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While Western European cities continue to be a traditional destination for college students studying abroad, recently, Central European cities are gaining in popularity due to the fact that they offer an eclectic range of high quality educational opportunities and unique cultural experiences. Most importantly, while the region is now a full-fledged member of the European Union as of 2004, the costs associated with study abroad in Central Europe are far less expensive, making this region an excellent destination for college students.
Prague, located in the Czech Republic in particular is a favorite for students providing a host of cultural experiences with the beautiful backdrop of the Prague Castle. Prague, the country's capital city also serves as an excellent launching pad for surrounding cities such as Berlin, Bratislava, Krakow, Warsaw, and Budapest. Prague is a must see destination, offering some of the most beautiful architecture in Europe and of course, serving up some of the best beer in the world.
Prague has been a trendy destination for students and young professionals since the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and luckily, Czechs in Prague have mastered the English language so getting around is easy. Of course, it is always essential to grasp a few phases of the local language, so grab a good Czech translation book (or pay attention in class!) and at least learn how to say basic greetings and daily exchanges.
For undergraduates in particular, the Prague setting is not only the political, economic, and cultural heart of the state, it is an excellent city for any college major. Student life in Prague is a thrill as the city itself serves as a classroom; whether students are studying art or history, exploring amazing architecture, music, literature or art, or learning about business and marketing in an emerging market. During free time, students can make their way through the crooked streets of the city, relaxing in pretty gardens or cafes, or take in the breathtaking views of Charles Bridge overlooking the Vltava River. Hint: try out of the boat trips. Make your way down to the river front and you'll find a wide variety of different trips; lunch and dinner cruises, jazz boats and of course, party boats. It is an excellent way to get a different perspective on the city.
Prague is the center of academic and vocational education in the Czech Republic, the seat of the Academy of Sciences and of a number of other research and scientific institutes. The historic town center has been included in the UNESCO World Cultural and Scientific Heritage list since 1992, making this city a huge outdoor classroom. A must do is a visit to the headquarters of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, located in Prague 10 (have an appointment and bring your passport) and of course a visit to the Museum of National History at the top of Wenceslas square (which is in fact a street, not a square!)
Most student housing is located in the districts just outside of the center of Prague, with excellent transport to the center. Students can feel safe traveling by metro or tram, even late at night (try to avoid taking costly taxis). Students should also explore the residential neighborhoods near their accommodation where excellent, inexpensive restaurants can be found that serve up local cuisine items such as goulash and dumplings and some of the best beer in the world to wash it down.
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The cultural aspects of the city of Prague are abundant - upon arrival, students can participate in a walking tours of The Golden Lane, Old Town Square, the Astronomical Clock, Charles Bridge, Mala Strana, the Prague Castle, the Gothic Cathedrals and Castle Gardens, Old Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter, Vltava River, Prague Library, Loreto Church, and Alfons Mucha's home.
Tours can be purchased and be sure to bring along your student ID card as discounts are available. Inexpensive monthly metro passes are available so that students can revisit these and many other cultural locations on their own. Students can also engage in local movie viewings, a trip to the Communist Museum behind McDonalds, theatre outings, ballet, musicals, operas, picnics, wine tastings, brewery tours and traditional Czech nights out with students from the local universities, VSE and Charles.
The currency in Prague is Czech Crowns, not Euros. Although the prices in Prague have increased since membership in the European Union, it is still relatively inexpensive compared to western counterparts such as London or Paris. Try out the 'lunch menus' for discounted local cuisine in most restaurants or count on spending between $5.00 and $6.00 at local cafes (not the touristy kind). To avoid overpaying, check the menu in the window before entering.
Nightlife can be inexpensive and fun - try attending a free music concert in a church before heading over to the nightclub. A monthly metro pass, good on all public transportation, will run about $30. For accommodation, students can count on paying roughly $20 a night for a room in a residence hall and shared flats can be organized for between $500 and $700 a month.
Avoid bringing travelers checks to Prague, they are a pain and are difficult to cash, as no one really uses them anymore. Bring an ATM card with you and withdraw money as you need it. The Czech Crown goes far if one is careful, so withdraw 1000 Crowns every few days or so. While some places will accept Euros in Prague, you will get a far worse exchange rate than using Crowns. In a pinch, credit cards are readily accepted throughout Prague in most restaurants and shops, but always ask first.
Prague continues to be an excellent destination for students and a city that should not be missed. The city is fairly compact so getting around is inexpensive and easy and it is just full of exciting things to do and see. There is definitely something for everyone here and it is not hard to seek out some real adventures both in the center as well as in the surrounding areas, such as a quick day trip to Kutna Hora to see the bone church or Karlstejn so visit a very impressive castle.
Because studying abroad is an expensive process, it is great to know your scholarship options!
Kristine is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of the European Study Abroad Center, holds a Ph.D. from the University of Denver '03 and a law degree from John Marshall Law School '91 and continues to publish articles on legal issues in higher education and liability in study abroad. Dr. Zamastil spends summers in Europe facilitating the program and assisting U.S. universities in coordinating study abroad programs in Central Europe.
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