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Nathan Gecan

Nathan Gecan

Major: Data Science and City Planning/GIST

"For me, I bonded really closely with the other Berkeley students in the program, and in the span of two months, we all became really good friends. We basically all travelled through Central Europe together, bonded in our hostels, bonded over our similar struggles of not knowing Czech, and so many other things. Those memories are ones that I will keep and cherish forever, and I was lucky enough to be surrounded by amazing people that I am still close with!"

 

What led you to study abroad? Why did you choose your country/program?

Being a Data Science major, it was hard finding programs that would satisfy course requirements, and I wanted a program that would provide me with experience that I could use in my career post-graduation. Interning abroad was the perfect solution for this, and I chose the Czech Republic because of the fascinating history of the country, as well as its central location in Europe -- it made traveling much easier!

What was the most interesting cultural experience you had abroad?

There is some history behind this, but in Prague specifically, beer is generally cheaper than water. Thus, it was not uncommon for my colleagues to encourage me to have a beer or two during our lunch everyday. The cultural norms around drinking are very different in the Czech Republic!

What was the biggest challenge/concern of your study abroad experience? How did you respond?

For me, the language barrier was probably the largest and most visible challenge. I did not speak Czech, and while I did try to learn some during my program, it is a pretty difficult language to learn. However, most young Czech people will either speak Czech and English or German, and Google Translate was a blessing.

Describe a typical day for you abroad.

In the morning, after getting ready, I would hop on the bus to the Prašný most stop, where I would transfer to the tram, which was almost always crowded and full of Czech commuters. After about 20 minutes on the tram, I would arrive at the Moráň stop, which was a block away from my work in the city center of Prague -- Nové Město.

I interned at a City Planning institute, and did primarily research and work surrounding infrastructure in the United States, and comparing it to that of Prague, as well as working with data engineers and GIS. During my lunch break, I would often be invited to have a lunch with my colleagues at a local restaurant. If not, I would take a quick walk to one of the many local cafes, restaurants, or grocery stores, and pick up something.

My commute home was the same, finally arriving at our dorms on the outskirts of the city center. I would arrive back at around 5:00 or 6:00 PM, and I would be able to watch the sun set behind the Prague Castle most evenings.

What coursework did you take while abroad? How did courses abroad compare with Berkeley classes?

I was enrolled in a Czech history/culture course, as well as a course on professional development. The Czech history course was an in-person course every Friday at Charles University, and was one of the most interesting classes. We would be able to learn about the history of Prague and of the Czech Republic, and then take a field trip to where these things happened and see the effects of it. Both of these classes were relatively lax, as they understood that we also were working full-time internships.

What was the most memorable/meaningful aspect of your time abroad?

It's hard to pick one thing! For me, I bonded really closely with the other Berkeley students in the program, and in the span of two months, we all became really good friends. We basically all travelled through Central Europe together, bonded in our hostels, bonded over our similar struggles of not knowing Czech, and so many other things. Those memories are ones that I will keep and cherish forever, and I was lucky enough to be surrounded by amazing people that I am still close with!

What impact did studying abroad have on you personally?

Before studying abroad, I was already a relatively independent person, but being in a completely different country, not knowing the language, not knowing the currency, and not knowing the cultural norms of the country really forces you to adapt and become accustomed to these things very quickly. It was challenging, yes, especially in the beginning, but I really did become a lot more independent and confident despite the fact that I could barely communicate with most of the people there. My study abroad experience was life-changing in a lot of ways, but I think I have a lot more confidence in my abilities, and am able to do a lot more independently now.

What would you recommend to students considering studying abroad, especially to your country or program?

For me, I knew I wanted to study abroad, but I didn't know if I would be able to pay for it. Talking to a financial aid advisor is so important, and it really showed me the amount of grants and scholarships available for low-income students! I was able to get my entire program covered through various grants and scholarships, and there are so many other opportunities as well. So, if you are at all considering it, talk to an advisor, because it may be a lot more accessible than you think!

For my program specifically, the Global Internships program was amazing, and matched me into my very niche field of interest -- City Planning. I didn't think it was going to be possible, but I had an amazing internship and learned a ton about this field. And Prague is beautiful!