I’m extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to see and do so very much in Prague, Budapest, and Krakow.
From experience one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the world in Prague, to learning about Budapest’s revival, to walking the remnants of the castle grounds in Krakow Poland, I’ve had the opportunity to see how Eastern European societies have emerged from Communism and rapidly developed within the European Union.
The Czech Republic had been in a tremendous place after WW2, with much of its economy relatively unscathed by the war. During the war, Germany moved crucial industries such as automobile manufacturing to the Czech Republic which had expanded during the tenure of Communist oversight. After Communism fell the industrial emplacements took off to new heights. Global brands such as Skoda have developed a high reputation and the Czech economy is stable and growing, although highly dependant on Germany. Prague was an incredibly beautiful city, thriving with people and a few too many tourists. I had some wonderful experiences, met incredible people, and learned about one of the world’s historical gems.
Hungary was a different take on my travels in Europe, with Budapest being a much different and more modern city. Much of Budapest was damaged during a battle and the city skyline was a lot more modernized. Budapest was a city that had re-imagined itself, took ruined buildings, and transformed them into Budapest’s main attractions in Ruin pubs. Meeting with a manager at one of the most popular ruin bars, I’ve come to understand the regional and global impact of the development of these artistic and social hubs. Hungarians aren’t as fortunate as Poland and the Czech Republic, and a large portion of Hungarians believe they were better off as a Communist society, yet Budapest has been invigorated by their exposure to the rest of the world.
Krakow was a historical city on par with Prague but from an earlier era. Their golden age came as a result of Silk Road trade, and the presence of salt mines, an extremely valuable commodity in medieval times. Whereas Prague had its heyday in a later, renaissance era, Poland developed into a massive hub, and a haven particularly for Jewish people at those times. Krakow in its current layout was developed during this time, with the remnants of the original city walls outlining the core of the city center. Out of the cities we visited, the impact of the Holocaust was the most ever-present. Likely due to the large Jewish population, the Jewish ghetto outlined by a tombstone shaped wall, and the presence of Auschwitz extermination camp in the area, Krakow is an ever cultural city that boldly displays the scars of the history. Krakow seemed to be a hub of education, with one of the oldest Universities in the world being present there, and a very large student population. I wish I had more time to experience what Krakow had to offer, as well as Budapest and Prague, but I’ll always carry the memories I’ve made with me. From all that I learned over the program, to the histories of the places I’ve visited, to the Polish Pirogie class, I have had the pleasure over this study abroad to immerse myself in incredible places that I will never forget.
I would like to especially thank the Tafel family for helping fund this experience with the Tafel scholarship. I wouldn’t have been able to make this experience possible without it!