Although I decided to study film in Prague for a semester, I’ve always been nervous abroad — a byproduct of my woefully American fashion sense and drawl. Despite possessing an English mother, I’ve found my accent does me no favors in Europe; my brother and I joke that as soon as we dare to speak within London, the surrounding passersby’s estimation of our IQ drops by 30 points. At times, it’s difficult to not feel judged.
This may be why, even when abroad, nationalities often stick together. The Germans huddle in somber groups, Americans laugh loudly and disturb the peace, and Italians band into warring factions of north and south. Before arriving in Prague, I expected to befriend mostly other Americans within the program. But, within a week, I realized my prediction was terribly wrong.
My new friend group is composed of seven people from all over the world. There’s no doubt I’m the token American of the group, but it’s a role I fill willingly. At our first party, motivated by wine, good company and the country music I’d inflicted upon them, I taught everyone the most important feature of American culture: the line dance to “Cotton Eye Joe.” They laughed and said, “You’re so American,” but their enthusiasm betrayed their enjoyment.
Our second party was at the house of my friend Minyoung, a native Korean who has lived and worked in Prague for the past four years as a professional opera singer. She cooked traditional Korean dishes, and we carefully followed her instructions for how to eat a samgak kimbap (which only one person did correctly). After dinner, Minyoung and I introduced the others to Cards Against Humanity. This was a mistake on my part, as it meant everyone looked to me, the only native English speaker, to explain the meaning of words like “pubes” and “lockjaw.” We all ended up sharing the best swear words from our countries, which resulted in a lot of slandering of innocent mothers.
I’ve learned from my friends and professors alike that film is the perfect medium through which to connect cultures. Music and literature can express and describe culture, but film lets you see it, even taste it. Since starting at Prague Film School, I’ve developed a mile-long list of film recommendations made in places ranging from Sweden to Iran, and I’ve shared a few of my own. The ideas I’ve generated and the films I’ve planned are all, in some way or another, informed by my upbringing across the American South and England, and my peers’ ideas burgeon from the scenes of their own youth: the Portuguese countryside, the music curriculum taught in Seoul schools and the strip malls of Istanbul. I was introduced to film by Tarantino, Fincher, and Burton; they grew up watching directors I’ve never had the privilege of hearing of. But studying film abroad is about more than seeing different names roll during credits or being introduced to new styles of cinematography — it’s about stepping into the world and eyes of someone who lives a whole hemisphere away from you.