prague. Walking to and from the gym in the mornings or early afternoons without worrying about my safety was incredibly freeing and relaxing.

Free Time

A view from inside a tram.
We spent a lot of time inside trams, practicing Czech, studying the city, and sleeping. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Merchant).

As I mentioned, we had a lot of free time during the term. In addition to getting a healthy 8 hours of sleep almost every night and having plenty of time to hit the gym or throw movie-watch parties, this gave us the opportunity the get to know Prague and its surroundings on our terms and expand what we were learning in the classroom with independent exploration.

One of my favorite things was grabbing food after class and when we were feeling brave enough, discovering new places, including an Indian restaurant, a fancy ice cream store, and a Kosher place! We would also use these gaps in our schedule to revisit some of the places we had first seen during organized tours and take our time appreciating the sights and learning about their history.

On two separate occasions, a group of us also decided to venture outside of Prague to visit Terezín, a town that was used by Nazis as a ghetto and prison for Jews during World War II. We had learned a lot about the city’s history and legacy, so we wanted to concretize all this learning by walking the same streets so many tragedies occurred in. I am glad we got to visit this historic location and honor its victims together.

Students walk in a cementery for Jews, in Terezín.
Anna, Kara, Harald, and Nancy walk alongside the cemetery in Terezín. (Photo courtesy of Lev Shuster).

One of the memories I hold most fondly is that of the Saturday I met up with my Carleton friends who were in Prague for their own OCS programs. Eunice and Moe, who were in the Women and Gender Studies program, and Erin, who was in a Math program in Budapest, happened to be in Prague at the same time. As the designated Prague expert, I was in charge of showing them around some of my favorite spots, including the farmers’ market, the TV tower, and Café Louvre. It was a fun way to spend the day and a reminder that the Carleton community doesn’t stop outside of Northfield.

Students eating at a large restaurant.
Moe and I enjoying some traditional goulash at Café Louvre. (Photo courtesy of Eunice Gao).

Overall, I feel profoundly grateful and blessed to have been able to spend a trimester abroad. Our time in Prague taught me much about myself, and the world, allowed me to connect with Carleton students I probably wouldn’t even have met otherwise, and rethink what I want my college experience to look like. It was a fantastic experience, and I wouldn’t trade its ups and downs for anything.



After a trimester abroad, Guatemalan sophomore Fátima (she/her) is looking forward to continuing her pursuit of a SOAN major and an Educational Studies minor. In addition to blogging, she works at the Admissions Office and the Spanish department. Outside of class, Fátima can be found watching cartoons, poorly playing the piano, attending Bible studies, or desperately missing her dog, Cosmo.  Meet the other bloggers!