If you want to study in the Czech Republic, there are two important choices you have to make: which program and university to choose and in which city to live and study. Ideally, they should both overlap. But what if you are so drawn to the capital yet there are no programs you want? Or what if an interesting program is only available in one university in a small town? Alexandra Baranova, the author of GoStudy blog, asked foreign and Czech students about living and studying in five Czech cities.
It is very romantic to live and study in the medieval capital. Yet the reality is tougher than may seem.
First of all, just like in any other big city, life in Prague is expensive. Secondly, a freshman student usually has no time to enjoy the atmosphere of the Old Town: they live in a dorm, spend the weekdays at university and the weekends at home or in the library with a book. That being said, there are advantages to living in the capital.
Alexandra M., a graduate from the Charles University's Faculty of Social Sciences, says:
"Studying in Prague is difficult while you're still getting used to the Czech environment: you want to explore the city or go to a party, but you have to study, seminars can't wait. But once you're on the third year of your Bacherlor's or during your Master's, you start appreciating the advantages of living in the capital, because you already know how to maintain balance between study and free time.
One of the biggest pluses for students is a large number of libraries and reading halls, "studovnas" (from Czech "studovna"). So, you can change your environment from time to time when preparing for an exam instead of being stuck for weeks in a dorm room. It improves the effectiveness of your preparation by manyfold.
I was born and raised in a big city, so I honestly struggled a lot when I was attending language courses and lived in Mariánské Lázně, I missed the capital scale. Prague is not Moscow or St. Petersburg, of course, but you cannot call it a provincial town. When you communicate more with the Czechs, you start seeing it from a different, non-tourist side. You begin to understand the differences between Prague's districts: Žižkov, Vinohrady, Holešovice, Malá Strana. It's very interesting".
Those who chose medicine or law might as well live in a small town, since any entertainment for the next six years of learning is probably out of the question.
Maria H., an oncologist and a graduate from the First Faculty of Medicine of Charles University, recounts:
"When I was a medical student, I never got the chance to explore Prague properly, I simply had no time for that. The only day off I had was the day when I could sleep in till 9-10 a.m. instead of waking up at six, and then getting down to study. I could never party from Friday till Sunday and recover only by Monday evening.
Prague is very expensive for students, especially when you don't work yet. I lived in one of the cheapest dorms in Chodov. I never cared about how many of us were crammed in one block, my only focus was my main goal - to get the diploma. I was already happy just to have a place to sleep, and the rest didn't bother me. I wasn't always lucky with roommates, though. Our room had a gigantic wardrobe for clothes, a balcony overlooking Kurantice forest and a common kitchen for the entire block. Now I understand that the living conditions were rough, but I didn't complain, because my stay in Prague alone cost my parents a pretty penny they had to pay every year.
I still remember the names of the restaurants and nightclubs my friends and I would go to celebrate successful exams in. But like I have already said, these were isolated and exceptional cases. I spent most weekends in the National Library of Technology and was very glad it was open 24/7. During our sixth year, my friend Monika and I would go to a farm market on the kulaťák (informal Czech expression for the round square near Dejvická metro station) early in the morning to buy fresh kefir and buns, then we'd have what we thought was a feast of a breakfast in the library hall, and then we'd study till midnight.
A typical schedule of a medical student looked like this: wake up at 5:30 or 6, classes from 7 till 2 pm, then I'd pop by the canteen for lunch so that not to waste time on cooking, and then I'd run back home. Then I studied from 3 till 10 with a short dinner break, again, in the canteen. Then I'd have to go to bed by 11 pm - 12 am so that I could function at all in the morning during classes.
By the way, I really wanted to study in Brno instead of Prague, so I was very upset when I found out I'd enrolled at the wrong university. But looks like my gut feeling didn't let me down: now, I'm in love with southern Moravia, and if there were a place I want work permanently in, it'd be there".
What the locals say: Ostrava "There were a lot of Erasmus students coming to Ostrava at some point. Life there was cheaper than in Prague, and the University of Ostrava has always been a reputable university. Especially the Department of Philosophy, where they teach Psychology and Sociology. One of the burning issues of living in Ostarva are poor ecological conditions that have become considerably worse over the past few years. Our city even competed with Plzeň in 2005 for being named the "City of Culture". Such famous music festivals as Colors of Ostrava and Beats for Love have been held here ever since - and all that in a distinctive industrial environment. But the city's cultural development doesn't bring in only students: more and more IT businessmen choose Ostrava as the location for their companies' headquarters. For graduates that means more chances of finding a job". Michaela Grosslová
The big city in the southern part of the Czech Republic has several universities offering high-quality education in Czech for free:
University of Technology,
University of Veterinary Sciences Brno,
Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts.
As told by Sophia P., a nutrition specialist and a graduate from Charles University's First Faculty of Medicine. In the past, she lived and studied in Brno for two years.
"I'll start with the advantages. It's easier to focus on studying in Brno, since there's nowhere to go, all life is split between your dormitory or apartment, the university and the city center (one square and a couple streets branching from it). There are cafés and a shopping mall. Want it or not, in Brno you'll eventually sit down and start studying.
Another plus is that everything is within walking distance. Since the city is rather small-scale, you can really feel the student atmosphere here: so many Erasmus students and students from different countries. Everyone is gathered in just a couple quarters, so you get this feeling of unity, that all of you have one goal for staying here: to study. New friendships, intercultural relations are a chance to broaden your horizons, which is good during the student years.
The University of Veterinary Sciences provides a great dormitory. I'd even say it's more similar to a hotel: the premises look properly repaired and room cleaning service is included. I think it's a student's dream.
Now the shortcomings. In my personal opinion, Brno is a boring provincial town. After two months in Brno you realize that there's nothing else to do. You have already got acquainted with everyone and now you run into them constantly on the same street (including those you'd rather not come across at all). You feel like you have your hands tied in this small town: should an issue be just a little bit larger and more complex, and you have to go to Prague and deal with it there. And the travel alone takes two and a half hours. That being said, life in Brno is tranquil and safe.
During my stay in Brno there were almost no foreign students. At the University of Veterinary Sciences there were only two of us at that time - me and my friend. Whether we like it or not, we had to communicate a lot with Czechs, which helped us improve our language skills and quickly integrate into society. After classes, we both worked part-time at a bar. All the other workers there were Czechs too, so we had to learn to get along with them, be friends with them and feel good in their environment. This is a huge advantage of living in a small town. If we lived in Prague, we would find friends there, which means we would never fully integrate into Czech society.” Studying in Brno also left a positive mark on those who had to move back to their home country for one reason or another.
Ekaterina (@katkatrin7), a graduate of the Faculty of Regional Development at Mendel University, recounts:
"If I had to rate life in Brno from 1 to 12, I'd give it at least a ten. I went to Brno for my Czech classes which lasted ten months after I completed my Bachelor's program. Since undergraduates rarely have to take nostrification exams, I was easily accepted to Mendel University after passing two entrance exams for the Faculty of Regional Development. I used example questions from previous years to prepare, and it helped me a lot. I could combine work with study without any issue, but it was harder to do during exam periods at the university. In general, I'm very happy with how it turned out. I liked the Czechs a lot, they are very friendly.
As for leisure activities, Brno has a lot of gyms. Some of my friends would dance, or we'd jog together. I really liked where the city is located: you can go to Prague or to Vienna for a concert whenever you want. Everything was accessible. After I got my diploma, I had to move to Crimea for family reasons, but I think that having the experience of studying in Europe is very cool. My sister is currently planning to study abroad, and I support her on that".
What the locals say: Hradec Králové and Olomouc "Hradec Králové is a good and relatively small city. All university buildings here are located in one place. Everything is easily reachable on foot or by bicycle, since there are loads of bicycle lanes here. But the most useful thing for a student is the astonishing university library. I think you can find anything, or almost anything in there. Although Hradec is not a capital, there are plenty of cool places where good food is served. My favorites are To je bistro, Kafe na kole and Pasta cook and look. I don't know much about local cultural events, but I do know that the Majáles student festival is held in Hradec every year, and then there's a theater festival in autumn. Olomouc is where Palacký University with a popular Faculty of Medicine is located. There are lots of pretty girls studying there, so most Czech guys associate the city with only one thing - "pretty girls". Jokes aside, Palacký University in Olomouc is actually very old. Studying behind its ancient walls is something magical. More and more cool cafés and interesting places for students have been popping up in the city lately". Lucie Svatošová
The Technical University is located in Liberec. The university consists of the following five faculties:
Faculty of Textile Engineering
Faculty of Economics
Faculty of Arts and Architecture
Faculty of Mechanical Engineering
Faculty of Science, Humanities and Education
Tamara A., who studies textile marketing at the Faculty of Textile Engineering, shared her thoughts about the city.
"Liberec is considerably smaller than Prague, so students from big cities will have a harder time getting used to the local lifestyle. It seemed like the limited scale weighed me down. At first, I was depressed for some time because I couldn't understand what else to do here except for studying.
The dormitories are cozy, there are enough foreign students, a cheerful student atmosphere.
The climate in Liberec is more humid than in Prague. It's often foggy and almost always overcast. The city has all the necessary infrastructure: a library, several coffeeshops, shopping malls, shops, sports clubs. Public transport works day and night without any disruptions.
In general, Liberec is a cozy city, though rather boring, and the locals are friendly. Nothing distracts you from studying, but on weekends you get the urge to go to Prague to have fun and relax. Maybe if you live there for a year and make some friends, it won't be as gloomy".
The capital or the provinces?
There is no one simple answer to the question. Some prefer living in a metropolis, others - in a small town.
There are several advantages of studying in a small Czech town such as Liberec, Brno, Plzeň or Hradec Králové. Firstly, nothing distracts you from studying; secondly, you get used to living here and integrate much faster, since most of the time you communicate with the Czechs only. Finally, life in a small town is cheaper than in the capital.
However, compared to other parts of the Czech Republic, Prague is where all the action is. In practice, it means new acquaintances, better paid part-time jobs and the opportunity to have fun during your free time. Still, living in the capital is by all means significantly more expensive. So the main consideration when choosing where to live should be education-related issues.