It’s been nearly a month now since I left Prague. There have been countless times that this blog has popped into my head since and I’ve felt this itch to write something, to say something, to make up for all the times I didn’t write and give some closure to all the times I did.
It’s been nearly a month now, and while it remains unfinished business, I still don’t know that I can find the right words to do any of that justice. Last night we celebrated my brother’s high school graduation by having almost a hundred people over to our house. At the grad party I had the opportunity to see several old family friends and relatives, all of whom naturally asked me about my study abroad experience. I found myself oversimplifying for the sake of time, using expressions like, “it was great” or “I met a lot of interesting people, I saw a lot of interesting places” or at best, “it changed my perspective”. If my conversation got more substantial, I talked about how wonderful of a city Prague is, I talked about having to learn Czech, and I commented on the noticeable differences in social customs there. The furthest I could get was remarking on the cold demeanor of Czech people and how in the first few weeks back I most definitely went through reverse culture shock, caught off guard by every smile from a stranger on the street.
But when people ask me, genuinely interested in what I have to say, I find myself frustrated with anything that comes out of my mouth. I feel like anything I can say about being abroad is insufficient, lacking… partially because I want to be polite and not too honest, but also mainly because I haven’t even quite figured it all out yet for myself. It’s been a month now (already!?) and I’m beginning to realize that none of my friends or my family may ever truly understand what I went through. I don’t mean that in a pretentious sense — not at all — it’s just that I can’t really explain what I know to be the most important things. The non-cliché things. I can show pictures and share anecdotes, sure, but can anyone understand that even I’m still trying to comprehend the ways in which this semester changed me? The ways in which I know it made me stronger?
I stumbled across it long before coming here, when I was looking at study abroad options last summer. To be completely honest, I didn’t believe it when I read it. The world he describes felt unreal, mystical. I was simply skeptical. I didn’t believe it but I was intrigued by it enough to choose Prague in the end. But now that I reflect on the whole decision-making process… I’m giving myself too much credit. Prague, well, Prague chose me.
I’ve been here for four months and I now return to this letter. This weekend is my last weekend. Now, I can hardly believe that. But I can tell you that the world he describes in this letter is real. It exists, it’s here, and I’m glad I took my first real plunge into darkness to find it.
Because really, this place — Prague, Central Europe, all of it — it’s some kind of magic. Hidden at the heart of the continent, and yet… paradoxically SO off the map. No one really knows Prague where I’m from. To an unsuspecting, ignorant American, for their grandiose ideal of “Europe” it’s about as random and off the beaten path as it gets. But I am convinced that there is no other city with a rhythm this entrancing or with a history and austerity this glaringly beautiful. Hidden in the labyrinth of streets, alleys, passages, staircases, metro escalators, trams, background sounds, cigarette smoke, and drunken voices… you’ll find perspective. You’ll find solitude. You’ll find peace and you’ll find solace. You’ll get lost and you’ll find your way home. You’ll find home.
It’s a dream world, but it’s very much real. Believe me when I say it’s one you can tuck yourself away into late at night in a sleepy stupor.