Shelby is from Minnetonka, Minnesota and went to Prague, Czech Republic to complete an engineering internship.
How do you feel looking back on your experience in the Czech Republic?
I enjoyed the experience overall. Prague is a beautiful city and it will always hold a special place in my heart. I am also grateful for all the wonderful people I met, both through the program and through my internship.
Did you have any reservations before leaving for the Czech Republic?
I was pretty nervous about not knowing the language going in. I knew that Czech would be a hard language to learn, but I went in with an open mind and tried to pick up as much as I could.
What was your first impression of the Czech Republic?
The landscape reminds me a lot of Minnesota. Outside of the city there are a lot of fields and forest areas. The city center of Prague is gorgeous, especially along the river. I instantly fell in love with my surroundings.
How did your first impressions/nervousness (if any) change from when you arrived to when you left?
The first week or so, I was so homesick and being surrounded by a lot of people who did not speak English was a little overwhelming. I found myself looking for things that reminded me of home. By the end, however, I was sad that I would be missing all of the things I came to love about Prague. Although I did not learn enough of the language to hold long conversations, I felt comfortable enough to order at a restaurant or ask someone for help.
Tell me about where you lived. Did it add to your experience?
The place where I lived definitely added to my experience, although not always in the way I expected. The dorm was a bit out of the city center so I really got to experience life as a lot of Czech people do, taking the trams to and from work every day. It was also an experience to live in Prague in the summer without air conditioning, but that also gave me a taste of living in Europe.
Did you have any trouble with language barriers?
A lot of people, especially outside of the city center, do not speak English in the Czech Republic, so yes, I did experience the language barrier. I became better at expressing myself through motions when I needed help and I picked up enough of the language to get me through.
Tell me about your internship.
I interned at a newer 3D printing company. It was a really cool experience because everyone that worked there is really interested in technology and how 3D printing will affect the future of both DIY projects and manufacturing. It was great to work with a lot of creative minds and it was fun to learn about the printing process, from start to finish. I got to help grow the business a bit and create a bit more structure to their processes, helping them move out of the start-up phase and into a phase that is ready for growth.
Tell me about a typical day for you from the time you got up until the time you went to sleep.
I started my day by getting ready and then hopping on a tram to work. I worked both independently and with peers throughout the day and then headed back to the dorm in the afternoon. I usually hung out a bit and waited for some of the other interns to get done with their day and we would usually head out and about to explore Prague and have dinner. We would walk around until it got dark and would head back by tram again to the dorms before going to bed.
How did you get around? (i.e. going to your internship, traveling, going to a store…etc.)
The transit system in Prague is quite extensive, so I usually took a tram to get to most of the places I needed to go. I also took the buses and metro (underground).
What made you want to intern abroad and specifically why in the Czech Republic?
I have always wanted to go abroad while in college, but I never really needed to take any extra courses, and my program has pretty specific requirements, so I thought an internship would be a good alternative to studying abroad. The Czech Republic made sense because they have quite a bit of engineering in the area and I had been to Prague once before and fell in love with the city.
How did your time in the Czech Republic impact you? What do you carry with you now because of this experience?
I think it impacted me in a lot of ways that I cannot even fully explain. I think I have grown overall. I have a better cultural understanding and think I am less judgmental of differences now. I also believe that being away from home made me realize how much I truly love where I am from and made me appreciate it more. It also gave me the travel bug, and I really want to see a lot of other places.
What are you doing now? Do you have future travels plans?
Now I am just preparing for my last year at the University of Minnesota, getting ready to enter the workforce (hopefully!) when I graduate. Right now I am tentatively planning to backpack around Europe next summer after I graduate.
What advice would you give someone traveling abroad?
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Also, don’t be afraid to look like the “dumb American.” People will always think that about you and if you just be yourself, you can usually prove them wrong. Also, just immerse yourself in the culture. Try and speak the language. Go to the restaurants where the locals go. If you solely stick to the tourist areas, everywhere you go will seem the same. Experience the places not everyone gets to see.
How did you hear about World Endeavors, and why did you choose WE over other programs?
I heard about World Endeavors through the Learning Abroad Center at the University of Minnesota. Not a lot of other programs offered internships in engineering disciplines.
Number one story you love to tell about your time abroad:
I was sitting in the Old Town Square having lunch on my own and I just happened to be there at noon when the astronomical clock goes off and all the tourists gather around to take pictures. There was also a Czech couple eating lunch nearby and I could hear them kind of laughing about all of the people jammed into the square just to get a photo or a video of the clock striking twelve. Although I could not understand all of their conversation, I picked up on a few phrases and started thinking about being a tourist versus being a real and active part of the city outside of the tourist center. That Czech couple got me thinking about my place in this new culture. Although I do not always fit in or understand the way things work, I continue working toward learning more about the language and the way people function. Sometimes I know that it’s a good thing to be one of those tourists packed into the square trying to take in every part of the new and exciting culture. It’s also good to be like the Czech couple, well-adjusted and attuned to the way things work in the culture. Both parts help you have the most meaningful experience.
Most important thing you gained from your time abroad:
I think I really learned a lot about myself and how I function when I am more independent. Sometimes I think when people are at home, they get wrapped up in a behavior that is different from their true selves because they are always surrounded by others. In my experience in the Czech Republic, I often wandered around the city by myself, taking in the culture and doing what I wanted to do. I think that when you can feel comfortable doing things by yourself, especially when abroad, you get to know yourself better.
Anything you learned about yourself, US culture, etc.?
I learned that, although there are so many beautiful places in the world, I love Minnesota and know that no matter where I travel to, I will always come back here.