Located very nearly in the geographic center of Europe, the Czech Republic is an achingly beautiful nation with a long and storiedhistory. As a college student looking to study abroad, you could scarcely do better than spend a term or two studying in this gorgeous, storied, and underappreciated place.
Live in the HEART of Europe.
Underappreciated - really? You can be an entire nation and still be underappreciated? Well, yes, when you're a country centrally located in the continent. The surrounding countries make for tough competition - they are much-sought destinations. But for students studying abroad in the Czech Republic, this works as an advantage: If you're going to do some traveling to other countries during your stay, it's a very reasonable hop to Poland, Germany, Hungary, Austria, Romania, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia, France, the Netherlands, and more - an almost endless list of places with fascinating things to see and feel and eat and drink.
PRAGUE is the PARIS of the 90s.
That line is a quote from Marion Ross (the actress who played Mrs. Cunningham on "Happy Days," and more recently was on Gilmore Girls and about a million other shows). It's relevant here because another rationale for saying the Czech Republic is underappreciated is because of the renown ofPrague. Prague is a lovely city, and has become so prominent that, in some ways, the city dominates the country. For many people, stories about the wonderful Prague make up maybe the full extent of what they've heard about the Czech Republic. Also, at this point, Prague has been on travelers' radar for long enough that a fairly common refrain from people who've been there is "It's a nice place, but it was soooo much better 10 years ago."
This is nonsense; don't buy it. Here's how to experience the city of Prague: visit the really well-known parts early in the morning, before the tourists are awake and out. Then, if you're spending the afternoon out in the city, for the rest of the day, anytime you find yourself surrounded by tourists, walk one block away. One block, and they will be gone. It's amazing, really. Czechs live in these neighborhoods, and they know how to avoid the tourists. If you live there, you can too.
Get lost in Old Town, Mala Strana, and Zizkov. Literally lost - it's the best way to see the city. Follow your nose up strange sets of stairs and around winding corners through the maze of old streets. You will find beautiful, amazing things. Wander up to the castle and accidentally experience its historical and visual power. (While there, one wonderful destination is the neighborhood known as Novy Svet (New World), up behind the castle.) Visit the Charles Bridge, very late at night or very early in the morning - it will take your breath away. Walk up Petrin Hill for amazing views of the city without standing in any touristy lines.
See? This is why Prague helps the Czech Republic as a whole remain underappreciated: it's such a splendid city that it's really hard to talk about, even briefly, without getting carried away by its culture, personality and old-world beauty.
Live in the OLD WORLD.
Outside of Prague, you can visit the historic castle (or "Cesky") towns in the southern area that was once called Moravia - these are real fairy-tale towns, such as Krumlov, Mikulov, Znojmo, Lednice, Valtice, and Tele. They are just beautiful. (But don't expect many people to speak English; be prepared to really use your phrasebooks.)
These places have a ton of fascinating things to recommend. The Ossuary at KutnaHora (about an hour's train ride SE of Prague), to choose one example, is a small chapel, fairly unremarkable from the outside...but inside it's decorated with human bones. 400,000 bones. There's pyramids of bones, crucifixes of bones and a chandelier that includes every bone in the human body. It's one of the strangest things you'll ever see.
From an academic perspective, the Czech Republic offers a full buffet of options to those wishing to study abroad there. With more than a dozen universities that are ideal for foreign students, it's hard to go wrong. Among these, Charles University (in Prague) stands tallest, being well-regarded around the world as a top-notch university.
Area: 78,866 km ²
Climate: temperate; cool summers, cold and cloudy winters
Total Population: 10,211,904 (est. July 2009)
Languages: Czech (94.9%), Slovak (2%), other (2.3%)
Government-EconomyGovernment Type: Parliamentary Democracy
National Holiday: October 28
GDP: $266.3 billion (est. 2008)
GDP – per capita (PPP): $ 26,100 (est. 2008)
Information for Foreign Students in the Czech Republic
Obtaining a Visa
Since May 1 2005, citizens of the European Union no longer need a visa to enter the Czech Republic. This is not the case of non-Europeans, who must apply at the consular services for a Czech long term student visa. The process for obtaining this visa is rather long, so it is essential to begin early enough to get it in time. Documents required for the issuance of a Czech long term student visa concern the applicant's financial situation, its status and future housing. Thus, it is imperative to ask the administration of your university to issue an education certificate which specifies that you are expected, as part of your studies, to make a period of study abroad in the Czech Republic.
Upon your arrival in the Czech Republic, remember to register with the immigration police: this step is mandatory. Citizens of European countries have a certain time to complete this process. Citizens from outside the European Union have a period of three days to register with the police. After this period of time, your status will be illegal and you will be forced to pay a fine. The registration process with the immigration police is complex, especially when it must be done within three days. However, easy solutions exist: you can, indeed, give your passport for one or two days to a company which will take care of the process for the sum of 600 Kc (about 20 euros). It is possible to require details concerning such companies to the head of the exchange department of your university.
You can get to the Czech Republic by air. The city is well served by two low cost companies: Sky Europe and Smart Wings. It should also be noted that the airport in Prague, Ruzyn? is located twenty kilometers from downtown, which can be reached by bus and by subway.
The easiest option is to stay in a student dormitory. At the time of the administrative registration, it is possible to make a reservation. The dormitories are not very expensive, about 80 euros per month for a room (however, foreign students receive no housing assistance in the Czech Republic). The quality of these homes is very variable. Some are restored and therefore have new and modern infrastructure, while others are more austere. Students living in such homes often share a room or a studio equipped with a bathroom, toilets and a small kitchen. The atmosphere is very nice as Erasmus students are grouped in the same building. However, the problem ofkolej (dormitories) is their geographical emplacements, often located far way from downtown. While trams, buses and the subway usually connect to downtown, it is not always pleasant to live far from the active center of Prague, which hosts most of the interesting events. Another option is to be housed in an apartment in downtown. The prices, though variable depending on the neighborhood, remain relatively low. Thus, for a small studio, it can cost about 200 euros. You will find also many collocation opportunities since many Erasmus students leave their dormitory during the year to take an apartment downtown. Concerning your accommodation, remember when you register at your host university to book a room in the dormitory: you can provide your reservation at the Czech consulate at the time of your visa application (which can be canceled to find an alternative housing). In addition, a global insurance is also required.
Cost of Living
Overall, the Czech Republic is not an expensive country. However, in Prague in particular, prices are high. You can always manage to eat cheaply, but for the accommodation, you should expect high prices. The hotels are expensive compared to the standard of living of the population. They have similar prices to those of Western Europe. In pivnice or hospoda, a goulash lunch will cost about 120 Kc (4.80 euros). It is not uncommon for the dish of the day to cost around 100 CZK (4 euros). You can count on a food budget of 300 CZK (12 euros) per day for the bare minimum.
Avoid changing money at the border, the rates are extreme. Most major banks have an exchange office. The Cedok in Prague provides exchange services. Commissions are charged by institutions ranging from 1 to 10%. Avoid Exact Change and Cekobanka for which the commission is very high.
You can easily purchase phone cards in tobacco offices. Communications to Europe are cheap; however, this is not the case for calls to countries outside Europe. Furthermore, you can equip your mobile phone with a chip sold by the operator Vodaphone for 20 euros. You just have to get to any tobacco offices to buy prepaid cards to fund your account and you can also recharge the card through ATMs, which is very convenient. Remember that you will always have access to the Internet. Indeed, if you stay in a dormitory, rooms and studios are all equipped with telephone sets allowing an easy access to the Web. It is also possible to be connected to the Internet at the university. If you stay in an apartment, it won't be difficult to implement a telephone line to be connected to the Internet. In any case, if you decide to introduce a phone line in your apartment, remember to cancel your contract at least one month before your departure.
If you are resident in the European Union, remember to obtain a European Health Insurance Card. Your local Social Security will send you the card within 15 days. This card works with all the member countries of the European Union. It is valid for one year, free and personal. It allows the management of health care in all European countries under the same conditions as the insurer in their country of residence but does not apply to health care delivered by private institutions.
Prague is a city well served by its public transport system, consisting of a network of buses, trams and the subway. The use of the subway is easy, since there are only three lines in Prague. It should be noted that transportation tickets are on sale in subway stations and in kiosks, and can't be obtained in the tram or the bus itself. In any case, it is always better to buy a student ticket for three months; it will be much less expensive (a ticket costs about 600 Kc, twenty euros), and you will save valuable time. While the public transportation system is reliable and effective, it does not apply to taxis, on which the state has little control. Taxis never have a price counter. It is therefore essential to bargain before entering a taxi. Avoid taking a taxi at night. As a general rule, always try to call a taxi from a reliable agency (the most famous being the agency AAA). If you want to travel, the railway network covers the whole country. If you are traveling in southern Moravia, prefer the bus because the region is less served by trains. To view the schedules, go to the following website: www.idos.cz. It is the website of Ceske Drahy Czech railway company.