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Study Abroad Feature: Caroline Winicki in Prague

Study Abroad Feature: Caroline Winicki in Prague

My name is Caroline Winicki, I am a rising senior, and I am from Middlebury, Conn. At Babson, I run cross country and track & field. For part of this past semester, I studied abroad in Prague, Czech Republic. Studying abroad was something I have always wanted to participate in due to the opportunities for cultural immersion and stepping outside my comfort zone. I chose to study in Prague because of its unique culture, central location, and storied history.  Going into my program, I knew no one, spoke only a few Czech words, and was relatively unfamiliar with Czech life. Albeit, I stepped onto my plane, more excited than nervous, and flew off to a very different experience than I was expecting.

The first few days in Prague were a whirlwind of new friends, food, and plenty of exploration. As I settled into classes and life in my host city, I wanted to set a mantra for myself to follow during my time abroad. I've always liked the phrase, "it's the little things in life" and I found myself saying it a lot during my first few days in Prague. So, I made that phrase my new mantra because it gave me a different perspective on life. During my adjustment period, this mantra applied to so many things, because each "little thing" showed I was adapting to life in Prague. Whether it be navigating the metro by myself, buying the right groceries, finding a new running route, or discovering a new café, I felt like I was getting the hang of my new independent lifestyle.

Eventually, as I started to go on weekend trips and was nearing the middle of my program, the "little things" turned into amazing moments I'll always remember. I found myself smiling as I gazed out at the Danube river as the sun set in Budapest, visiting historic art museums on class field trips, stuffing my face with pierogis in Poland, wandering around the streets of Prague on my way to school with my best friends, taking my brother to my favorite bar on his visit to see me, or streaming through the streets of Vienna on motor scooters without a care in the world. As soon as all these remarkable "little things" became my new reality and routine, suddenly, everything changed.

It's no secret COVID-19 was rapidly spreading. And, of course, it eventually came to Prague and tore my new reality right from my grasp. One morning, I was waking up, sipping a cappuccino and chatting excitedly with my friends about an upcoming weekend trip to Copenhagen on our way to school. And, the next morning, I was awoken at 2 a.m. by panicked phone calls about President Trump's announcement to close borders to Europe. Frantically, my parents booked me on a flight home that left in 26 hours.  As I spent my last precious hours in my new home, I soaked up every "little thing" I could, from my last authentic Czech meal, to a stroll in the park, to countless espressos, to the tears and hugs as I said farewell to my new friends.  As I flew home, I was inevitably saddened to see my time abroad cut short, but I was grateful for all the things I did get to do.

As I finished my study abroad classes, online and from home, I had a lot of opportunities to reflect on my experience abroad and learn a lot about myself. While I was so focused on my "little things" during my time abroad, I also realized I got to do a lot of "big things" that so many people do not have the opportunity to do, such as live independently in a capital city and travel around Europe on a whim. I am so grateful that I got to see as many places and meet as many people as I did, and discover as much as I could about a new city and culture. In addition, I learned a lot about myself during the last three months. As an athlete, adaptability and resiliency are key traits I have developed. But, until I was at home and coping with many life changes, I didn't realize how ingrained in me these traits have become. Instead of thinking negatively about what I had lost, I learned to become flexible, turn my situation around, and think about all that I had already gained. 

All the exploring and learning I got to do this past semester would not be possible without support from so many people. I am beyond appreciative to my coaches for letting me go abroad and guiding me through training throughout my time in Prague; thank you coach Brennan and coach Amber for everything you did to help me go abroad. I am thankful for the Glavin Office for their endless assistance from beginning to end. I am eternally grateful for my parents and their outpouring of support and their ability to help get me home as quickly and safely as possible. I am thankful for CIEE Prague for its engaging in-person and online learning. And, I am lucky to have gotten to know you, Prague.