Abroad in Prague: Week One

Panoramic Prague Cityscape

The view of Prague from the observation tower.

I’m spending the month of July in Prague, Czech Republic studying abroad. My goal is to write one of these a week for the month that I’m here, but if you want a better day-to-day look at our time in Prague, check out Claire’s blog. She’s way better about keeping up with blogging than I am.

If you just want to see all the pretty pictures I take on my trip, check out my Prague Flickr set.

Today marks the end of my first week in Prague, Czech Republic as a part of the University of Missouri’s Strategic Communications department’s study abroad program. The program lasts four weeks and consists of an internship at McCann Erickson Prague and a culture course at Prague’s Charles University.

So far, the experience has been incredible.

WHY PRAGUE

Mizzou’s Journalism School offers a number of abroad program options to journalism students. I chose Prague because it is a unique program designed specifically for the Journalism School’s Strategic Communication department. The program’s internship component at McCann Erickson Prague is an awesome opportunity, and it is unlike any other study abroad program.

TRAVELLING

Hills Of Switzerland

The view of Switzerland from the Zurich airport.

After a short flight from Saint Louis to Chicago early last Saturday morning, I met up with Laura, Paige and Taylor for our nine hour flight from Chicago to Zurich, Switzerland. I fly back and forth quite a bit from Columbia to Dallas, and I love to fly, but I fully expected being confined to a tiny airplane seat for nine hours to be absolutely miserable. To my surprise, the flight was actually quite pleasant. The Swiss Air staff was incredibly nice, and the cabin was by far the nicest I’ve ever been in. Plus there was a nearly ridiculous amount of free food and drinks onboard. The only hitch was a baby onboard that cried for at least 85% of the flight and made getting any reasonable amount of sleep just about impossible. We landed in Zurich early Sunday morning and took one more short flight to Prague.

SETTLING IN

In the Prague airport we met up with the rest of the Mizzou students who had already arrived, our program director, and some of the Czech students involved in the internship program with us. All of the Czech students in the program speak fluent English so communication isn’t a problem.

Over the past week, the Czech students have been awesome. They’ve been incredibly welcoming, and they’ve played tour guide and translator more times than I can count. I really can’t say enough nice things about them. Without them we’d be completely clueless in this country.

Americans and Czechs

The entire American and Czech crew celebrates the 4th of July. Photo credit: @k8tb_.

The rest of the Mizzou students and I are staying in a dorm on the outer part of the city. With the exception of some non-working power outlets and a small uproar over WiFi availability, the dorms are actually pretty nice. My roommate, Mike, and I have quite a large room that includes our own bathroom, shower and small kitchen. The dorms are clearly quite old, but our room is much larger than what I had in Hatch Hall at Mizzou freshman year. The area of the city the dorm is in is under heavy construction and it isn’t very nice compared to the center of the city, but there is a Ferrari & Maserati dealership across the street so I guess it’s all relative.

Our dorm is fairly far from the center of the city and most of the Charles University facilities, but that’s the norm for student housing here. Even though Charles University has been around longer than any other university in Europe, it doesn’t have a defined campus. The University’s buildings and student housing complexes are spread out all over the city. A pretty large chunk of the Czech population (~1.2 million out of 10 million) lives in Prague so space is pretty limited around here. Luckily, Prague has a surprisingly efficient public transportation system, so just about everything is just a short subway or bus ride away.

SO AN OLD CZECH GUY WALKS INTO A BAR…

Within just a couple of hours of arriving, it was pretty clear that the Czech culture is very different than ours. Our first day here we went to a very, very casual traditional Czech restaurant and bar across the street from our dorm. There were probably 6 or 7 of us American students and maybe 8 or 9 Czech students eating. We were the only people in the restaurant until an older man came in and sat down at the other end of the room. We were chatting with our new Czech friends at what I consider a perfectly normal conversation speaking volume. All of the sudden the old man stood up, walked over to our table and yells, “WILL YOU PLEASE STOP SHOUTING!!”

Admittedly, I was pretty terrified.

The Czech people are much quieter than Americans, and they see people from the U.S. as loud and obnoxious. On top of that, the older generations and the younger generations of the Czech people just don’t get along very well. We tend to get dirty looks at just about any restaurant we go here.

THE CULTURE

The Czech language is very complex, and I didn’t know a single word when I entered the country. Thanks to our new Czech friends I now know a few key words and phrases (hello, goodbye, please, thank you, etc.). Just saying hello in Czech (“dobry den”) when entering restaurants here tends to get you better service.

The Czech people love dogs. I’ve seen more dogs in the past week than I’ve seen all year in the states. There are dogs everywhere, and the majority of them stroll the streets with their owners without a leash. More than once since I’ve been here, I have had random dogs try to jump in my lap while eating at restaurants. Even the McCann office has dogs running around. I think I actually know more Czech words and phrases related to dogs than humans.

Czech Budweiser

Czech Budweiser. No relation to the Anheuser Busch product.

The only thing the Czech people love more than dogs is beer. Beer is life here. The Czech Republic consumes more beer per capita than any other country in the world. It’s incredibly cheap here too. It only costs about a $1.50 for a pint at an average restaurant, which is pretty amazing considering a glass of water at the same restaurant will set you back $2-3. We’re going to tour one of the Czech Republic’s biggest breweries tomorrow.

The thing the Czech’s hate the most is Russians. They are very open about their strong distaste for the Russian people. There was a group of Russian high school students staying here for a couple of days, and our dorm temporarily shut off the WiFi in the lobby because the management was annoyed that the Russians were making phone calls over the internet there. They had no problem with our group doing the exact same thing.

THE CITY

Prague Castle from the Charles Bridge

The view of the Prague Castle from the Charles Bridge.

Prague is by far the most beautiful city I’ve ever been to. The center of the city is incredible. On Monday the Czech students led us on a tour to all of the big tourist attractions in Prague, including the Charles Bridge, the Prague Castle (yes, an actual, real life castle), and the Lennon Wall. The center of the city has turned into a tourism hotspot, and it almost feels like Disney World for adults. I’m dying to get back to the city center in the early morning to take some photos.

THE INTERNSHIP

Hard at work at McCann

Hard at work at the McCann Erickson office. Photo credit: Sandy Kornberg.

Tuesday marked the start of our internship program with McCann Erickson Prague. For the internship we’re split into two teams of eleven combined Czech and American students. Each team has two weeks to develop a comprehensive advertising campaign for a line of chips from Intersnack, a huge european snack company. The chips are an off-shoot of the Czech Republic’s ‘Senza’ line of the Bohemia chips brand. The plain Bohemia chips are by far the most popular chips in the country (followed by Lay’s, so I do feel like a bit of a traitor considering my Plano roots), but the Senza line is very unpopular here. Intersnack is trying to mix things up with some new Brazilian flavored Senza chips. It’s our job to create a campaign to launch these new Brazilian chips.

We received a full creative brief from McCann and a brand manager from Intersnack. At the end of the two weeks, each team will to a presentation of their ad campaign to executives from McCann and Intersnack and a winner will be chosen. Though the Brazilian chips will actually launch early next year, our campaigns will probably not be used in their entirety. In past years, however, clients have taken bits and pieces from each campaign and incorporated them into the actual campaign.

The internship has been an great experience so far. It’s a challenge because we have a ton of work to do for the campaign with such little time. We’ve worked all day, every day, including this weekend. It’s also challenging to create a campaign for a foreign culture. It’s been a struggle adapting creative ideas to a culture we know so little about. Working with the Czech kids has given me a whole new perspective on the culture.

INTERSNACK TOUR

Suited up at Intersnack

Suited up for our tour of the Intersnack factory. Photo credit: Sandy Kornberg.

One of the unexpected highlights of the trip so far was our tour of the Intersnack factory where the Senza chips are produced. We toured the chip factory on the 4th of July. I’m not sure I can think of a better way to celebrate America than touring a junk food factory. We had to take a train to Tabor, the tiny village where the factory was located. It was a cool opportunity to see what the Czech Republic countryside looks like.

I fully expected the tour to ruin potato chips for me and never eat a potato chip again. It was surprisingly interesting, and not nearly as scary or gross as I expected. The process is nearly fully automated and the machines are incredibly impressive. It was very cool. We even got to sample some chips that were fresh off the line. Unfortunately, Intersnack does not allow any cameras inside the factory so I wasn’t able to take any pictures there. On the bright side, they gave us each a massive bag of bags of chips, so I’m set for snacks for the rest of the trip.

LOOKING BACK ON THE WEEK

The rest of the week was spent developing our campaigns. It’s been an exhausting week, but I really do love it here. The city is amazing and the beer is cheap. What more could you ask for?

READ ABOUT WEEK TWO –>