Many people enjoy traveling abroad and some even do a semester abroad in college; but for Lara Goodteacher and Cody Perk, a visit wasn’t long enough. Cody decided to join a program to teach in Prague, moving abroad to pursue this; and Lara decided that she wanted to do her graduate schooling in London at the prestigious King’s College. Coming from Yankton, South Dakota there was a lot of adjustment in the whole process but there were also new experiences and a great adventure. Her Voice asked them a few questions about their experiences.

1. What drew you to go abroad?

a. Cody: “Like a lot of people in this area, my family and I have a lot of Czech heritage, so ever since I was a little kid I was fascinated by the “old country” and its language, culture, and history. While I was learning Czech over the internet with friends who helped me with Czech in exchange for English, a friend from school told me about TEFL programs (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and that Prague was a popular spot for prospective teachers. I’d always been very interested in European history before coming here, and one notion I’d always had was that being surrounded by the buildings and sites of a long and varied history must have a strong effect on the mentality of Europeans. I suppose it does, but now that I’ve been here a year I have a much stronger impression that Prague is really a 21st-century city full of 21st-century people who mostly just happen to be walking around under centuries-old buildings. I’ve sort of lost the romantic notion that Europe is somehow a more special place than others because of what’s here. The corollary to that is a commitment to seeing other parts of the world for the great histories that are in them, including my own home in Yankton and the US. When I came home this summer I drove out to see my sister in California and along the way I read a great book on the Southwest that detailed the rich history of the area, its land, and its people, much of it older than many of the places I spend time in in Prague. Back at home, I started looking at Yankton and the broader region in search of the deep roots that it has and the ancient history that, despite being largely unwritten, still breathes in the land and has a living legacy. Engaging with the world and its history shouldn’t be a matter of escape or transplantation, and I think I learned that a little more deeply after going to Prague and back.”

b. Lara: “I think it began back during my sophomore year of university. While I was taking my prerequisite courses for my initial major of history education (I switched my major to just History with a minor in Geography half way through junior year), one of my professors told us about the possibility of doing our student teaching abroad; and he told us about the time he spent in England for his student teaching and I believe that planted the seed for wanting to go abroad. I didn’t think of going during university mainly because I didn’t have the money to do so, but I did want to go to grad school at some point so I did do some research. I looked at schools in the US as well as in the UK (and Ireland) and I even had the grand idea of going to South Korea for school (but that would’ve taken years because of the language barrier and the need to understand Korean). After I had graduated, it took me about a year to realize that I wanted to go to grad school in England. I initially had the plan of teaching English in South Korea since I became certified to teach English, and then go to grad school in England. I decided that I didn’t want to wait, so I changed my plans and during the summer of 2014 I was accepted to King’s College, London but deferred to the following 2015/2016 school year.”

2. What’s the biggest difference between Yankton and life abroad?

a. Cody: “Whenever I think of the biggest difference between life in Yankton and in Prague I come up with a different answer. Prague’s city center isn’t too big but is very busy and crowded compared to Yankton. The weather this year was milder both in winter and summer than in Yankton, even though Prague is eight degrees farther north. There is a river that runs through the city, the Vltava, but Prague stretches out far beyond both sides of the river rather than being mostly to one side, as Yankton is, and the banks of the river are mostly paved and walled, partly to avoid flooding, rather than having parks and grass that go right up to the bank. Although a good number of languages are spoken in Yankton, you hear a lot more in an average day in Prague because it is a very popular place for tourists and (immigrants like me and other) internationals. The food is different too (and very good), and it’s hard to find public restrooms you can simply walk in and use; sometimes you have to pay.”

b. Lara: “I can’t really say if there’s just one big difference. It’s a culture shock being in London. It’s HUGE. You have to learn to live with everyone being in your space, especially on the Tube. I wouldn’t call Yankton the typical small town that lots of people think of when you mention it, but we’re itty bitty compared to even the boroughs that make up London; but it’s a lot of looking straight ahead and nothing like giving a small smile or hello that’s the norm in Yankton or any small town. It’s quite nice though, having all sorts of culture around you here.

Living in student accommodation is wonderful since you meet all sorts of individuals from everywhere in the world. The great thing about that is you get to know what other countries are like and you realize how better those countries are compared to the US. I love being an indigenous person of the United States, but when you learn about the policies other countries like Sweden and Greece and even India have? You wish you lived there.

Things like better health care, maternity leave that’s better for mother and father, better vacation days? In the end though, you get to see everything here that is hard to find in Yankton or other small Midwest towns. Another difference would be the amount of homelessness that you can visually see. It leaves a sense of sadness and hopelessness within you seeing that, especially if you don’t see it like in Yankton. You want to do more, especially around the winter time, but what can you do other than give them the spare change that you might have with you?”

3. What is the best thing about living abroad?

a. Cody: “One of the best things about living abroad is the constant exposure to new cultures, languages, people, and perspectives on the world and its issues. Situated in central Europe, Prague is also a great place to strike out and travel from, and the city itself is fairly cheap.”

b. Lara: “I think the ability to travel around Europe is the best thing about being here. For one thing, it’s cheaper to travel from London to someplace else. I’ve been to Amsterdam and Prague so far and have traveled to Oxford and will hopefully be able to make a short trip up north to Scotland. It’s so much easier to travel honestly. Being in the US makes it seem like it’s harder to travel out of the US, and that may be just me, but I don’t think I could be able to make a 5 day trip to Amsterdam or Prague while living there. I also enjoy shopping for groceries.

It’s a weird thing to like, but the prices already include taxes so I don’t have to do any mental math to figure out what my total will be before or after taxes.”

4. What was it like being abroad during the Brexit vote?

a. Cody: “I was actually visiting the States when the Brexit vote came through, and it was a major shock to people. My facebook feed was nonstop with posts about the referendum from people on both sides of the Atlantic, and some of my UK friends were very upset and shaken up. As the date of the vote came closer I heard more about the increasing tension between both sides and felt the parallels with our own domestic political situation.”

b. Lara: “What a mess that was and still is. I adamantly urge everyone to read up on the whole situation and understand what this means and what’s going to happen.

But what was it like? Pretty much everyone I know cried in horror. The pound dropped, which was the only pleasant thing about this since the conversion rate between the pound and dollar is ridiculous.

I don’t think I got much sleep that night since I was watching the vote tallies coming in and I had that sense of doom fall into the pit of my stomach.”

5. What has it been like living abroad while the election year is heating up?

a. Cody: “As an English teacher, I talk to a lot of different people during the week, and a good number of Czechs definitely pay attention to the US election race. Most people I talk to aren’t very fond of the GOP frontrunner, who reminds them of their own unpopular president. But given the publicity attached to some of the rhetoric in this election, the attention it receives from many people around the world, and the low blows and mean comments often dealt out on social media,

I’ve occasionally been embarrassed to have America’s political process connected with charged, divisive, and sometimes insulting speech about immigrants, Muslims, women, fellow voters, and other groups.”

b. Lara: “This whole election has been so embarrassing. At the beginning, back in September? That was fine. My flatmates and I could just laugh off the whole GOP thing. But now? It’s so embarrassing to see what our country has been reduced to.”

6. What experience has benefited you the most and would you do it again?

a. Cody: “When I was looking for a church to go to I found one the first weekend I was there that offers the traditional Latin Mass.

The second time I went they played beautiful music in a lovely late Renaissance style and sang all the Gregorian chants for the day plus a beautiful 17th-century piece I’d never heard before. I stuck around after to ask who wrote it. Jirka, one of the singers, told me it was by a Czech baroque composer, and asked if I’d like to sing with them sometime. Because of that invitation I’ve gotten involved with a few different choirs around the area and sung that very piece a handful of times.”

b. Lara: I now know how to read the Tube map. Just kidding. I think the overall experience to be able to study at a ranked university in London is a benefit. Unless you’re a university professor in South Dakota, you don’t really know what kind of university King’s College is, so it’s not as impressive to others.

But knowing I have this under my belt is extremely important. I might do this again. I know I’ll be taking some time to establish myself back in the US, getting a job I want and paying back my student loans, but I also want to be able to teach English at some point, hopefully in South Korea. I had this ultimate dream of getting Master’s in Modern, Early Modern, and Medieval History and then a Doctorates in Early Religious Studies and part of that dream was to work in the Vatican Archives (I really look up to the fictional character Robert Langdon from the Dan Brown series) and just all that it entails. But in a way, doing just one year has disillusioned me. So I think it’s important for me to take some time and figure out if that original dream of mine is what I want to do. Sure, it’s important to have those degrees listed on a paper, but is it any different from me learning about it on my own, on my own time and pleasure?”

7. What are the best and worst experiences you had meeting people?

a. Cody: I went to the doctor with strep throat in February and was giving my details to the secretary. I still take a little time to understand Czech, so she had to repeat some questions in Czech for me. She got to “nationality” and I didn’t understand the word she used, so she prompted me: “Russian? Ukrainian?” to which I responded in Czech, a bit puzzled: “American.” She was very surprised and said “What?! ... It’s impossible to tell that from your accent.” The other patient in the waiting room and I had a laugh about that. It was a proud moment. We also met two Serbs up in a cafe one night when I was out with three of my closest friends there. They were a little drunk and their English wasn’t great to begin with, and then they started saying some homophobic things before they left. It was a little uncomfortable for everyone involved.”

b. Lara: “I think the best story of people I’ve met would be meeting my flatmates. I’m a shy, introvert by nature, so it’s hard for me to be open and make friends. I first moved in on a Sunday and I hadn’t met any of my flatmates initially. I kept to my room, organizing it, and then eventually checking out the stores around my accommodation on my computer. I ventured downstairs to get a feel of the place and I ran into one of my flatmates, Shelby (she’s from America as well), on the elevator going down. Going back up I ran into another one, Maria. I couldn’t tell where she was from, but I initially thought she was British because she had that slight accent (turns out that she’s from Cyprus, but has this habit of mimicking the British accent around British people.) But we didn’t really talk and it wasn’t until the next day that I met more of my flatmates. I met Tom (Norway), Simon (Sweden), and Stefania (Greece) in the kitchen that next day and that evening, they invited me out for drinks at the nearest pub, Wetherspoons.

Throughout the same week, I met all my flatmates- Aaditya (India), Melina (Greece), Melanie (France), and Josh (China). We’re a close-knit family and we do a lot of things together and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I don’t really have a worst stories of people I’ve met.

8. What is the difference between education in America versus education abroad?

a. Lara: “I like to think there’s a lot of differences between the two. It’s not cheaper or more expensive than schools in America. My tuition fee was 17,050 pounds or about $26,000 for the year. And that’s a difference in of itself. While most grad schools in the US are at least two years or three, for US students or just international students, we only have the option of being full time students so we only get a year. For the first semester (as for a Modern History major or any history major) we take 3 classes, one of which is mandatory for our major and the other two are optional ones we can pick. At the end of the semester we write research papers for each class, and each paper is 4,000 words. We have a month to write them. Then we start the second semester which is the same but with different classes. During this time period, not only must we read for our classes (which are seminars of two hours length) and figure our research ideas for those classes, we must start figuring out our dissertation thesis. It’s exhausting and time consuming but if you really love learning and want it, it’s worth it. Also, if you want to go to grad school, I strongly suggest taking seminars in your undergrad if they’re offered for your major. I’m saying this because all I had were lectures so I wasn’t prepared for the seminars and it was highly uncomfortable, especially for an introvert like myself. Also, personally I’ve never had to write a dissertation before now but apparently in Europe, it’s a thing all university students must do in order to graduate from undergrad; so that was a difference for myself and I had to ask my professors for help in how to structure my dissertation (which I should really be working on currently. Haha.).

9. What is your funniest story/experience?

a. Cody: “Once on a Saturday my friend Nafeesa and I went to IKEA for the first time either of us had been there. It took us most of the day to get there, find what we needed, and get back. On the way we got separated on the metro when she got in the wrong train and I stayed on the platform with a dead phone, and for a fleeting moment we glanced helplessly at each other but none of the hilarity of our situation was lost on either of us. We tend to have good weekends like that.”

b. Lara: “There are a lot of moments that I’ve had with my flatmates, just hanging out in our kitchen and someone will say something that will get us in stitches. There aren’t really any specific stories or experiences, but rather clusters of moments that we’ve had that often end up with us laughing hysterically.

Though I will tell this one story that was particularly humorous to me: back in May I think, a group of us from the flat went out to this pub in Hackney Wick (which is a borough next to us) and Stefania had a bit too much to drink. After having a serious debate about the death penalty, we reached our flat after 1 am and we proceeded to talk more in the kitchen. At one point, Tom brought out coffee flavored tequila and Stefania proceeded to slowly have four shots of it. Then she went on this soliloquy about the Queen (God bless the Queen) and how she should retire because Stefania’s grandmother is 94 and forgetful about things so that means with the Queen turning 90, she’ll turn out the same. Aaditya and I were highly amused since it was all anecdotal and how the Queen knows everything that she does and if anyone were to have top physicians to help them, it’d be the Queen.”

10. What will you miss the most when you return home?

a. Cody: Though it’s nice being in a home language environment, I can already say from experience that I’ll miss being immersed in an enormously diverse linguistic environment. (One of the small choirs I sing in includes speakers of Czech, Slovak, Ukrainian, Russian, Podhale, and Rusyn, besides English, and most of those end up being used at least once during a typical hour of practice -- and that’s just some of the Slavic languages here.) But being able to drive at home maybe makes up for all that.

b. Lara: “I think I will miss my friends the most. I’ve discovered that a place this big, isn’t for me, so I won’t miss London. I will miss the experience London gave me. I will miss the buildings and iconic architecture London is known for. I will miss the ability to just walk everywhere or use public transportation. It’s nice not to worry about my car (let’s hope I can remember how to drive it when I get back) and despite how annoying the public transportation is, it’s so very useful. Of course, I’m not going to miss the closing time for everything.

Most of the grocery stores close around 9 or 10 in the evening and everything closes at 5 pm on Sundays which is very annoying. I think someday I’ll really miss London, and when that happens, maybe I’ll come back for a visit and see all the sites again.”

11. Do you have any advice for anyone looking to move/study abroad?

a. Cody: “Do it! Aside from the sort of bureaucratic elements of getting permission to stay and work or study, and the details of finding accommodation and other necessities, it’s really as easy as getting tickets and hopping on a plane. It’s immensely rewarding to get to know a new culture and see so much of your own experience in it. And if you go abroad: learn the language!”

b. Lara: If you want to study abroad, try doing a semester in university first, if you can. A whole year is a bit much if you’ve never done anything like this. I would highly suggest you wait and start paying off your student loans before venturing into studying abroad.

If you’re focused on studying abroad, make sure you research the school you want to go to. Look to see if they offer student accommodation and scholarships. Plan ahead. The school website usually lets you know what you need to do leading up to coming to their school. They will let you know when you need to apply for your visa and apply for student housing. Make a list of what you need to do and mark it on a calendar when you need to do it. Also be aware of your electronics; if you bring a straightener from the US here and try to use it, you’ll knock out the power in your building.

Make sure you let your mobile provider know that you’re going abroad and that you’ll need to be able to switch out your micro-SD card for a provider in the country you’re in. If you don’t feel like doing that, they do have cheap mobile devices you can purchase and you can get pretty good plans for those as well.

It can be kind of stressful preparing and getting here, but I think two of the most significant things about studying abroad are: study hard- you’ve been given the opportunity to have this experience, don’t waste it. Have fun- when you have the time, go out and travel; go to the pubs and PRIDE parades with your friends; explore the city you’re in. Studying is important, but so is the experience you will have.”