Studying in the Czech Republic
What you need to know about taking an English-language course in Prague or one of the country's other college towns
The capital, Prague, seems ideal for students. Though prices have risen in recent years, the city is still cheaper than most European capitals, and provincial cities are even more affordable.
Prague's historic squares, cobblestoned streets and small cafés, meanwhile, are the ideal place to read or catch up with other students.
CHOOSING YOUR COURSE
The JW Fulbright Commission website carries a list of universities where courses are taught in English. Please note, however, that this list is a few years old and only gives basic information.
If you're lucky, your university may have an exchange program. Otherwise, directories like IIEPassport, GoAbroad.com, and Study Abroad Links should provide additional information.
To get a real idea of what it's like to study here, you need to speak to people who have some experience. Again, a student exchange office might be able to put you in contact with someone.
Alternatively, try discussion forums like Prague TV's Expat Q&A or the My Czech Republic Message Boards.
The international students contacted for this article were generally positive about their experiences here, and seemed genuinely excited to be studying in a foreign country, especially one they perceive as being quite different to home.
Most are satisfied with the teaching standards, with their tutors' level of English, and with the resources available.
Many also agreed that the atmosphere was more relaxed than they were used to back home, though Evelien, a Dutch student, said this may be because her program was for international students.
They also seemed happy with the resources here. Laura, a British student at Charles University in Prague, was satisfied with the collections in the libraries there. Evelien was equally satisfied with library access at her campus in Brno.
If there was one common grievance, it was the amount of bureaucracy, both at the universities themselves and when dealing with the Czech authorities.
THE NITTY GRITTY
Even if you find your ideal course, you'll still have to sort out things like visas and insurance.
Citizens of EU nations can enter the Czech Republic without a visa for an indefinite period of time and don't require a work permit to obtain employment.
Citizens of many other countries are permitted to spend a certain period of time in the Czech Republic visa-free, but you must still get their passport stamped by the Foreigners' Police.
(See the Foreign Ministry website for a full list of countries with a visa waiver regime.)
If your period of study is longer than the visa-free period you're eligible for, you'll have to apply for a visa before you arrive. Your university at home should be able to help you with the application process.
Sadly, a visa doesn't entitle you to work legally. For that you need a work permit (pracovní povolení) from the labor office (úřad práce).
That guy you've heard about, who lived in the Czech Republic for years without a visa, and just crossed the border every three months, did so at the risk of deportation.
Also, under Czech law, health insurance is mandatory.
You'll probably find that your accommodation has been organized for you by your university or by the agency responsible for the exchange.
The upside to this is that it's one less thing to worry about, and you'll probably be close to the campus.
If you crave more authentic living arrangements, however, you might consider sharing an apartment. Again, English-language websites, such as Prague TV's Real Estate section, can help you here.
Alternatively, using the services of an English-speaking real estate agent cuts out a lot of the legwork but you will, of course, have to pay a fee.
Remember that while Prague may be cheaper than Western Europe, it's no longer the haunt of idle expats living off their savings.
Local demand and a growing economy have pushed up rents in the center of the city, making it unaffordable for students both local and foreign.
If you're paying your own way, the suburbs are probably a better bet and Prague's metro, tram and bus network means everything is fairly accessible. Cities outside Prague are even cheaper.
Most of your other expenses will be low. If you don't mind the heavy meat-based cuisine, a meal in a typical Czech buffet (jídelna) should cost you around 70 CZK, often including soup.
Those with stricter dietary requirements, or with a taste for a little more variety, could see their restaurant bill double.
The cheapest option is to cook for yourself. Most of the larger chain stores have a decent range of international and health foods, so you won't be forced to survive on knedlíky (dumplings) alone.
The transportation network is cheap and fairly extensive by international standards.
Laura, the student from the UK, was pleased that trams and buses in Prague were available 24 hours a day. The public transportation in most of the Czech Republic's other large cities is also relatively good.
Prague and other Czech cities offer many opportunities to meet locals as well as other students.
Barry, a Canadian student who's been here a few times, said that socializing wasn’t a problem. Like other students here, he's also happy to try his hand at the local language.
Given the attractions of the Czech Republic's celebrated beer, some restraint is perhaps advisable. While a sympathetic lecturer may excuse the occasional hangover you don't want to become known as the Paul Pennyfeather of Prague...
A number of scholarships exist to help students study abroad -- your school should be able to provide you with more information.
Other organizations and companies may also offer course-specific scholarships.
The JW Fulbright Commission website carries a list of scholarships aimed at US students.
The European Commission's Erasmus program, meanwhile, is the largest provider of funds for EU students who study abroad.
Erasmus produces a colorful 84-page study guide for the Czech Republic and also provides a good social network for foreign students, organizing excursions around Prague and beyond.
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