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Experiences of International Students
Hello! My name is Alex and I am originally from a town called Ayr, which is situated on the southwest coast of Scotland. I first came to Prague in February 2017 as part of an Erasmus+ exchange (back in those pre-Brexit halcyon days) and then returned in August 2018 to start my doctoral studies. Upon arriving, I vividly remember being in awe of the architecture to the point that I most definitely had neck pain from looking up at the buildings all day. To put it into context, the majority of structures in Scotland are, while charming, drab and grey.
The biggest cultural shock for me, apart from everyone driving on the wrong side of the road, was how inexpensive it was to use public transport. I strongly urge all students who are less than 26 years old to take advantage of the discount on rail travel before Father Time starts to dust off his scythe. Now that I am 28 years old and nearing my pension, I regret not exploring more of Czechia for cheap during that golden period. Furthermore, many major cities (e.g., Berlin, Vienna, Warsaw, etc.) are easily accessible from Prague, which makes it an ideal base from which to discover the rest of Europe. As an ardent fan of live music, I went to countless gigs while studying for my master’s degree in Glasgow. Hence, I was pleased to discover that most of my favorite artists/bands visit Prague as part of their European tour.
In terms of accommodation, I was surprised at how far the UCT Prague dormitories were located from the Dejvice campus itself. As a naïve 22-year-old Scot, I quickly found out how little the Duolingo app had prepared me for my first interaction with the Kolej Sázava receptionist. Even though the majority of people in Prague speak English very well, I would advise taking the Czech course offered by UCT Prague, as it will come in handy when you find yourself in a vesnice (village). While Prague 4 was an idyllic setting as an Erasmus+ student (i.e., cheap rent, easy to make friends, etc.), I would recommend finding a flatshare or your own space somewhere closer to the university if you are studying long-term and can afford it. As much as I enjoyed my short-lived period in Kunratice, the one-hour commute to-and-from the laboratory was brutal.
As for UCT Prague itself, the so-called “state exam” that forms part of the doctoral programme was a new concept for me. Despite it being a formidable test to prepare for, it was rewarding in the sense that I gained a better understanding of the underlying principles of my discipline (and my caffeine limit). I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here so far due to the interesting people I have met and the challenging but fascinating nature of my research topic. I would also like to thank all of the staff members who have not only shown patience in helping me with any problems I have encountered but have made me feel welcome, while somehow coping with my accent.
You come from Nigeria, a country different from the Czech Republic in many ways. Did your expectations come true?
As an African who was born and raised in a highly populated industrial city in a tropical country, I always hoped to spend part of my life in a country with a temperate climate, a safe environment, natural landscapes, and a beautiful architectural heritage. And I can say that the country has lived up to my expectations. Tourist attractions in Nigeria are primarily based on their historical significance, with no emphasis on aesthetics. Unlike Nigeria, the Czech Republic has beautiful hills with grasses and trees and fascinating Baroque and Gothic architecture. One of the most beautiful examples I have seen is Prague Castle. I wanted to experience a different culture in continental Europe and learn a new Latin-based language.
So I am currently trying very hard to learn basic Czech words and sentences. In Nigeria, the national sport is football, while in the Czech Republic you have ice hockey. There are many differences in the two countries’ architecture, landscape, language, climate, culture, cuisine, and sports. But most importantly, in my experience I can say that the Czechs are very calm and friendly. It is not surprising that the Czech Republic has consistently ranked in the top ten in the World Peace Index in recent years.
Why did you decide to study for a PhD at UCT?
I was interested in doing a doctorate at UCT mainly because of its specialization in chemistry and the achievements of the late professors Otto Wichterle and Emil Votoček. Ever since I was in high school, chemistry and mathematics have been two of my favourite science subjects. Besides the late Professor Jindřich Nečas from Charles University, Professors Wichterle and Votoček were among the Czech scientists I looked up to after my previous studies in chemical engineering. During my studies I became very interested in the prediction and improvement of chemical products, chemical processes and fluid flow processes using computer mathematical modelling. It was these professors’ contribution to the development of soft contact lenses, chemical nomenclature and numerical modelling that sparked my interest in studying at the University in Prague.
What do you see as the biggest differences between studying at university in Nigeria and the Czech Republic?
Perhaps the most significant differences are in the ratio of teachers to students and in student exchange programmes. Universities in Nigeria have a lower teacher-student ratio and usually do not have student exchange programmes that are typical in Czech universities, such as Erasmus. Thanks to these programs, students in the Czech Republic have the opportunity to experience the culture of another country, learn a new language and be supervised by researchers who are experts in certain specialties that may not be available at their home university. This is probably the biggest difference from Nigeria.
Whom would you recommend to study at the UCT Prague University Centre in Litvínov?
That's easy. Any student who has a genuine passion to one day become a top professional in the chemicals industry.
Hello everyone! My name is Yekaterina but friends call me Kate and I am the 3rd year student at the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague. These three years passed extremely fast for me. However, I had so much fun making that huge step in changing my life.
Why the Czech Republic?
Hmm… I have been traveling around Europe for the first time since I was 12. The capital of the Czech Republic, namely Prague was the first destination during my adventure. I was completely adored by everything that I’ve seen around me. Basically, the style of this city is different from all the other places that I visited before. You can feel it going through its narrow streets crowded by tourists and smelling the Czech national pastry called trdelnik which I highly recommend trying especially with Nutella or ice cream inside. Also, I really liked the plenty of bridges (not forgetting Charles Bridge which is the main tourist attraction) crossing the Vltava river, they make Prague an even more romantic place than Paris, the well-known city of love and magic.
The last thing that convinced me that Prague is the place where I want to live in the Prague Zoo. I have read that it’s in 5th place in the world. It’s not surprising because the whole area of the Zoo is almost comparable to the National Park. You can find a huge diversity of animals there including reptiles, fish, exotic birds, wild cats, and so on. I remember that day as one of the unforgettable moments from my trip to Europe 8 years ago.
What was next?
When I almost graduated from high school I need to decide where to go for my study and what specialization I want to choose. Hence, the last European trip left so many good emotions and memories I was searching for any opportunities which can bring me back to that incredible place.
I was more interested in studying science like Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry… in high school so it made my choice narrower while looking for the university. One day when I already spent 6-8 hours reading all information on the web pages of different universities in Prague hoping to find the program which suits me the most I finally opened the website of UCT Prague. Then I was definitely thinking that it was the place to pursue my future career as a chemical engineer.
What surprised me the most?
The transport system is one of the big advantages of this big city. In Prague, the transport is both well-organized and easy to use. You can never be late for your lectures at the university or work since the bus, tram, and metro schedules are available online and even via a special app for mobile phones. The metro is the fastest in case I need to travel long distances.
And now one special fact! I can use my transport card even for the ferry on the Vltava and funicular railway on the way to Petrin Tower (which looks like a small copy of the Eiffel Tower).
Do I speak Czech?
After living here for almost 3 years I can understand clearly what people are telling me in Czech but still have some problems expressing myself while speaking Czech. Actually, I find it very useful to start studying Czech immediately after arrival to the Czech Republic. That way you can easily communicate in supermarkets, restaurants, or at the post office. For me, learning the basics of the Czech language was not that hard as I speak Russian and it's from the same group of languages.
How funny is the Czech language to me?
There are some words that have completely opposite meanings but sound similar in Czech and Russian.
- úžasný – amazing (in Russian: terrible)
- vůně – nice smell (in Russian: disgusting smell)
There are probably many other examples of some Czech words that can sound funny in your language too. Just let me know!
Which Czech habits do I hate the most?
Blowing their noses extremely loudly even in public places. It was unbelievable when I’ve first seen it. I was trying to find any plausible explanation on the internet. Nothing found by now. Nevertheless, I accepted to live here so I somehow got used to this weird Czech habit which is absolutely normal for locals.
What about Czech food?
Personally, I like Czech food for its simplicity and the big amounts that you can get in restaurants for an adequate price. I highly recommend trying one of the Czech national dishes called guláš which is served with special bread dumplings. This combination tastes fantastic and is worth trying! And if you are a cheese lover you can have smažený sýr which stands for deep-fried cheese typically served with fries, salad, or bread.
If you have any questions or just want to chat you can meet me at UCT Prague or NTK (National Technical Library) where I spend most time right now. Good luck with your studies and exploring Prague every day as it's a place full of secrets!
I had never been to the Czech Republic, not even as a tourist in Prague before I moved here. Originally being from Latin America, having lived in Spain for seven years (and in Brazil and Portugal for some time), I experienced culture shock here from the beginning. The most important cultural difference I encountered was the fact that Czechs are not politically correct at all. This can be a bit difficult in the beginning, but eventually, it becomes quite refreshing for its authenticity and realness.
On the negative side, Czech rudeness is a very popular topic of cultural shock among foreigners. However, it is not a pretentious and arrogant culture, so that relieves the pains of being a foreigner greatly because there is no air of superiority constantly being thrown in your face.
At work, I find Czechs to be very helpful, kind, humble, focused, and hardworking, but I was shocked by the fact that they avoid complaining about poor working conditions and I did not expect that, especially after having lived in Spain, where people are much more open in complaining and claiming rights. This was a major shock for me. The control of hours, the bureaucracy, and the strict adherence to some rules (like not letting people out of the building to get a coffee at entrance vending machines without swiping a card) was surprising. However, such rigidity is not extended to laboratory safety measures, for example, and this is very shocking, culturally speaking. It is difficult for me, as a foreigner, to define this culture, due to this strange mixture of rigidity and flexibility, which has both bad and good sides. The lack of information regarding taxes, retirement pay, and so on makes it difficult to integrate and understand how the country works. The language barrier does not help. There seems to be a lack of empathy for being a foreigner, for the most part, so almost no one takes their time to explain how things work or to help you navigate the country’s regulations and ways more easily.
Outside of work, I have many more positive things to say. The beer culture is nice, people have an acidic sense of humor that I enjoy, the city is amazingly beautiful, and there are so many cultural things happening all the time. It is a great city to live in. I was shocked to see how many beers a Czech person can drink without getting slightly drunk, and that they have some type of small sausages (parky) for breakfast. The Easter tradition is one of the strangest traditions existing and it is fun to see. Overall, I would say that the balance of culture shock is weighted toward the positive side. I have learned a lot about being less politically correct and I find that to be a good thing, for the most part. Every time I say something straightforward, my friends tell me I’m becoming Czech.
In sum, the natural nature of people, the lack of pretenses, and the variety of activities in Prague combine to make the city a place where one can definitely stay, without hesitating.
Edward Deming once said, “Quality is the degree of excellence at an acceptable price”, and it is evident that UCT Prague truly embodies this quote. As a small public university, one would expect little to modest research output, but the history of the university as well as present gains suggest a university working hard to bring novel research into being while trying to maintain its high standards. In 2015, I had the distinct privilege of being accepted to this university. Uncertainty riddled my expectations for this world-class, yet unsung, institution.
During my time here, I have learned that quality is more important than quantity. The ability of professors to make complex subjects simple and easy to understand, yet practical, is a value I cherish deeply. I would say that my academic performance at this university is at the standard it is now due to the hard work and dedication of my professors. Our theoretical learning, reinforced with corresponding laboratory work, aids students in conceptualizing what they learn for better understanding. This type of learning environment prepares students for whatever path they decide to take in the future, be it in the commercial sector or at an academic institution.
In the past few years, UCT Prague has risen steadily in world rankings. Last year it placed 355th in the world-famous QS University rankings, making it the second-best-placed university in the Czech Republic. Current rankings saw the university move 13 places to 342nd, maintaining its position as the second-best-placed university in the country, only behind Charles University. The reason for this rise is the exceptional faculty-to-student ratio. It is evident that the university’s approach to a “teaching and student involved” research style is working, and I believe it will keep serving the university well.
The university tries its best to make the educational and social atmosphere welcoming. However, there are still areas in which improvements would be very welcome. Representation of and for international students is an area in need of major improvement. The symbiotic relationship between the university and its international community, however small, is of crucial importance to the growth and development of the institution. For a long time, international students have felt like passengers in a “space they should call home”, and it is high time this is addressed. The ability of the university to attract foreign students is high on the agenda of the current administration and the importance of international students in achieving this feat cannot be understated.
It will be disingenuous on my part to act as if nothing has changed. Of course, in the last five years that I have been here, changes have been made and steps taken. From improvements in the translation of school-wide emails to accessibility to some information, as well as the budding relationship with the International Relations Department and the Career and Counselling Centre. The clear evidence of this is the increasing number of both full-time foreign students at all levels of education and the number of students opting to join us for a semester or two under the various ERASMUS and exchange programmes.
These improvements are welcome; however, in the larger scope of things, there is still a lot to be done. Improvement in the representation of international students in the various senates in the university as well as more collaboration with the administration would be a great start to bridging the current gaps. Also, involvement in career fairs as well as more opportunities for interaction and integration between foreign and Czech students would also go a long way to foster the togetherness and warm feeling intended by the school’s administration.
UCT Prague has a bright future. It has the staff, the facilities, and a well-thought-out strategy for becoming a top university in Europe and the world over. Despite a few creases to be ironed out, I am confident that the university will, in the near future, be the best university in the Czech Republic and a truly international university in every sense of the word.
Why the Czech Republic?
This is one question I have had to answer many times over the last six months, and the answer has always been: “Why not the Czech Republic?” Well, it was an easy and straightforward choice; I needed a country that was known as forward-thinking with the technological know-how to help me reach my goal. Secondly, UCT Prague offered me what other universities across the world did not provide: a chance to specialize in a field I love.
How did you come by the idea to study in the Czech Republic?
Choosing a school brought the Czech Republic onto my radar and as soon as I knew I would be coming over to the Czech Republic, I did a lot of research and was impressed with the culture and lifestyle. I was most curious about the weather and the food. Thankfully, the weather wasn’t much of an issue to deal with; I got used to it in weeks. As for the food, I haven’t tried many Czech specialties, but hopefully, in the coming months I will be more adventurous and try them out.
What surprised me the most about the Czech Republic?
People are incredibly nice in the Czech Republic. My first few weeks were delightful despite my being homesick the moment I landed, which I attribute to being from a tightly knit family. However, people here made me feel welcome, and one of my best memories of being shown kindness was when I was given a gift in the metro, a can of beer. I keep it at home as a reminder to be kind to others as well.
How funny is the Czech Language?
I thought, being multi-lingual, that it would be easy for me to learn to speak Czech. When I heard it for the first time, I knew it would be a little challenging to learn. For now, I have armed myself with a least four Czech words, and I hope to expand my vocabulary soon by attending Czech classes.
Do I speak/ study/understand Czech?
Sadly, I don’t speak or understand Czech yet. I will be attending classes soon, though.
What do I miss most about Nigeria?
Hot peppers! Most Nigerians will understand this; we love our food very spicy, especially Nigerians from the Yoruba tribe like myself. I also miss our native delicacies, Amala and Ewedu. The good news is I have been able to improvise and make my own versions of Nigerian food. So it’s been easy-breezy.
I miss our Christmas and New Year celebrations, which are big reunions of family members one didn’t see in the previous year. However, technology makes this easier and over the holidays I had a lot of video calls with family and it was nice.
Do you like Czech bread, dumplings, or beer?
Sadly, Czech bread is a little too salty. I am used to sweet bread, but because Czech breakfasts have a lot of sandwich menus, the bread isn’t as sweet as I am used to. I have gotten used to it yet. I haven’t tried Czech dumplings but will do so soon.
As for the beer, I don’t drink beer, so I haven’t tried that yet.
I do not believe much in culture shock and I attribute this to my ability to blend well anywhere I find myself. Apart from the language, everything in the Czech Republic has been pretty easy to work with.
My journey to UCT Prague started in Ethiopia, where I worked previously. I got selected for two postdoc positions within a week and I was in a dilemma regarding which one to choose. In the end, I decided on UCT Prague. I came to Prague in May 2018, together with my wife, and we have never regretted choosing UCT. Both my supervisor and my international scientific officer helped us a lot in settling in here. Although I have three supervisors from three different departments, I never felt difficulties in working with them. I’ve learned new techniques from the membrane lab, with joy and fun.
Initially, we faced many problems with the language; later, we got used to it and we tried understanding a little bit of Czech from my colleagues and our neighbors as well. As the days passed by, we got to know that the language isn’t a problem because Prague’s a tourist place and most people here understand and even speak English.
As Indians, we are foodies, and I am still a little surprised by lunch menus at university cafeterias. Except for BLOX, there is usually no English translation and almost all dishes have potatoes; most of the time I go for kuřecí maso (chicken). Since Indian cuisine is quite famous here in Prague, I have found many Indian restaurants and used to go there along with my fellow mates frequently.
Coming to the city (Prague), I must definitely say it is a very nice place to live for a person of any nationality. It has great architecture; the cost of living is somewhat cheaper when compared to the other European countries I have visited so far. Personally, I believe it has one of the best public transportation systems. Even my wife loves the transportation here; she always used to tell me that it would be very difficult to travel within the city with our nine-month-old baby without this public transport. Most importantly, I’ve never, ever seen racism here.
What I found quite noticeably good about Czech people is how they treat their dogs. The dogs here are treated with a very high level of respect and they are even very disciplined (they never bark :p)
When I first moved abroad, I almost felt like being on holiday, being able to discover the city like a tourist. Eventually, I got used to it and felt more settled. As life keeps going, at certain times I’ve found myself missing family, friends, and home. Of course, I was not there when my wife was giving birth to my baby girl and I missed my best friend’s wedding, for example.
There is so much to be gained from working in different cultures, environments, climates, and speaking different languages. And that is something I will always recommend. I love the winter mornings in Prague, especially watching the white snow from the windows. Living in a sunny climate doesn’t hurt either 😉.
It was a real challenge to go abroad and work in a completely different environment, but my colleagues (ChemJets) and friends have made my stay at UCT more beautiful.
Surely, I can say one thing I will miss once I leave this place: Pilsner and Kofola. Finally, living and working abroad is fun, but the price you pay is the pain of the missing family.
My name is Isabel and I am from Spain, a country which has no common history with the Czech Republic (CR). Before coming here, I only knew how to locate CR on a European map and the name of the capital, Prague. Because of this, I did some research before moving, using my good friend, Google. Just the basics: cost of living, religion, language, currency, the price of beer, and so on. And so I moved to Prague with no hesitation.
My first contact with the city was when I landed at Prague’s airport, where my supervisor picked me up and brought me to the university dorms. That day, one of the windows of his car broke and we couldn’t close it, so the whole trip on the highway was spent with the two of us trying to talk with a loud windy sound in the background. Once we arrived at the dorms, I realized why he had gone with me, because the person at the reception desk didn’t speak English at all. Finally, I got a room key, but when I opened the door, there were two beds! I had never shared room before and besides, there was no Wi-Fi. The next day, at the university, my colleagues asked me if I wanted to go for lunch with them at 11:30! I was completely shocked because it was so early (now I must admit that I love it, but it took me several days to get used to it).
Since this “first contact”, I have been surprised about several facts of life here. Like the -ová at the end of every female surname; how dorms, student canteens and public transport have extremely cheap prices; the way one tips (saying the amount you want to give, including tips when you pay); holidays in February for skiing; how funny it sounds to hear Ježiš Maria in a truly non-religious country; how easy and efficient public transport is; how much Czech people like to go to the mountains/forests for hiking— and also to rivers in the summer; how easy it is to get to other countries, even by bus; and of course, the fact that beer is cheaper than water. There are some good and bad aspects, but for now I just have one big bad point: the university dorms are located very far from the university, which is something that only exists at this university, as far as I know. So far, so good.
I like to live in Prague. It is a wonderful and beautiful city full of opportunities for working, traveling and learning. I know I will never regret moving here. Not just because of the city; I am truly lucky with my colleagues and my supervisor.