I left Nigeria to start my master’s in Computational Linguistics at the University of Tübingen in 2017. One of the major reasons I came to Germany is to contribute to the computational analysis of Nigerian languages. On the other hand, I hated Lagos (I still do) and I needed an escape.
Interestingly, my department has partnerships with universities across Europe under the Erasmus Program. I chose Charles University in Prague because there are many experts in my area of research interest there. I digress: I remember completing my motivation letter a few hours to the deadline half-asleep. I was in the UK on holiday at the time, a few days later on my return flight to Germany, I discovered that my application email subject line read “Eramus Application Documents…”. Can you spot the error? Well,
Walk on eggshells or thorns, what will be, will be.Lajish, 2020 😜
Fortunately, I was nominated by my department to work on the development of a dependency treebank for my language at the Institute of Formal and Applied Linguistics. My course Coordinator contacted a Professor at the University who will supervise the research during my stay. His acceptance and response will eventually shape my work and master’s thesis.
The learning agreement was not a regular one because I only had to take a course and focus on working on the research for the thesis. Therefore, they were a lot of back and forths before we reached an agreement. The Erasmus Coordinator in my department was more than helpful. There were initial concerns about my ‘safety’ (hello refugee crisis and the associated resentments!) and if I could stay outside Germany for a whole semester.
As a Non-European citizen, I had to apply for a visa which is only possible at the Czech Embassy in Berlin. I got an appointment in the last week of July and the visa was approved 61 days later (25/09/2018) – the beauty and curse of being a Third-World Citizen. By this time, the orientation week was ongoing in Prague. I planned to travel to Berlin on Friday 28th and proceed to Prague during the weekend but it was a national holiday in the Czech Republic; I had to wait till Monday.
I got the visa on Monday (1/10/2018) and proceeded to Prague by bus from Berlin which took about 4 hours. My assigned Buddy by the ESN CU Prague was already waiting at Florenc Bus Station (ÚAN Florenc Praha). She accompanied me to the allocated dormitory stated in the admission package and helped with a clearly-marked map to make my way to my host Faculty in Praha 2 the next day. The University buildings are located in several locations in Prague just like in Tübingen. The trip to the dorm takes about 30 minutes from Florenc Metro Station.
The accommodation is a shared flat with shared common facilities. It predominantly housed students of the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics. There is a mini-mart, Mensa, free water (still and carbonated) from a filter machine at the entrance of the building, washing machine, and drying room. Interestingly, the Czech Government gives about 500 CZK/month in Erasmus Accommodation Grant to students who live in the dormitory every semester, I was a beneficiary.
Despite missing the orientation week, the faculty Erasmus Coordinator organized a session to address students who missed the orientation the following day. The session made integration quite easy and I never felt like I missed anything. However, all important information about procedures, deadlines, living in Prague were sent via email since I was offered admission.
I met my Advisor a few days after arrival to hit the ground running. He is one of the coolest people I have met – no exaggeration. He treated me like an expert and provided his expertise when needed.
The Institute of Formal and Applied Linguistics is located in the Lesser Town Square (Malostranské náměstí) district just below the Prague Castle. The building is co-joined to the famous Kostel svatého Mikuláše (St. Nicholas Church) and a few minutes walk to the historic Karlův Most (Charles Bridge) leading to the Old Town.
The building is fascinating, at every turn, you are surrounded by art, Mozart played the Organ next door in St. Nicholas Church and the archaeological remnants of the St. Wenceslas Rotunda was rediscovered under the building.
A well-equipped PC room (dual Monitors give off an Industry vibe) offering printing services is located on the ground floor of the building giving you a view of the rotunda-styled library just above. There is also a Cafeteria in the basement and a lot of Restaurants and Cafés in the neighbourhood.
English is the medium of instruction for most courses in the department and lectures started in the first week of October. Registration for lectures is done electronically on the Student Information System. The class arrangement is quite different from my experience in Tübingen; a 90-minute lecture is followed by ‘a practical session’ lasting the same amount of time and about 15 minutes break in-between. The examination period is quite strange, it’s right after the Christmas break.
Interestingly, the 100 year anniversary of the creation of Czechoslovakia was celebrated with a wonderful line-up of events including video mapping on the National Museum, Military Parade, Open-air concerts among others. Besides, the Czech Republic also celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Erasmus program in the country with events that brought Erasmus students together.
There is a barrage of activities to choose from; free or at pocket-friendly rates. ESN CU Prague offers different kinds of activities such as city tours, excursions, and volunteering but the spaces are always limited. Furthermore, the Erasmus Office of the University offers discounted tickets to the Magnificent National Theatre Opera. This afforded me the opportunity to see 2 of the most popular shows: Tosca and La Bayadère. I also visited iQLANDIA in Liberec as part of the activities lined up by the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics.
An exchange semester/year abroad is not complete without discounts and special offers. The combination of the ESN card and ISIC card (by the University) gives you access to a wide of discounts and pecks. I booked a visit to Kraków and Paris with ESN-Ryanair offer but I cancelled the Paris trip as a result of the Yellow vests movement.
Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, it offers many places of interest and an amazing nightlife. Some of the must-see places include the Jewish Quarters, Vyšehrad, Prague Castle, the Old Town square, the re-opened National Museum, and many beautiful gardens around the city.
It is cheap to live in Prague except for the exorbitant house rent. The transportation mix (tram, metro, bus, funicular, and boat) makes it easy to get around conveniently. Public transportation is also subsidized for students especially those below 26 (about €10/month and about €25/month for students above 26). Living and studying in Prague provided me new perspectives; find a balance between the old and the new experiences. In particular, comparing world economies is a futile endeavour.
However, as an African living in Germany, it is ‘quite interesting’ and I was not disappointed when I got to Prague. You know, sticking out, shining bright like the melanin diamond that we are – the staring game here is on another level. I had a little social experiment in Tübingen where I will be the last person to take my eyes off someone who stares glaringly at me.
In Prague, I switched up the game a lit bit, whenever this happens, I wink at such individuals. Of course, it was met with different reactions. Some look away, others embarrassed, blushed, smiled (I also smile back), or ended in ‘may the best eyes win’. I enjoyed the game.
My Buddy is spontaneous and a ‘say it as it is’ young woman; convo always flowing like it’s lava. A tip of at least 10% is expected at many restaurants, with her, I tip not. We share the living one day at a time while not losing focus on the long-term goals ideology. We dined at her favourite restaurants and her recommendations would end up becoming my favourite Czech dishes.
One of my favourite persons in the world also visited Prague in December, and I was more than glad to play tour guide – I think I know Prague that well. I also had the opportunity to model African caps for a leading Cap manufacturer in the Czech Republic towards the end of my Erasmus stay.
Prague was very cold and gray in Winter. I spent the most time indoors working on my thesis yet I managed to enjoy my time there. I have visited the city twice after my exchange ended in February 2019. I love Prague and I hope you will have a wonderful time there as I did whether you are visiting or as an exchange student.