This past summer, LSA senior Zainab Bhindarwala spent a month in Prague, Czech Republic taking a class on Nationalism, Minorities and Migrations in Eastern Europe.
How did you hear about this study abroad program?
The CGIS newsletter.
What made you want to apply?
The title of the class drew me in. I’ve never been particularly interested in traveling to Europe, and I knew very little about the Czech Republic prior to this experience. I applied to this program hoping the class would help me with the thesis I’m writing this year.
What is your favorite memory from your experience?
One of my favorite memories from this trip is when a couple of us ended up having lunch with our professor. Getting to know her and learning about Czech culture outside of our classroom setting was so interesting. We saw a new part of the city and talked about the differences between Czech and American cultures. I loved that my professor never questioned that I was American. She asked all of us questions about the United States without any hesitation or assumption that I would know less than my white peers or that I would have a different experience than them. After spending 20 years convincing people in my own hometown that I was indeed an American just like them, it was refreshing not to have to prove it with every sentence and every action. I didn’t think someone assuming I was American and not questioning it would affect me that much, but it did.
Was there anything that you struggled with during your study abroad?
Ramadan started while I was in Prague. I knew Ramadan and my study abroad program would overlap when I applied to the program, and I honestly wasn’t too concerned — I knew I would be back home for most of the month, and I wouldn’t really be missing any major nights of prayer. It wasn’t until the first day of Ramadan came that I realized exactly how much I missed being around my family during this time. For the first time in my entire life, I didn’t hear and say the phrases “Ramadan Mubarak” to countless people. In fact, thousands of miles away, in Prague, nobody wished me at all. Of course, I called my parents, and we wished each other over the phone and I got texts from family members and some non-Muslim friends wishing me a happy Ramadan, but it was so different from actually hugging someone, saying “Ramadan Mubarak,” and asking them to pray for you as you promised to do the same for them. Even though these things were just tradition and not actually part of religious prayers, the feeling of community is what I missed the most.
Any advice for prospective students interested in studying abroad?
Look at all the study abroad offerings — don’t skim over any program because you’re not interested in visiting that country. A lot of people choose their study abroad programs based off where they want to travel to. I did the opposite. I applied to this program because the class sounded interesting — even though it was nowhere close to the region I was actually interested in traveling to. Even though this decision could have gone horribly wrong, it ended up being such an incredible experience for me! In the short time I was in Prague, I learned so much about myself and a whole region of the world I never really paid attention to. Don’t limit yourself by sticking with what’s safe and somewhat familiar. Take the plunge and go somewhere unexpected — you might be surprised by what you find there.