As part of our Guest Post Series, a former study abroad student has some advice for the newbies...
To those studying abroad, thinking about studying abroad or not even thinking about studying abroad:
My first piece of advice; do it. If you are anything like me, studying abroad and leaving all the comforts of home behind seems like the scariest thing in the world and to be honest, for the first few days it might feel like that but everything you’ll get out of studying abroad will make all those feelings worth it. You will grow so much and in so many ways in such a short time. You will arrive as yourself but you will leave as the best version of yourself.
My sophomore year, my dad asked me if I wanted to study abroad. At that time, I said no because I didn’t think I could do it. I’ve travelled alone before but living in another country away from my family and friends seemed too overwhelming to me. I was afraid of all the “what ifs” that could happen. I let my fear hold me back for a while. I’ve never truly had to be on my own, my parents live in the same town as my school is and if anything goes wrong, I call them up and they’re there in 20 minutes. But life isn’t about your parents just coming to your rescue when things get tough; sometimes you need to come to your own rescue. So I decided that studying abroad could help me grow on my own and into my own.
I’m not one to sugar coat things so I’m going to keep this post real and honest. There will be some bumps in the road along your journey but those bumps are what help you grow. I started out my study abroad experience physically sick from all the anxiety I was feeling. I was worried about everything; did I learn enough Italian before coming, will people judge me for not speaking Italian perfectly, will I like my roommates, will they like me, what if I get lost and I am alone etc. I even worried about my dog back home, who was more than fine staying with my parents but I worried anyways. In the beginning, I honestly didn’t think I could do it. But I can assure you that you can do it.
One thing that helped me adjust to living in Florence was finding a few places that I liked to eat at and hang out in. They started feeling comfortable to me and I started getting to know the people who worked there. I would practice Italian with them, which made me more confident speaking Italian in other situations. Another thing that helped me with my fear of getting lost was noting landmarks on my walks places so that if I did end up lost I could figure out my way based on the landmarks. For some reason whenever I was lost I would just end up at the Duomo.
Now for all the fun stuff you will experience while studying abroad! You will meet so many amazing people in your program, in the city you are studying in and on all your trips. I was so afraid of not liking my roommates or them not liking me but honestly I can’t picture my life without them now. My roommate has become one of my best friends and I wouldn’t have met her if it wasn’t for my study abroad program. We clicked right from the start and I am sad now that I won’t get to spend everyday with her. We have gone on so many adventures together and made so many memories. Even just hanging out in our room has become one of my fondest memories. I think I have laughed more with her than I have in a long time. I knew one person going into this summer and we met in speech class so we always say speech brought us together but Italy made us forever. I’ve also made friends with so many people in my classes and I literally would have never met them if it wasn’t for studying abroad. I can’t wait to continue our friendships when we are back home again!
Travel as much as you can. It is the most exhausting but rewarding experience you can have. I was lucky to have visited 10 countries and 16 cities during my time abroad. There is no other time in your life where you will be able to do that. We had an 11-day break between sessions so my friend and I travelled to Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris all in that short time. We were dead tired when we got back to Florence but we got to see so much of the world in such a short period of time. Throughout all my travels, I learned about other cultures and experienced so many things that I would never have experienced in the U.S.
One important thing to me was spending a couple weekends in Florence. I know a lot of people focus on leaving Florence for other places on the weekends which I completely encourage everyone to do but I wouldn’t have been able to have experienced as much of Florence is I hadn’t spent a few weekends here. During the week I was focused on classes but the weekends here were great for exploring the city for as long as I wanted.
Now, onto the food. My mouth is literally watering as I write this. You will have the best food of your life in Italy and in Europe. The straw
berries here drip red when you bite into them and they’re so flavorful. They’ve gone out of season by now but I can’t stop thinking about them. Unpopular opinion but back home I couldn’t care less about pizza and ice cream but now all I can think about is a delicious margherita pizza and some fior di latte gelato. I had never heard of pici pasta before coming to Italy and it is now my favorite kind of pasta (if any of you know where to get some in the U.S., let me know!) While traveling I got to experience traditional foods too like wiener schnitzel in Vienna and the national dish of the U.K., chicken tikka masala, in London. Sure, I could get those foods in the U.S. but they’re so much better in Europe.
I will be leaving Europe the best version of myself. I have never been happier in my entire life. Having to handle everything that was thrown at me on my own has made me grow up in more ways than I could have ever imagined. I have also gained so much confidence because of my newfound independence. I am taking back with me more than just memories; I have friends that will last a lifetime and a greater appreciation for the world around me. Do yourself the biggest favor you can and study abroad!