Guest Post By: Junior studying Marketing, Jana Merca. During UW’s Winter & Spring Quarters 2022, Jana studied abroad on the Foster Exchange with the University of Economics, Prague (Czech Republic).
My name is Jana Merca and I am currently a 3rd year marketing major studying abroad in Prague, Czech. When interviewing for my program, my advisor warned me that while abroad everything is amplified. Meaning that while small wins make you feel on the top of the world, minor inconveniences can feel like the worst experience to ever take place. I laughed it off at the time, but during my first week when I was unable to figure out a foreign washing machine and bought buttermilk instead of regular milk for my cereal, her advice started to make a lot more sense. I learned very early on that “high highs and low lows” are all a part of the process.
The study abroad process amplified one of my biggest fears: uncertainty. I was hesitant to take part in this process during the pandemic, due to increased border restrictions and health concerns. Additionally, I was fearful of yet another college experience being cut short. When I first moved into my new dorms, I found myself hesitant to make connections with people on my floor- scared that as soon as I let my guard down, a new pandemic would send me home. I found myself incredibly lonely the first week and knew I needed to shift my mindset to focus on what I could control. To combat fears around loss, I persistently sought out moments of gratitude. For example, I currently live in a dorm with all exchange students from around the globe. I choose to talk to everyone I encounter, in hopes of creating a wider social net and to take advantage of the opportunity to meet so many new people. In turn, I have been able to host weekly potlucks, where people in the dorms can gather over traditional food from different countries.
From travel restrictions to visa delays, the pandemic has certainly created boundaries to an effortless study abroad. Yet, by removing the pressure to have a “perfect” trip, it has freed me to embrace the present – to embrace every high high and every low low life has to offer.
Finally, while I am having the time of my life here, I can’t forget my overwhelming feeling of gratitude for the University of Washington community back home. I wouldn’t be in Prague today without their amazing scholarship opportunity. Additionally, when I was at my personal lowest points of uncertainty – the people at University of Washington helped me push through. At the beginning of my travels, my advisor, Josie Kraft made herself available outside of her work hours to assist me with visa issues. My friend Skylar, who I met freshman year, is also studying here in Prague at the same school. Together, we have navigated Covid, language barriers, and even difficult Czech washing machines. While traveling to a foreign country during a pandemic has uncovered new fears, the University of Washington community has taught me that I am never truly alone.