When Alejandro Cruz was relocated from Mexico to the Czech Republic for work, he wasn’t sure what to expect. But, he’s come to both appreciate the wonders of this Central European city and consider it his home.
Where are you initially from?
I come from Xalapa, Veracruz, in southeast Mexico. However, I spent much of my childhood in Campeche, also in the south.
Why did you decide to start traveling long-term?
From a very young age, I had the opportunity to venture abroad. Traveling to places like the U.K. and Spain helped me understand that there was a huge and fascinating world outside of Mexico. Curiosity was the initial motivation that drove me to travel more. I have always been interested in learning new things — getting in touch with new people in different places was a great way for me to gain new knowledge. During my teenage years, I also developed an interest for visual arts, particularly photography. The combination of my curiosity, my growing opportunities to discover other cultures, and my interest in photography was the start of my “traveler’s lifestyle.” I still try to maintain that as much as possible.
Later on, I discovered other positive aspects of traveling: the expansion of my social network, the development of my diversity awareness, and my increasing desire to participate in social development projects. But perhaps the most gratifying thing about travel is that it has allowed me to discover the overarching thread that unites us as humans — I have found that the power of kindness and love is something you can find across all cultures.
Can you describe your first impression of Prague?
While I formed my first impression of Prague when I visited in 2006,that picture is very different than my current view. In the past few years, Prague has experienced a massive and overwhelmingly positive transformation. In 2006, the city was less organized and there were areas where infrastructure was not as developed as in other European capitals, though the main tourist sites had a particular charm and the center was as beautiful as it is now. You could feel that the country was changing due to its decision to join the EU in 2004, but it still maintained that strong Czech character because of its people and social mannerisms. I was impressed by how affordable things were and intrigued by how little people interacted with foreigners. It took a bit of time for me to interact socially with Prague locals, but once they opened up, they were very curious about the place I came from.
Today, the city feels more “European” and diverse. It remains one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, but the infrastructure has drastically improved. Some of the things that struck me when I returned to the country were that the number of tourists seemed to have doubled — the locals were more open to interacting with foreigners (and take into account that it’s not every day that they met Latin expats!). I also noticed that they loved Mexican food, that everything social involved drinking beer, that many Czechs were keen on outdoors activities and sports, and that architecturally, Prague is one of the most exciting places in the region, featuring various styles from different historical periods. Since then, I’ve also noticed that there’s a contrast between the center of Prague and the rest of the city, which looks more socialist. I now understand that this place is becoming a business and IT hub due to the growing local interest in these industries and the city’s convenient location in Central Europe.
Were there any unexpected factors that came with living in Prague?
In this city, being an expat is very different than being a tourist. Prague is currently my home, so as an expat, I have always tried to promote the values and positive aspects of my host city. Still, there are unexpected factors of living in a place like Prague: Finding a flat can be challenging, for instance. Locals tend to over-price property rentals to foreigners, mostly because international companies are willing to cover many of their employee’s expenses.) Certain daily activities are still conducted in Czech (unlike other major European capitals where more people speak additional languages). For example, collecting goods from the post office is always an adventure! It is both funny and challenging since my Czech is still basic and they cannot speak a word of English — and forget about Spanish! Czech is difficult to learn, and it reflects the international influence on the country — the language itself is based on a variety of Slavic languages but incorporates many elements from English, German, French, and old Latin. I will say that locals do appreciate and love when foreigners try to speak their language, so my best advice for expats is to learn Czech — it will change your experience for the better!
I’ve also learned that it takes a bit of time to make Czech friends; they are very nice people, but they take their time when getting to know strangers and forming new friendships. It’s also interesting to note that much of Czech society is liberal, but the majority still appreciates formality and etiquette.
What’s your favorite part of city life in Prague?
In addition to being extremely beautiful, Prague offers so many opportunities for its expats. It’s a city where you can walk anywhere and contemplate the grandeur of its historical architecture. Every season offers unique experiences, and I particularly enjoy the views in the fall, when the trees turn that golden color and the weather is still suitable for strolls along the river. I like that Czechs have a wide and varied social life and often combine sports with fun. During the weekend, you can easily travel to natural parks for a hike and then return to the city for drinks with friends. Prague is very diverse, and every sector of the city is vastly different. Prague 5 is commercial but is developing some character through the addition of local restaurants and bars. Prague 2 is the cool, hipster area, whereas the upcoming Prague 3 is catching up with its recent economic boom and amazing views of the castle.
The list goes on.
While the city itself is incredible, its proximity to the rest of Europe is also a special thing. You can venture almost anywhere without traveling a long distance or spending too much money.
What will you miss most once you leave?
If I ever leave Prague, I will miss my friends, the opportunity to live in one of the most beautiful places in Europe, how easily accessible different parts of the city are, the fact that I feel safe walking its streets, and, finally, how this place continuously allows me to grow as a human being.
Each place I have lived has allowed me to grow, but I feel that residing in Prague forced me to put into practice many of the lessons I’ve learned and, in turn, has allowed me to create both a strong social network and a career I love.