And so it begins…(2/1-2/7)

“Great things never came from comfort zones.”

Hello! Dobrý den!

On Friday, I woke bright and early, hours before I needed to be awake.  My heart and mind were swimming with emotions: excitement, fear, joy, sadness, and angst.  I had to say my final goodbyes.  First, I said a forever goodbye to my cat Toby, whom I love dearly.  He is 20-something years old, mostly blind and deaf, and I fear he may pass on before I return.  Then, my sister/best friend, who I never go longer than a week without seeing.  I hugged her for what felt like forever, and still it was not enough.

At the airport, I sat with my closest friends until they began shutting the airplane doors.  With tears streaming my face I pulled away, repeating over and over to myself “it’s not that long!”  After that, there were planes, airports, and more planes.  For those who don’t know, my amazing parents made the journey to Ostrava with me, all of us flying standby.

Fine dining in first class

We got lucky at LAX and all got first class seats.  We (mere pilgrims) would be sitting with the royalty! We boarded the plane and immediately went to pushing buttons, pulling out the “presents” left on our seats (blankets, pillows, etc), and quietly observing those around us so we could fit in.  The flight attendant asked us all, by name, if we would like complimentary pajamas…PAJAMAS! Mom and I were sitting next to each other, and there was a tall barrier between our seats.  We kept peeking over at each other, trying to talk but only seeing each other’s eyes.  Then the flight attendant walked over, pushed a button, and to our surprise the entire barrier sunk away. Who knew??

The travel after that was mundane.  We got to London, transferred to British Airways, and flew into Prague.  We got in late at night and found our way using public transportation to our hotel.  We woke the following morning (Sunday) to about five inches of snow! 

We ate breakfast at a quaint bakery and I experienced my first European Latte.  You know that delicious layer of foam on top of lattes in America, that you slurp off to reach the coffee?  Well here, the WHOLE drink is that delicious foam, coffee and milk mixed perfectly. Woah.

Riding the train from Prague to Ostrava

We took the train to Ostrava in the afternoon and arrived uneventfully.  My assigned “buddy” from the University met us and led us to the dorms.  He helped me check in, because no one at the dorm speaks English. I got settled and spent the next few days very overwhelmed, confused, and sad.  I had to go to many meetings to get all the required materials, learn about Ostrava, and more.  I felt homesick, and like this would be the longest few months of my life.

I have made some friends from all over the world: Poland, South Korea, Germany, Austria, Portugal, Italy, Finland, Hungary, Estonia, and Czechia.  My wing in the dorm is all girls from South Korea, except for me.  They have accepted me into their friend group, and I call them my Korean family.  They prepared a Korean dinner one night and invited me to join them.  They are kind, funny, and wonderful.

I am the only person from the United States here (and I think the only person from the Western Hemisphere).  Everyone seems surprised and thrilled to meet an American.  Many of the students like to talk to me so they can practice their English and ask questions about the US.  The professors and advisors have all asked “How did you possibly learn about and choose our University?!” Several people have told me that I don’t have an American accent.

My dorm room is small but nice.  I have a room to myself, although these rooms are made for three people.  I have no idea how three people could possibly all share one of these rooms, but I’m a lucky duck and get to live alone.  I pushed two of the smaller-than-twin beds together and put cushions on top to create a cozy nest for myself. Campus is strange because, well, there isn’t one.  All the university buildings are spread throughout the city, so it has been an experience trying to learn where everything is.  I’m getting used to the buses, the buildings, and the language (and the inability to read signs or ask for help).  Many young people speak English in the city, but few older people do.  I am using Google Translate and hand motions a lot.  I’ve learned some of the essentials: hello, please, thank you, good day, and coffee. As for food, beer, meat, and dumplings are plentiful and cheap in the Czech Republic.  They are the staples that people survive on here.  It is cheaper most places to buy a beer than a water.  I have enjoyed a couple beers with my parents but am trying to keep my beer consumption to a minimum. 

I have taken a couple of classes this week in preparation for the semester: Czech language, history, and literature.  I have two more classes tomorrow.  My school schedule will possibly only have class one or two days a week, so I am excited to begin my travels (once I get more comfortable here).  The homesickness is passing a little more each day.  I made it all day yesterday and today without crying! Baby steps, right?

My parents enjoyed the city, but have moved on to visit Prague before heading home.  I saw them briefly for dinner each day they were here, and I greatly appreciated their support.  It was hard to say goodbye to them as well.

Hopefully in future weeks I will have more interesting things to say.  I haven’t done anything astounding yet but will do so eventually.  Thanks for reading this far, and I will post again soon. “Czech” back next week to hear more! (Ha! Get it?)

Much love,


Shrinking Fears and Growing Friendships (2/8-2/13)

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”

Mark Twain

On Friday, I took my last two classes as part of the Czech Language and Culture crash course.  My analysis: Czech is incredibly difficult.  It took all week for me to simply be able to properly say “goodbye”.  In between my two classes, I had some spare time.  I took off on a walk along the Ostravice River, which runs through the center of the city.  After a while, I reached a massive park, called Komenského sady.  It had beautiful paths, trees, and fields.  I am excited to see what it looks like when everything starts to bloom. 

Saturday I set off to do some exploring by myself.  I walked through the city streets and reached the bottom of the Halda Ema slag heap.  It was built in the early 1900’s from tons of extracted dredge from the mines in and near Ostrava.  Because there are exothermic reactions happening deep under the surface, the mountain produces its own heat. 

There are places where you can see steam coming from the ground and the vegetation differs from the rest of Ostrava because it has thermophilic flora and, in some places, a subtropical climate.  I climbed to the top fairly easily, struggling only with the icy and muddy trail.  The top presented a nice view of the surrounding forest and of Ostrava.  Again, I hope to return once things begin to bloom and the sun appears.

In the evening I went ice skating with a couple friends.  Ice skating is essentially the same here as at home, and I am equally awkward and terrible as back home.  The complete opposite of graceful, I struggled to stay upright while my friends gently floated atop the ice.

Sunday I joined the ESN (international student) club for an excursion into the old industrial region of Ostrava, called Viktovice.  We walked through the city and I was shocked and amazed by how much I enjoyed the trip. 

The old factories and machinery were astounding and I was impressed by how complicated and intricate the workings of the factories were.  We also got to go to the top of Bolt Tower, where we had an excellent view of the city.  It was a fun day during which I spent time with friends and got to see some of the historical parts of Ostrava.

Let me take a moment to talk about the people here in Czechia.  Collectively, they are the most laid-back people I have ever met.  People arrive places in their own time, ignore small issues, and lead the world in average beer consumption.  For someone who is known to certain loved ones (lovingly, I hope) as a “psycho planner”, you can imagine it is taking time for me to adjust to life here.

That being said, Monday arrived, bringing the first day of term with it.  What it did not bring, however, was communication from professors, a class schedule, or even a finalized list of the classes I’d be taking.  When I asked advisors and teachers for help figuring it out, the response was fairly relaxed and nonchalant, saying, “Everything will come together later”.  I was baffled because, in fact, the semester had ALREADY STARTED.  Alas, I waited, and Tuesday brought a vague idea of some classes I should attend, so I went to “Czech for Foreigners” in the morning, and a biology seminar in the afternoon.  After class, I decided to join my friends at a hockey match, where University of Ostrava played Charles University from Prague.  I enjoyed it, despite knowing little about hockey and not particularly caring about the outcome.  I laughed with my friends, tried to chant along in Czech with those around me, and joined the mob mentality.

Today finally brought more information about classes, and I think I got a schedule figured out.  I only have classes on Tuesday, so I should have plenty of time during the week to go adventuring.  Today I spent some time with a friend doing a walking tour around Ostrava. We got to see some nice historical sights and some beautiful nature.

I’m adjusting to my new life here.  I’m greatly looking forward to warming temperatures, blooming trees, and sunshine.  I am loving getting to know people from around the world and have already made some close friends.  My classes are interesting, but not terribly difficult (woohoo!).  Although I still miss home, I am getting accustomed to things here and feel optimistic about the coming months.  I love the small cafes I find in the city.  I love the coffee and the baked goods.  I love my growing friendships and my broadening knowledge.  Life here in Ostrava is pretty great.

Thank you for reading, and I will write again soon. You can find more pictures in the “Gallery” tab above.

Much love,


Weekend in Vienna

“We travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us.”

This past weekend my friend, Gloria, and I hopped on the train and headed to Vienna.  The grandeur of the architecture and history was astounding, and we had a wonderful weekend away.  We walked nearly 20 miles during our 48 hours in the city, during which we saw countless old and beautiful buildings.  Below I talk about several of the places we visited.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom)

This magnificent cathedral was originally constructed in 1160 and was continually expanded until 1511.  It was built on the ruins of two churches that had previously been destroyed.  It is the most important religious building in Vienna and was dedicated to St. Stephen.

We saw the cathedral at two different times.  The first was at dusk and the moon was rising behind the highest tower (which stands at 136 meters tall).  It was beautiful against the nearly dark sky.  We returned midday the next day to enter the cathedral and appreciate its magnificence on the inside.  The architecture on both the inside and out was gorgeous and we sat for a long time appreciating the intricate art and construction of the building. 


We also visited this baroque church twice, again, once at dusk and once midday.  It is much smaller than Stephansdom, and yet we both agreed we found it more beautiful.  Construction on Karlskirch started in 1716 and lasted until 1737 and is dedicated to St. Charles Borromeo, who was widely known as a healer during the plague.  It is constructed mainly of light marble, making it a bright and welcoming building.

During our visit, we entered the church and appreciated the brightness and colors.  We were also able to take a temporary lift up to the top of the building, where we appreciated the artwork in the top of the dome.  From here, we were also able to look out a high window at a view over the city.

Belvedere Palace

Belvedere consists of three parts: upper belvedere, lower belvedere, and the gardens.  Lower Belvedere was constructed first, likely completed in 1715.  The palace looked down over large, beautiful grounds that were turned into a marvelous garden.  Only a couple years later, construction began on Upper Belvedere, which was completed in 1723.  It housed Prince Eugene of Savoy, who was known for his work as a general in the military and an art connoisseur.

Belvedere Palace was the first of the major attractions we saw.  Just minutes from the train station, we walked straight to it after arriving in Vienna.  The architecture and size of the palace alone awed us.  We took a walk through the gardens and were able to appreciate the palace from all angles.

Schonbrunn Palace

This palace was constructed in the 1740s and was built on a large piece of land that consists of gardens, structures, and even a zoo.  The longest-reigning emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph, was born at Schonbrunn and spent much of his life there.  The garden is known as the Great Parterre.  It contains a maze, sculptures, paths, fountains, and more. 

This was our final and favorite destination in Vienna.  We arrived close to sunset and had the opportunity to sit atop the hill overlooking the palace and gardens during sunset.  The palace was stunningly beautiful and the sunset created a beautiful light in the sky that made everything perfect.  We sat for a long time, looking over the palace and over all of Vienna. 

Albertina Museum

Vienna is full of incredible museums, and we decided to choose just one to visit.  The Albertina is known as one of the best art museums in the world.  During our visit there, we were able to tour part of the building representing what the building looked like in the early 1800’s, when it was occupied and used for parties.  We also got to see work from famous artists, including Picasso and Monet.  They had one of Monet’s Water Lily paintings on display, and it was amazing to see it in person!  The Albertina was a great museum and very affordable.


I really enjoyed the food in Vienna.  On the first night we ate dinner at a bar near the center.  Gloria got wiener schnitzel with Erdapfelsalat (potato salad) and I got Austrian spaetzle (like mac and cheese, but with dumplings instead of noodles).  Both were delicious, filling, and popular foods in Vienna.  The next day we had breakfast at a small café near our AirBnb, where I had an omelets and cappuccino.  It was amazing!  It was one of my favorite meals I’ve had so far since being in Europe.  The café was also very cute and we enjoyed the time we spent there.  That afternoon we tried wiener wurstel, which is perhaps the most “famous” food in Vienna.  It was good, but nothing to die for.  Perhaps if you are someone who really loves sausage, it would be a mouth-watering meal, but neither Gloria nor I really like sausage in the first place.  That night we had really good authentic Japanese food.  The following morning we found an adorable café for our final meal, where I got ham and eggs, and we both tried Sachertorte, which is a proud symbol of Vienna.  It is a dense chocolate cake containing thin layers of apricot jam and chocolate frosting.  It was amazing, but Gloria said it was really no different from the Sachertorte from her home in Italy.

Overall, Vienna was a wonderful city to visit.  Even for someone who doesn’t particularly like big cities, Vienna had a lot to offer and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.  I may return for a day trip in a few months to see the city when it’s greener, but I also might not make it back.  If you are in Europe and enjoy beautiful architecture and history, take the time to visit Vienna!

(Some history and information was taken from

Another Week, Another Trip (2/18-2/25)

“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.”

Alduos Huxley

Most of the week followed a similar schedule as the past couple.  I attended three classes on Tuesday.  The first, Czech Language and Culture, was very interesting and fun.  Although the language is difficult, I’m really enjoying learning and applying it in my life here.  Many people in Ostrava do not speak English, so it is nice that I am learning basic communication skills so I can talk to people.  After that, I went to my mathematical research seminar, where a visiting professor shared about his research.  The talk was way above my head, but I followed along as best as I could and tried to absorb little things.  My final class is my biological seminar, and it went about the same as the math seminar.  Although they are difficult, I like seeing the different areas of research and watching passionate people present about their topics.

On Thursday I joined the international club on a hike up Halda Ema (which, of course, I’ve already done).  It was just as beautiful and fun as last time, and I enjoyed hiking with my friends.  Friday I departed with five friends for Krakow, Poland, where we spent the weekend sight seeing.  Krakow was a beautiful city and I loved my time there.  Friday evening we arrived and went for traditional Polish dumplings (perogies).  They were DELICIOUS.  I tried several kinds, each filled with different cheeses, meats, and vegetables.  For dessert, I had some filled with fruit. 

On Saturday we took a walking tour around the historical old town.  Despite the sub-freezing temperatures, we spent three hours touring and listening to our guide.  He talked non-stop the entire time, and I think I only absorbed about a quarter of what he said.  However, I was able to appreciate the beauty of the historical buildings while we walked around.  We saw the old gate to the city from medieval times with part of the wall and several towers still standing.  We walked through the streets where every single building was historic and gorgeous.  There were cathedrals and churches that were built centuries ago.  There were old school buildings where Nicolas Copernicus studied.  For those who don’t know, Copernicus was a mathematician widely known for formulating a model of the universe where the sun is the center instead of the earth.  Like many European cities, there are beautiful parks everywhere and delicious places to eat.

On Sunday I walked to the old Jewish district of town.  This was an incredibly powerful place to visit as it was the sight of one of the largest ghettos during the second world war.  There was a fragment of the wall around the ghetto still standing, as well as buildings that have never been restored.  We visited the square in the center of where the ghetto stood and found the empty chair memorial, which is 33 empty metal chairs filling in the square to remember the tragedies that occurred there during WW2.  Also, on the edge of the square is the pharmacy that once housed Tadeusz Pankiewicz, the only non-Jewish member of the ghetto.  He used his pharmacy to help protect, cure, and save thousands of people in the ghetto during the war.  The entire area was interesting to visit and filled me with sadness while thinking about the horrors that had occurred there.

Overall, I loved my time in Krakow.  Although it is not as large and magnificent as Vienna, it was beautiful and full of history.  The food and prices were unbeatable, and I highly recommend it as a place to visit.

I am continuing to adjust to my life here and am enjoying exploring new places.  However, I still miss home and look forward to seeing my family, friends, and pets. 

Much love,


Friends, Mountains, and Zoos

“Sometimes all you need is a great friend and thirst for adventure.”

Most of the week continued as normal, however there were two major highlights: the zoo and a weekend trip to the mountains.

The Zoo:

On Thursday Keisha (South Korea) and I spent the afternoon at the zoo.  It was a beautiful day, with the high reaching 60 degrees.  For the first time since coming here, I was able to wear only a t-shirt!  The Ostrava zoo is only two bus stops away from our dorm and took less than ten minutes to reach.  After paying the expensive price of $2.00, we entered into a huge and beautiful zoo.  The very first animal we encountered was a red panda, who was sitting in his house peaking just his head out.  He looked at us and yawned, and my heart melted.

We moved along to the next area, where there was a petting zoo with goats (including lots of baby goats!).  Yes, we went in, and yes, we were the only adults without kids there.  We watched as the derpy goats hopped, ran, and kicked, and I was able to catch one of the babies.

After spending an unreasonable amount of time with the goats, we moved along to see other animals.  Many of you know that I inherited a special trait from my father.  This is the trait that forces me to attempt to pet any animal I see, no matter the danger or obstacles between it and I.  Naturally, I pet many of the animals we saw.  I did not, however, stick my fingers in the enclosure of the ostrich, but let me tell you how mean that little booger was.

I was walking along the path right by his fence.  He walked along next to me, keeping pace and watching me.  I would talk to him soothingly and he would tilt his head.  I thought we were bonding.  At one point I got closer to the fence and pulled my phone out for a picture.  I did NOT stick any fingers through the fence, but he came up close, looked right at the camera, and lightning fast his head and neck came through the fence, his beak completely surrounding my index finger, and bit down.  It wasn’t a light nibble; it was a full-on chomp intended to remove a phalange. I screamed, stumbled back, and left the mean bird to spend time alone.  What a jerk.

The rest of the zoo was less eventful.  The vastness and beautiful landscape within provided enough paths and animals to spend the entire afternoon.  They also had magnificent indoor areas with specific climates, humidity, and temperatures for different animal types.  I saw my first hippopotamus (those things are huge!), as well as a crocodile, elephants, giraffes, and more. 

Throughout the afternoon I got to know Keisha better, who spent last semester in Ostrava and is staying through May.  She is a bright and cheerful person and I loved getting to know her and learning more about Korea.

Get to Know Each Other Weekend:

The ESN (Erasmus Student Network) at OSU hosts a three-day retreat in the mountains every semester for the international students.  Also, every semester they have a different theme for the weekend, and ours happened to be Harry Potter and the Triwizard Tournament, which is, essentially, a dream come true for me.

So, on Friday afternoon we boarded the Hogwarts Express (a large travel bus) and set off the Hogwarts (a cottage in the mountains along the Czechia/Slovakia border).  On the trip, we all received our acceptance letters and our randomly selected Hogwart’s house.  Much to my disappointment, I was placed in Gryffindor (I consider myself a Hufflepuff, and sometimes, a Ravenclaw). 

Nonetheless, I embraced my house and prepared to take down the other houses at all costs.  Yeah, I guess I’m competitive.  After a very long, narrow, winding road, we arrived.  As we stepped off the bus, spells and jinxes started firing around us (firecrackers, roman candles, etc).  We entered the great hall to Hogwarts music and the Goblet of Fire, filled with dry ice to create an awesome effect.  After some introductions, we chose our champions.  My good friend Gloria was chosen as the Slytherin champion.

After dinner, the first task for the champions began.  There were three golden snitches hidden throughout the cottage, and the first three champions to find one would advance to the next task. We were given riddles, and we worked together to find one.  Of course, we advanced.

On Saturday morning we played a lot of team building games among our houses, and each house was scored for each game and task.  The indoor games were first, and we were mediocre at best.  But then the afternoon games came and we moved outside.  Once outside, we did a variety of races through several feet of snow.  Some included getting dizzy and sprinting, some included piggy back rides, and some included rolling on the ground and plowing over everyone in your way.  We won every task.

During our break, Gloria (Italy), Yaren (Turkey), Hae Lim (South Korea), Gesa (Germany), Victoria (Ukraine), and I stole some industrial strength garbage bags from the cottage and headed up the mountain for sledding.  Several of them had never been before.  The combination of the tree-free, steep slope and the icy, slick snow provided optimal (and dangerous) sledding conditions.  For over an hour we climbed up the hill and sledded, laughing the entire time.

At one point in the afternoon, I was playing ping pong with some friends and the leaders of ESN approached me and asked me to step into the hall with them.  Once there, they told me to go upstairs and grab my warm clothes. So, of course I did, and then followed them outside, where they led me and two others away from the cottage behind another small building.  Then they pulled out ropes and blindfolds and began tying us up.  I was a hostage.

Before too long the Gryffindor champion appeared and untied me, before realizing that I was not his hostage to save.  After he left with his hostage, the ESN people retied me up and I waited until Gloria appeared and freed me.  We sprinted back to the cottage, but unfortunately were the last to return, so Gloria lost.

That night we went for a night hike, during which we were forbidden to use flashlights and just followed a trail of glow sticks in the snow.  It was steep, slick, and snowy, but we made our way to the top.  At the top, we did a lantern lighting ceremony, where we released several heat-powered lanterns into the sky.  Then the third and final task occurred: the two champions were told the Goblet of Fire was somewhere in the woods in “that” direction, and the first to retrieve it would win.  Remember, it was dark, cold, and we were in the middle of the woods.  And yet the two boys took off running towards the trees, eventually returning without the Goblet.  They were given another hint and soon recovered it together.

On Sunday morning some of us set off on a hike up the mountains.  It was about two miles each way and we hiked through thick fog.  Although the view was not very clear, the hike was fun and I relished at being among the trees and mountains again.  We spent several hours out enjoying nature before returning to the cottage.

During the closing ceremony, Gryffindor was announced as the winners (woohoo!).  We packed up our stuff and headed home, all exhausted from our weekend of fun.

Life here is pretty great and time is starting to fly by.  I still miss home, but the pain is less frequent and less severe.  I have more plans to travel this week and am keeping myself busy.

Much love,



“Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”

Gustave Flaubert 

This weekend Yaren, Keisha, and I embarked on a whirlwind 2-day trip to Prague.  I have to admit, I am surprised by how quickly and intensely I fell in love with the city.  While I generally enjoy and appreciate large, historic cities, normally I feel content after spending a couple days there.  However, Prague took my breath away and I am already planning to come back once spring is here.  Below are some of the highlights:

Prague castle and St. Vitus Cathedral

Prague Castle is among the most famous and most spectacular places to visit while in Prague.  It is believed that the castle was first founded during medieval times, around 880.  Starting the 10th century, the castle was used to house kings, princes, the head of state, and the Prague Bishop.  The Basilica of St. Vitus (St. Vitus’ Cathedral) was built within the castle walls in the 11th century.  Both the castle and cathedral have seen renovations over the years, continuing to this day.  However, most of the structures are the original construction and they exhibit immense history and beauty.

I loved visiting the Prague Castle because it reminded me of a fairy tale.  Inside the castle walls there is an entire community, with many buildings, and I could imagine the royal family and friends living within the walls.  It was more than just a single building, but instead a royal and beautiful village within the city of Prague.

Old Town Square, including Prague Orloj, Tyn Church, and St. Nicholas’ Church

In the heart of Prague you can find the Old Town Square, known for its historical architecture and beautiful buildings.  Within the square you can find Prague Orloj, which is a famous astronomical clock installed in 1410 on the Old Town Hall building.  It is the third oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest still in operation.  It continues to have a small “performance” every hour, during which two doors high on the tower open, several statues move within them, and the bells ring.

The largest building in the area is a gothic church, known as Church of our Lady before Týn.  The church was constructed in the 14th century and has towers over 80 meters tall.  Another spectacular building in Old Town Square is the Church of Saint Nicholas.  It was built in the 1730s and is Baroque style.  We were able to enter the church, and the inside was extremely beautiful and contained a Baroque organ played by Mozart when he visited Prague.

Vyšehrad and Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul

This historic castle was probably my favorite place to visit in Prague.  It is believed it was built as a fort in the 10th century.  Within the fort you can find the Vyšehrad cemetery which contains the remains of many prominent and famous Czech figures.  You can also visit the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul, which is a beautiful neo-Gothic church built in 1070.  My favorite part of this church was the stunning stained glass windows all around the church.

The fort sits high on top of a hill, looking over the Vltava River.  It is possible to walk on top of the ancient walls of the fort, giving a beautiful view of Prague.  The fort is full of gardens and trees and is a very peaceful place to visit.  There were far fewer people in this area and was a nice walk through nature in the middle of a big city.

Dancing House

The Prague dancing house is the most modern of the famous attractions in the city.  Built in 1994, it is very different from the rest of the city, and at first was the subject of controversy among locals.  However, it is now a symbol of the transition from Czechoslovakia (under communist rule) to the Czech Republic.  It is designed to resemble famous dancers Fred and Ginger.

Lennon Wall

Another popular place in Prague that stands out against the historical architecture is the John Lennon Wall.  After the murder of John Lennon in 1980, people in Prague decorated the wall with graffiti in remembrance of Lennon.  At the time, the communist regime was angered by the wall and tried to cover the graffiti, but more people came and decorated it.  Today, people can visit the wall and add their own inspirational pictures and quotes.

Petřín hill and Lookout Tower

Petřín lookout tower is another more modern attraction in Prague.  The tower sits on top of a large hill in the middle of the city.  The hill is a gorgeous walk and climb through trees and grass and ends at Petřín village, which consists of several small churches, buildings, and the tower.  Tourists can pay to go to the top of the tower for one of the best views of the city.  We chose to enjoy the view from the bottom of the tower without going to the top.  Near the tower is also part of a medieval wall built to protect the city and castle from attacks.

There is also an interesting memorial at the bottom of Petřín hill, the Victims of Communism Memorial.  The memorial is in honor of those who were arrested, killed, and exiled during the communist rule in Czechoslovakia.  The memorial depicts a series of bronze figures, each of which is more decayed than the last, with eventually the last figure being essentially nonexistent.

Charles’ Bridge

Charles’ Bridge is the most famous spot in Prague, and one of the most visited spots in all of Europe.  The bridge crosses the Vltava river and was constructed starting in 1357.  There are two towers, one standing on each end of the bridge.  Lining the sides of the bridge there are Baroque statues from the 17th century.

We visited Charles’ bridge at the end of our second day and watched the sunset over the river.  Although it was fairly overcast, it was a beautiful place to visit and I’m glad we got to see it at such a wonderful time. 

Prague is my favorite European city I’ve visited so far.  It was surprisingly peaceful and quiet in most places and was full of history.  Everywhere you look there is another gorgeous building.  I had a great time with Yaren and Keisha, both of whom come from different backgrounds from me, but share many similar opinions and views.  We were able to talk about religion, politics, culture and more, each learning many new things about the others’ countries.  As I have said before, this is my favorite part of my study abroad experience.  I am meeting so many interesting and incredible people, and I am having my eyes opened about the rest of the world.


Visiting Auschwitz has always been a dream of mine, and I believe it is an experience that every person should have.  It was one of the most powerful and heartbreaking days of my life.  We decided to take a guided tour and I am very glad we did.  Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and was able help us to comprehend the horrors of the camp.

There are two camps at Auschwitz: Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau.  We began in the Auschwitz I camp, which is significantly smaller than Birkenau and was established first.  It consists of a small village of old Polish army barracks.  It was mainly used as a working camp and held prisoners, and some people were also killed there.  It contained around 15,000 prisoners on average. 

Birkenau is less than two miles away and was meant for 125,000 prisoners.  It was also the sight of the death camp and main gas chambers.  Birkenau had at least 1.1 million people enter the camp during the three years it was used, and an estimated 90% of these prisoners perished there.  Many of them were sentenced to death in the gas chambers immediately upon arrival.

The large gas chambers in Birkenau are where most people were killed.  Many people also died of starvation, disease, and some were shot or hung.  Upon arriving at Birkenau in very crowded, hot train cars, prisoners undergo a selection process, during which the children, elderly, and anyone unfit to work were immediately sent to the chambers.  The rest were held in the camp as workers, but most were only kept alive for a couple of months before being killed. 

The gas chambers could hold 1500 people at one time, all of whom could be killed in 20 minutes using a hydrogen cyanide-based gas.  The prisoners were forced to remove their clothing and enter the chamber, where they were murdered, and then their bodies were moved to the crematorium where they were burned.  In the days leading up to the liberation of the camp, the Nazi’s destroyed much of the Birkenau camp, including the gas chambers.  The remnants remain to this day, but it is not possible to enter the chambers.

In Auschwitz I, there is one small gas chamber that was used in the beginning as a trial chamber before the Birkenau chambers were built.  We were able to enter the chamber and looking at the pipes where gas flowed and trying to imagine the suffering and death that occurred there was heartbreaking.  I have never stood on such devastating soil.

Many of the old barracks in Auschwitz I have been converted into a museum where visitors can see living conditions for the prisoners, as well as see the average food portions given to them per day.  There are pictures hanging from the camp that were taken illegally and show the brutality in the camp.  There are pictures of survivors the day they were rescued, starving and weak from their time there.  There are piles of the prisoners’ belongings that were found in a camp.  Perhaps the saddest thing I have seen was the room filled with thousands of children’s shoes that were collected from the undressing room in the gas chamber.

The entire experience was eye-opening and horrifying.  If you ever have the opportunity to visit Poland, I suggest you visit the camp.  It is impossible to imagine or understand the pain and suffering that occurred during the Holocaust.  It is impossible to imagine the evil and cruelty of the Nazis.  It is important, however, to attempt to learn about and see the place where so many people were murdered.  We must be educated so we can remember and mourn all of the innocent men, women, and children of the Holocaust.