That's kind of what Erasmus feels like. Nine weeks in and, while I certainly feel well at home by now, I'm also uncomfortably aware that Christmas lurks just ahead, waiting to rush up and smack me in the face before dragging me home by the ear. I think that's the problem with a single semester placement - there's too much to do, and not enough hours in the day.
You want to meet new people, see the city, see the country, learn a language on the side and maybe do a little travelling while you're at it. But you also almost subconsciously find yourself trying to keep up with tried and tested routines from home, to maintain touch with friends and let your parents know that you're alive every once in a while, as well as trying to fit some of the actual titular "study abroad" in between.
First World problems, eh? Don't get me wrong - nine weeks in and I certainly feel well at home here in Prague while still loving every minute of it. The cultural assimilation is going well - I've now extended my efforts beyond puppy-dog eyes and pointing to attempts at actually speaking the language. Sounding like I'm swallowing my tonsils and likely insulting any nearby natives in the process, true, but progress is progress.
Last article I mentioned in detail the five star Fortress of Doom that is Hostivar, and not much has changed since. Still as soul-crushingly Soviet as ever, but also a lot of fun. The first few weeks spent here were unique, those daily asthma-inducing hikes up the stairs punctuated by ever more breathless greetings on each floor, as residents bonded through mutual curiosity and suffering. The ethnic mix here makes for an interesting melting pot, and the resulting blend of nationalities has a distinct feel to it that is neither anything I recognise from home, nor anything specifically Czech; to put it succinctly, it's just Erasmus.
Hostivar floor parties in particular are legendary. Here, you step out of an elevator and are immediately met with a mish-mash of cultures sharing customs, conducting passionate political debates and engaging in the usual well-meant mocking that would likely be dubbed racist were alcohol not involved. (The Irish contribution generally involves floating around, dispelling green-clad stereotypes and avoiding the subject of economics with the German contingency). A refreshing break from Irish student parties then, most of which see guests arrive through the kitchen window, copulate, defecate, or just gnaw their way through every piece of furniture in the house before having the good grace to collapse in the cupboard under the stairs.
And all this before you even step out the door. Czech nightlife offers an ideal blend of pub and club culture to suit everyone's taste, though Irish students should be aware that nights tend to start earlier and finish much later than we're used to at home. All the same, I feel our makeshift embassy has done our nation proud, once the initial string of silently-weeping hangovers was dispensed with.
There's one question that I come up against more often than most and the answer is, yes, Prague is incredibly cheap, and no, you shouldn't cash in your student loan and up-sticks to come over and begin life as a bohemian street busker. While no student in receipt of the mandatory grant and possessed of the sense to use it should have much trouble living in reasonable comfort, this can often be taken to extremes. It's far too easy to swerve wildly from cringing every time you hand over a three-figure sum to pay for lunch to throwing notes around as if they're going out of fashion, and if you don't get a handle on your wallet early you'll soon find yourself adding the phrase "insufficient funds" to your vocabulary, if you hadn't already.
Before I sign off, I suppose a little should be said on the subject of the university itself, Charles University. One of the oldest third-level institutes in Europe, each of the various buildings scattered around the city possesses its own aura of aged prestige, enforced by the multitude of marble, moustachioed busts glaring down on students as they scurry from class to class. The classes themselves are conducted a little differently to home, and while this was a little jarring to deal with on top of everything else in the beginning, I now find that I actually prefer the smaller class sizes and greater focus on self-education.
All this said, the shift into the festive season always brings with it a similar shift in mood, and as the temperature here begins to flirt a little too aggressively between freezing and below I know that thoughts of home will feature heavily in the minds of my fellow Erasmus students. For me it's mingled with the knowledge that there's still so much left to see before I'm ready to step on that plane. A difficult thing to define, particularly at this hour of morning; not quite homesickness, not quite happiness, excitement, nor an unwillingness to leave; like I said - it's just Erasmus.