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Study Abroad

Charles Balkenbusch

Hometown:  Olathe, KS                  

Where I studied abroad: Brno, Czech Republic

Major:  Physics

Favorite Foreign Food:  Trdelnik (essentially the cinnamon rolls cooler older brother that you really want to hang out with)

Favorite city/site visited while abroad:  Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

My next trip is going to be to: Going skiing in Austria or Spain 

My experience in Brno has been wonderful. Brno is a city of about 400000 people, so it is not small, but small enough so that there are not many tourists here, which means that not all people here speak English. I only know a few words in Czech but this language barrier has provided me with experience and knowledge that I would not have gained as much of if I had been in a larger city. 90% of the students college age here and younger speak English, but the older population does not. It was extremely intimidating at first, but I have grown accustomed to it and appreciate the way we can navigate around the barrier that our languages provide when at the store or a pub. Also of interest is that the Czech Republic is very affordable, cost of living is extremely small here. I actually am saving money coming here rather than paying for housing and school back home.

I applied through the MAUI Exchange program through the K State Study Abroad Department. My advisor Brent Holliday did an astounding job of providing me all the tools I needed to get here.  I pay K State tuition to go to school here at Masaryk University and pay the housing, and that is about it. The rest of the money you can use to travel around! So far I have been to 10 countries in Europe and it has been a dream. Meeting people from all over the world was extremely easy. Everyone is outgoing, friendly, personable and approachable so getting to know people from all over the world is a much more attainable thing then one might think. The university here has many opportunities for international students to get together, hosting parties, country presentations, trivia nights, and even trips that happen regularly throughout the week and month which help make your first few weeks not so intimidating.

My favorite trip so far has been to Ireland. We flew into Dublin and stayed there for two days, and on one of these days we took an excursion out with a tour guide to the Cliffs of Moher, luckily our weather wasn’t terrible (winds eventually got so fast it started picking rocks up off the ground) and we could see the Cliffs and the Irish countryside and be able to appreciate how beautiful a country it is. On the way we stopped in Limerick and got a tour there, and on the way back we stopped at the most secluded chocolate shop in the world (which was delicious). In Dublin we of course had to go to the Guinness Brewery and got an amazing view of the city from the top level of it. That was my favorite trip but my favorite town is Brno! It is such a magical place, especially around this time of year. Everywhere across Europe Christmas Markets have opened up and I have been fortunate enough to go to a few of them, but I have found the ones in the smaller towns to be more enchanting. Going out to the Christmas market in Brno and getting some Gluhwine with friends from all over the world has been an incredible way to procrastinate doing the little school work that my schedule provides. Not saying everyone will have courses this easy, but let’s just say saving all your electives for studying abroad isn’t the worst decision you could make. Earlier this semester I had a class called the Course of Mountain Hiking (which transfers back as two credit hours) where we hiked for four days along the Polish Czech border in the mountains and stayed in ski huts along the ridge. It was way better than taking Chem 2 in my opinion, but maybe that is just me.

Things to watch out for… so Europe and the US are two separate continents, which of course you as a college student should already know but in case you forgot, there it is. Being separated by an ocean means things are different here and they may shock you, like they shocked me. First, new to people from Kansas especially (maybe not so much for people in New York) is that you have to pay to use the restroom in public. Which is frustrating if you don’t happen to be carrying around anything smaller than 1 euro or a 50 crown coin. These machines aren’t usually designed to give change. I know, not only do you have to pay to pee but if you pay too much the machine thinks you are giving it a tip for doing such a great job of keeping people out of the bathroom. Exciting stuff. This of course is avoidable entirely if you are smart about using the restroom when you go to eat and when you go to the store etc. but hey, experience is the best teacher right? Also, grocery shopping is about a once a day or once every other day thing. People only buy what they need for that night and the next morning at a time because they have to carry it all home on public transport, not enough room for 5 bags of pizza rolls and a box of fruitsnacks, but you get used to it and you quickly figure out what you need and don’t need. Once you get used to it, it is really a nice thing. Also if you thought Americans stayed out late, you have no idea what you are in for. Europeans don’t even show up to the party until 1230 or 1 in the morning, then stay til they close, which is around 6 in the morning (logically).

Everyone should study abroad. No other experience will be able to provide you with a broader understanding of your place in the world and expand your horizons more than this experience. It doesn’t matter where you go, but I can’t explain how great of an opportunity this is. I get to come over to Europe for a semester, meet people from all over the world that I will be lifelong friends with, travel to places that I have read about my  whole life, eat so much food and drink a lot of Czech beer  all while enjoying the cultural similarities and differences between this country and my own. You don’t study abroad to go drink somewhere else, party somewhere else, or do schoolwork somewhere else, you come over to learn about what makes this place different from where you come from, and appreciate what makes both places beautiful.  Any place you go to is going to have things you don’t like as much as home, but I can absolutely guarantee that you will find so many things wherever you go that you fall in love with and don’t want to leave behind. My two pieces of advice are that everyone should study abroad, and everyone should go into it with an open mind. Also come hungry, the food here is delicious, and cheap J

 

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This is me near the Brno Christmas markets with a Trdelnik, it is hollow in the middle and is like a delicious cinnamon roll chimney (it was steaming on the inside when I got it).

 

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Here we are at the Cliffs of Moher! It looks windy from the picture, but I guarantee that it was a thousand times windier than you think. Completely worth it to brave mother nature for these views though!

 

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Here I am with my friends Joey (also from Kansas), Mark (Holland), and Florian (Germany) in front of one of the three Christmas trees set up in the Brno Christmas Markets.

 

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 Here is a view from the trail in my hiking class. This was coming down the mountain after we hiked the ridge of the Polish Czech border.

 

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 This is in front of the Lennon wall in Prague with some friends of mine that are from all over the place!

 

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This is just a neat picture of the castle in Krakow, Poland. For reference, this thing is four times as old as the USA.

 

Go to a city or town that you have never heard of before. What I mean is go somewhere with not so many tourists, you will get a much better feel for the culture!