Prague is arguably one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. When students step off the plane, they enter into a fairy-tale-like land of castles, cobblestoned streets and quaint cafes.
But the cobblestoned roads are winding and confusing, the language can be daunting, and the history – which does so much to shape a culture – unfamiliar to many NYU students.
During our week-long orientation, we try to help students feel at home in Prague and start to adjust to some of the challenges of daily and academic life here.
All students take a history symposium called The Czech Republic in a Global Context, which is taught by NYU Prague professors and is a combination of lectures, discussions, films and tours that provide students with a foundation that they will for their courses. At the end of the week all students are required to write an essay reflecting on what they have learned during the week; the writers of the best essays win a free weekend trip to Berlin led by NYU Prague staff. “It was a great way to start off the semester … it gave us an insight into the city, our professors, and history. It does a great job in setting a tone for classes,” reported one student this semester.
All students are also enrolled in “survival” Czech lessons where experienced teachers focus on language needed in daily life. This is especially important for students who are not taking Czech during the semester, as it teaches them basic pronunciation. Thanks to small class sizes, they end up being about culture as well as language: “one of the most helpful parts was when our teacher gave us a few minutes for cultural Q&As about things we’d encountered so far and didn’t understand.”
A lot of orientation is about practical issues. How to go to the doctor…. safety in Prague…resources on campus and in the city…. cultural adjustment …. our RAs and staff do all we can to help answer students’ numerous questions.
And what better way to get to know a city but to go to a cultural event? Our Kulturama program launches by giving all students a free ticket to the an event of their choice: opera, ballet, theatre, and sometimes hockey or soccer games.
Of course the most important part of orientation is the “off” time when students explore the city on their own, meeting new friends and getting lost (and found) wandering the maze-like streets of Prague. At the end of orientation last semester, one student wrote “”I truly felt the presence of beauty and darkness within Prague. It is a treasure trove in Europe; I understand now if I encounter skepticism.”