(A Few) Realities of Living Abroad

Two years.

We’ve lived in the Czech Republic for two years now.

Between the whirlwind of settling in & visiting new countries every few months, time has passed by both slowly & rapidly for Dan & I. With our outgoing & determined personalities, adjusting to life in Prague has been surprisingly manageable. We've loved having the opportunity to observe & participate in all of the nuances of the culture here: learning what type of language or gestures are polite or rude, eating foreign food several times a week, & familiarizing ourselves with the extremely laid-back approach that defines the European lifestyle. However, we've also faced frustrating struggles while living abroad as well, including the very long & complicated visa process that the Czech Republic requires for freelancers & obtaining the right kind of paperwork for taxes, health insurance, utilities, & rent (an ongoing struggle, really).

Throughout our years of living in Czech, I’ve had friends & followers reach out to me & ask what it’s really like to leave the United States & move to Europe. & if you fall in the same category as those wondering what adaptation to a new country looks like, I've decided to write a simple glimpse into our experience as expats below. 

Vinohrady // Living in Prague 2 District

The city of Prague is made up of 10 different districts, all with local neighborhood names. Tourist areas such as Old Town, New Town, the Charles Bridge, & Wenceslas Square are all located within the Prague 1 historical center; where Dan & I lived for the first month or so while staying with family. Although our time in Prague 1 was thrilling, it was also overwhelming with the constant crowd of tourists. So after looking at a few flats (found on either Czech reality sites or Facebook listings) in different districts, we ended up finding a place in Vinohrady (just a stone’s throw away from Old Town), which has been the perfect location for us while living in Prague.

Vinohrady is a quiet, peaceful neighborhood with plenty of local cafes, bakeries, shops, & parks. The buildings are ornate, the people are (mostly!) friendly, public transportation is close by, & there are always new bistros & coffee shops opening up in our area. We love the relaxed vibe of the community & are grateful for the amount of English that's generally understood. Most expats will tell you that there's a 6-month mark when life in a foreign country begins to normalize; when your adrenaline starts to fade away & homesickness can kick in. & while we've experienced a degree of those feelings, living in Vinohrady gave us a good balance of familiarity & new adventures that stamped out any desires to pack up & move back to the States. It has honestly become one of my favorite sections in the city & we've been extremely blessed that God provided this spot for us during our time here. 

Transportation // Getting around the city

The public transportation systems in Prague are easy & convenient; the absolute truth. Since moving here, we haven’t missed having a car at all (unless used for traveling to the countryside or for bulk trips to Ikea). The metro system is made up of three lines: A (green), B (yellow), & C (red), & we generally use the A-Line the most: a path through the center of Prague’s busiest areas & to outer districts. The underground stops are usually pretty clean as well & I feel very safe taking the metro alone at night. Prague also offers an above-ground tram system in the city which we use on a regular basis. Although we constantly have to check times & chase them down, it’s another great way to get around. 

Whether or not we take public transportation, there’s a lot of walking to be done in Prague. We’ve both worn through several sneakers & tennis shoes while living here & wearing my fancy high-heeled boots isn’t a very safe option. Especially as most of the streets are made up of cobblestones. The stones, while charming to look at & take pictures of, can be pretty deadly if you aren’t careful. They're constantly being ripped up by foot traffic or cars & can be slick in the rain & icy during the cold winters. & believe me, I’ve learned those facts the hard way. 

Language // Learning & speaking Czech

I'll set the record straight from the start: I’m not great at speaking Czech. It’s a complicated language that’s been difficult to learn & decipher, & I remember feeling extremely anxious about the language barrier before even making the move. Thankfully (& mercifully!), we haven’t needed to become fluent in Czech since living in Prague. We’ve learned simple words & conversational phrases (from friends, guidebooks, & online videos) that we use every day, & other than that, we’re still learning. I usually feel fine when speaking a small amount of Czech in coffee shops & familiar neighborhood stores & restaurants, but am still super intimidated when we’re at a post office, bank, an unfamiliar grocery store, or visa appointment. 

Reading & understanding Czech has been a gradual process over time. We still look up words on our phones or translator apps to find out which flour to buy at a store or what kind of soup is advertised on a label. Hearing Czech on a daily basis has become natural to us, almost comforting; on the street, in cafes, in Uber cars, within shopping malls & grocery stores, & on YouTube/Spotify advertisements. The language can also serve as a normal white noise while we’re out & about as well, & I’ve come to prefer it over hearing English. 

Housing // Creating a home

Besides the furnishings provided to us by our landlord (a kitchen table & chairs, a futon couch & coffee table, & a built-in bed with a mattress & pillows), Dan & I started from scratch when we moved into our flat in Vinohrady. We didn’t have any dishes, serving ware, bed linens, & anything else needed to live comfortably. So in that way, Ikea became our very best friend. We have a lot of hilarious memories of carting massive Ikea bags stuffed with bowls, plates, silverware, & soap dishes up & down the metro steps, & it took us about 3-4 trips total before we finally bought everything we needed. Two items that we purchased right away included a large drying rack for laundry (as there are generally no dryers in European houses) & a stand-up fan (as there are also generally no air-conditioning units in Europe - unless bought at an expensive price). We're planning on selling or giving away a lot of these items when we move back to the States, but it's the price to be paid when setting up a home away from home. 

Shopping // Finding our daily necessities

One-stop shopping is few & far between here in Prague. Stores such as Ikea & Tesco (think Meijer or Hyvee) are only in certain areas around the city, & instead of buying everything we need at one place, we usually have to go to several different shops that specialize in goods or services. A trip to a bakery for bread, a hardware store for light bulbs, a drugstore for band-aids & shampoo, & a stationary shop for pencils & large envelopes; picking up what we need when we need it. Smaller grocery stores on the street are called ‘potravinys’ that are much like the bodegas in larger cities in the United States. We love our corner potraviny & run over several times a week for many household items, such as paper towel, market produce, candles & matches, Czech snacks, & more. We also make sure to carry a decent amount of Czech korunas (crowns in English) on us throughout the week, as many stores don't accept debit or credit cards. 

Another unfamiliar aspect of shopping in Czech has included finding & buying the right kind of medicine for when we’re sick, have a headache, or are experiencing allergies. Medicine can only be bought at a pharmacy (marked by a glowing green cross at each storefront) & can only be distributed by a worker. All forms of medicine are kept behind glass cases & cannot be purchased without an explanation. Therefore, an employee can tell you that you’re not sick enough for a certain type of medicine, & instead, give you what they think you need. Because of this, we'll ask our friends & family to send us Nyquil or Tylenol & keep a few bottles of each stocked in our bathroom cabinet. 

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While all of the above subjects have been part of our reality, they're only ripples on the water of our expat experience. Living in Europe is a far cry from taking a vacation to Europe; from finding community to interacting with different cultures constantly to facing psychological & emotional hardships, it’s difficult to describe all of the complexities & textures of our years spent abroad (& I haven't even touched on the food here!). However, if you have any questions or would like to hear more details about our story, feel free to connect with me by sending a message here. I'd love to write to you or meet with you in person over a cup of coffee & talk about all things travel, personal growth, & living an unconventional life with the Lord.