Alumni Spotlight: Ailsa Heckscher

Ailsa is a junior at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio studying Marketing, Interactive Design, and Strategic Leadership. She has had a passion for travel and exploration for as long as she can remember, and was able to study abroad for a semester in Prague in the Spring of 2018.

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Why did you choose this program?

I searched for a suitable Study Abroad program for a long time before I found the right one for me. I was looking for a program that allowed me to study abroad in Europe, but didn't cost more than a normal semester at my home university.

After extensive research, I realized I was looking for the "perfect" program in all the wrong places. Traveling in huge European cities such as Paris or London can come with a considerable price tag. After I made this realization, I was able to discover the Semester in Business and Economics – Prague. This was a pivotal point in my search for a Study Abroad program.

As I researched more about Prague and the Czech Republic, I found that the program had everything I was looking for. Prague is centrally located in Europe and incredibly cheap, which fulfilled both my budgeting and travel dreams.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

My university has a Global Studies office, and the office and their staff assisted me with the application process. I have a CISabroad representative that works at my school and she was great about helping me fill out paperwork for the program and answering any of my questions.

After I was accepted into the program, I organized many of the logistics such as flights and my visa on my own. CISabroad provided me with directions on how to fill out my Czech visa, but the process was still a bit daunting. I would recommend getting started on the visa process early on so you don't find yourself without a visa too close to your departure date.

Closer to the departure date, our amazing on-site Program Coordinator Leah was in contact with us about what to pack and what to expect when we arrived at the airport in Prague. She guided us through living in Prague, and was always available throughout the program to answer our questions or help us if we needed it. It was incredibly reassuring to know that I had someone on-site if I needed help, and Leah was a great resource throughout the program!

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Everyone always told me that studying abroad would go quickly, and to cherish every moment while I was there. I did my best to take this advice and implement it in my own Study Abroad experience, but it's hard to remember to stop and appreciate what you're doing when you're caught up in fast-paced weekend trips and learning how to live in a new country.

I would urge anyone that goes abroad to make an attempt to stop and appreciate your surroundings as often as possible. Resist the urge to get caught up in planning every second of every day in a new country or city. Choose a few of the must-see attractions and try to appreciate and learn more about them. Traveling takes on a whole new meaning when you can admire the unique history and culture that a city has to offer. Some of my best and most memorable trips were in the cities that I never intended on visiting, seeing sights that I hadn't planned on going to at all.

I could give you countless more tips and advice, but above all, challenge yourself to meet new people and make new friends while you're abroad. Surrounding yourself with genuine people will make your experience abroad that much more amazing. CISabroad helped me to foster life-long relationships with students in my program, and that was a huge aspect of what made my semester abroad so great.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Classes in Prague were a lot different than college classes in America. I only had classes three days a week. Everyone that goes to the University of Economics has Fridays off, and then you usually get another day off too as long as you only take four classes, which is the standard amount for students in this program.

You either have each class once a week for three hours, or twice a week for one and a half hours each. Sitting through a three hour class was a bit brutal, but it was worth it to have two extra days off a week.

Outside of classes, everyone in the CISabroad program lives in a dorm that's a tram ride from the school. Living in a dorm with all the people in my program was incredibly fun, and I loved having the opportunity to live with students from schools across the United States.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

Prior to coming to Prague, I was worried about immersing myself in an unfamiliar country and culture with little to no direct access to my support network at home. I came to Prague alone, not knowing any of the other students in my program. It was daunting to think that I would have to make new friends and figure out who I wanted to travel with in such a short amount of time. I quickly realized that this was something I didn’t need to worry about. The people in my program were great, and many of us had similar interests because we had all chosen to study abroad in the first place.

At times, I would experience stress due to language barriers and culture shock.

There was always something so intriguing and humbling about being completely immersed in an entirely new culture, country, and language.

I honestly enjoyed the sense of uncertainty. It was entirely worth it to have these experiences. My semester abroad was so exciting and life-changing because I made an effort to fully embrace the cultural changes I experienced, and I learned to adapt to my surroundings.

Was planning weekend trips stressful? What was your favorite trip?

Planning weekend trips was stressful at first. There were a lot of logistics to figure out for each trip, such as booking flights and finding reliable accommodation. There is a learning curve. However, every trip I planned and went on taught me something about traveling that could be implemented in my plans for my next trip. By my last trip, I had hostel living and airport navigation down to a science.

Above all, I had to learn to roll with the punches. Weekend travel can be unpredictable. When you only have 48-72 hours in a city, you have to use your time wisely and be accommodating to changes that you may not have anticipated. Your flight could get delayed; it might rain the whole weekend; the museum you wanted to go to might be closed. Remember that you will still have a great time regardless! Every experience you have will truly be as great or as terrible as you make it out to be.

My absolute favorite trip was to Edinburgh, Scotland. Many aspects of this weekend didn’t go as planned. It rained a lot, and we almost missed our flight on the way back to Prague. However, it was by far the most exhilarating and memorable weekend that I had during my semester abroad. The trip itself was one that I didn’t even think that I would go on. I booked a round trip flight three weeks before we left for $72. I traveled with a group of 12 of my friends, and after only 24 hours, the city had become one of my favorites in Europe.

In short, be ready to adapt to whatever life decides to throw your way and always keep an open mind. Some of your best memories will be made in the places you least suspect.