I will start with the fact that the first week in a foreign country, when you don’t know anyone or where to go or the language, can be terrifying. And believe me, my first night in Italy, I cried and questioned my whole decision. I was ready to get back on the plane and return to beautiful America where everything is familiar. Luckily, I stuck it out. I began questioning if I had chosen the right country and I was flooded with doubt (called my mom and cried) but I would soon come to love Italy!
I have some tips for those of you who want to study abroad. First of all, wait until you’re in your new country to get a little go-phone for emergencies and get apps like Viber for your iPhone if you have one. When you are in a foreign country, it is so easy to get lost and end up somewhere sketchy, so my advice is to always travel in groups.
I kind of enjoy getting lost, and I would sometimes venture alone to have my own adventures. However, the girls who lived above me in my apartment were robbed and hit by a man who stole their money, so remember things like that do happen. Be smart and realize who is following you. A few times I was being followed so I went around in circles as you never want to lead someone to where you live.
After you are a little more familiar with your country, you get to know the local things like the markets. I LOVED the markets. After going a few times, the dreamy butcher knew what I wanted before I even said anything. My cheese man gave me discounts and everyone was always smiling with their fresh produce.
My advice is to just immerse yourself; don’t hold back. You might look dumb because you don’t know how to do things, like not knowing what the Italian grocery girl is telling you while you hold up the line because you forgot to weigh your produce. And going to the post office might seem dull, but everything is an adventure. Embrace it. Go to the local places and try to avoid the touristy places. Try to speak the language. I did not know a lick of Italian before going, but after I had my first hour long conversation in Italian, I felt like I could fly. There is something freeing and exhilarating about communicating in a different language.
Get to know the country where you are studying before planning trips to other places. There are so many places to go in Europe but you first need to familiarize yourself with your new surroundings. The more you know about your country, the less you feel like a visitor. I visited five other countries while abroad in Italy.
My advice is to plan your trips early because the earlier you plan, the cheaper the tickets. Also, this might just be me, but I found it so much easier to go on trips with just one other person instead of groups. When too many people go, there are too many conflicting ideas. Travel companies give students great deals, but they are usually not the best trips. I would recommend planning things yourself. It is more work but you get to go wherever you want.
Also, budget yourself. It’s easy to spend all your money, but do not be afraid to say no to some trips you don’t really want to go on. Don’t eat out all the time, go to the market and grocery store and save some money. Do not shop until you drop, and if you do, find the weekly markets where clothes are 50 cents. They exist. I digress. On these trips, do not pack your life. Bring bare essentials.
During our fall break, we went to Ireland and England and I only brought one backpack for 10 days. You can do it. Hostels can be sketchy and nasty, so you should bring shower shoes and check for bed bugs. These places can be cheap but you will meet lots of interesting people.
When you’re not traveling, you’re going to school, which is even better as well. I took pairing food and wine, learned about the mafia, and made sterling silver jewelry. There are classes for everyone. Different countries have different rules. For example, we couldn’t turn on our heat whenever we wanted and they regulated our air conditioning. If they found paper in the trash instead of the recycling and it had your address on it, they would fine you. When you leave your windows open at night, a bat may fly in and fly around your kitchen.
Also, ladies, the guys will tell you that you’re beautiful and that they are in love after talking to you for 5 minutes. Do not believe them. They are going to be cute and charming, but remember to test them because they might do that to every American girl they see. I had a few great guys, and I’d love to tell you those stories if you want, but there was not a day I walked down the street and was not whistled at or told to come to them. It’s a great confidence booster though :). There are creeps though; one guy bit my neck out of nowhere while dancing. Needless to say, I shoved him off and went somewhere else.
The effect that studying abroad had on me was unbelievable. It may sound cheesy but living in another culture does make you wiser. It gives you new perspectives on things in your life.
This post was provided by Hannah Cutbirth, a senior at Texas A&M University, who was a guest on College Smart Radio “Tackling the Runaway Costs of College” on September 21st, 2013. Listen to this broadcast on YouTube here.
Photo Credit: archer10 (Dennis)