Emily Balan: Czech Republic
By Emily Balan
It all started with an email from Anna Kuchta. As any member of the Slavic Club, for which she is the academic advisor—no matter how minimal the membership—can attest, my inbox receives more emails from the Polish powerhouse than I’d care for (hint: You can’t escape them, so don’t try). One day, one email in particular stuck out to me. It was advertising a course in foreign correspondence.
After exploring a myriad of specialties in college, journalism was the one that stuck. Now, in my senior year, I am an editor for two of the University’s newspapers. My topic of choice is international relations, as being diplomacy major typically indicates.
So, after reading the description of the TOL Education course, I was excited to learn more about blending my two interests into a career. The best part was that the course could also indulge my insatiable wanderlust: the course was being held in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic.
After living in the 14th Arrondissement of Paris for a month last summer I was missing Europe, and so I could absolutely not pass up the opportunity to visit the ‘Left Bank of the Nineties.’
The application process was almost too easy. I filled out the form in October and within the week, the course administrator sent me a letter of acceptance.
I did not know anyone else who applied. Due to visa complications in other countries—cough, China—there were only five other people signed up for the course. Three rooms at the Flora Marriot in residential Prague 3 held two Americans, two Canadians, and two Aussies—all female. This did not come as a surprise, however, because at least two of the seminars were skewed for a feminine taste. Not to say that the boys wouldn’t be interested in these topics, but a fellow female is likely to have more vested interest.
The seminars included what it was like to be a woman covering an active warzone (as scary as it is for the anyone it turns out!) for the BBC, as well as two feminist Czechs—who work for what they described as the Czech New York Times and the Czech Time Magazine—who talked about reporting on women’s issues prevalent in Czech society.
The course ran the first full week of January. Over that week, more than several foreign correspondents working in the field for publications like the Economist, the BBC, Free Radio Europe, spoke to us in three hours seminars in the mornings. Then, we were free to explore in the afternoons and pursue feature stories that we were working on as a project for the course. I do not need the credits, so I did not participate in this project. I attended the course in order to find out more about foreign correspondence as a profession as well as to explore a new city as much as I could.
Prague is breathtaking. The country’s communist government fell in 1991, and, as a result, the city seems perfectly preserved with an old world feel. At the same time, no modern convenience was lacking. Though Prague’s public transportation system is the highest ranked in Europe, I found myself walking almost everywhere.
I must have walked 15 miles a day. The entire city is built on varyingly steep hills, so whenever I found myself atop one after navigating a labyrinth of cobblestone streets and snow-covered parks, I looked out at the buildings, astonished by the way one could capture the beauty of each all in one glimpse, and felt the many miles wandering were well worth it.