Study Abroad: the Best Semester (or Year) Ever?

Study abroad—it’s marketed as the best semester ever. Or the best year ever, if you decide to go that route, which, initially, I did. 

By the time I turned in my fall semester application, my spring semester application was basically complete as well. I planned to spend the fall in Prague, immersing myself in Central and Eastern European art, going to the opera, and seeing architecture nearly unchanged from its construction hundreds and hundreds of years ago. Then I would spend the spring in Paris, soaking up the city of the Impressionists, quintessential chicness, baguettes, cheese, and red wine. Christmas markets in Prague and Paris in the springtime, I thought. What could be better?

And what could’ve been better—had those been the actual reasons I was making those decisions. Yes, study abroad can be an amazing academic opportunity—and as an art history major, I had totally valid academic reasons for spending a year abroad—but that wasn’t what appealed to me most. After an emotionally draining first year and considering transferring during my pre-sophomore summer, all I wanted was to get away. I saw study abroad as an escape—easier than transferring, with the added bonus of cultural immersion and beautiful things. Applications weren’t due until the spring of sophomore year, but a turbulent fall semester had me researching programs in all of my free time. One breakup, one new room, and one less-than-satisfying winter break later, my decision was made. Prague, then Paris.

Then, spring semester, I started spending more time with my friends. I (mostly) loved my classes. I fell in love again—with Pomona College, with my friends, with late nights at TSL and early morning sunrises, even with the dining halls. Life was good, and suddenly the prospect of an entire year away from all of that good didn’t sound so appealing after all. I’m not usually one to go back on a decision, but going to Paris was one of the best ones I’ve ever unmade.

Prague is wonderful and beautiful and constantly shocks me with how much history I find on every block. (Speaking Czech, on the other hand, is ruthless and difficult—who knew you could conjugate nouns and adjectives into grammatical cases?) My program? It’s good. The workload isn’t as demanding as Pomona’s, but I spend three days a week on walking tours with my classes and I’ve already seen kilometers more of the city than I would have by myself. I haven’t made fast friends, so I spend a lot of time on my own, wandering, keeping up with Netflix, and reading. It’s relaxing, but sometimes lonely. Yet knowing this is my only semester away helps me appreciate it, rather than dread doing it all over again next semester.

I start internships next week: one at a gallery, one at a museum. My time will be busy again, which is how I’m most comfortable. Right now, it’s easy to dwell on the things that I’m missing back in Claremont: personal pizza Mondays, sushi Wednesdays, brunch, sunshine and the gorgeously smoggy sunsets, fountains, mountains, the desert … the list goes on. But I can also already see the things I’ll miss from Prague once I’m back: the beautiful art deco interior of a former Italian insurance building and other hidden marvels, 24-hour pizza and gyros within two minutes of my bed, the unbelievably colorful façade of the Jubilee synagogue, public transportation that always works perfectly, instant tomato soup with dehydrated croutons that stay crunchy when rehydrated—seriously, it must be magic. And this list goes on, too. 

This semester has its challenges and it’s not the promised best semester ever, but it’s good. After all, I have tickets to the opera and a weekend in Paris booked for November.

Zoë Jameson PO ’15 is an art history major studying in Prague, Czech Republic with the Collegium Hieronymi Pragensis European Studies program.

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