Today’s blog post comes to us from UW-Stout student & API blogger Zaria Wright! She’s studying abroad this semester in Florence, Italy.
A little over a month ago I was getting ready to leave for Florence.
I had never been outside of the country before or even been on a plane. I came here all by myself with the knowledge that I wouldn’t see my family for four months. In addition, I knew I would have to adapt to a whole new culture different from my own, including a new language. I also came here knowing I would be living in the country of my dreams, eating my favorite kinds of foods, and making new friends with similar dreams.
There isn’t a method set in stone for preparing yourself to study abroad, and honestly, fear is a part of the whole preparation process.
When you are unsure of what lies ahead of you, you start to make assumptions and have expectations of the experience you’re going to have. I personally think this is a good thing because it makes your journey even more of a learning experience that will benefit you more than you may realize.
Before I left, I was more nervous than anything. Now that I have been here for about a month, I realize that there was no way this trip could’ve been a bad decision. You have to push yourself through the application process to get all the right forms in order and make all the deadlines because although it is stressful at times, it’s what will make the adventure of studying abroad possible. For me, reality didn’t truly hit until I was getting on that plane. Sometimes it still doesn’t seem real, but that only makes the experience more worthwhile.
Before I left for my trip, I decided to make a list of some of the assumptions I had about living and going to school in Italy. I want to share some of these assumptions and what the actual reality is so I can hopefully answer questions someone else might have about studying abroad, so here they are!
Assumption: The airport is going to be super confusing
Okay, so like I said before, I have never been on a plane before. I had been to airports before, but I had never navigated my way through an airport to catch a flight, especially on my own. Airports can be confusing, but there are always people that are there to guide you to where you need to go. I didn’t have extremely long layovers, so I always made sure I was where I needed to be early to be prepared. Always have your documents handy too, of course, to make the process go smoothly!
Assumption: Budgeting money is going to be stressful
I can’t speak for my entire time being here, since it’s only March, but so far, this has not been entirely true. This can vary by what kind of a “spender” you are. For me, I am pretty simple about how much money I spend. I try to plan ahead by budgeting what trips I already have planned, when I know I’m going to go out to eat, and even by how much I’ll need to buy groceries.
If you know how much money you’ll have for the whole semester, try dividing it by the number of months you’ll be spending abroad. That way you know if you are overspending for a certain month. This can vary too because it won’t always be evenly distributed, but it will give you an idea of how much you have left to spend. I travel every other weekend and eat out 1 or 2 times a week, so I save a lot of money by buying groceries. Eating out is a fun experience, but cooking meals at home can be too, especially with your friends/roommates!
Assumption: Traveling by train will be kind of confusing
Traveling by train in Italy is actually a pretty easy process. It’s a great way to travel to different cities/towns and it’s usually the most efficient way to travel. Depending on how far away your destination is, it’s not very expensive and you can buy tickets ahead of time online. I downloaded the Trenitalia app and it allows you to track your ride so you can see what towns you go through. The most important thing is that you must always validate your ticket at the stations or stops so you won’t get fined!
Assumption: I’m going to struggle with the language
When I was in high school, I took French, so that’s the only language I had some background in. Naturally I assumed Italian was going to be a struggle. However, through API you’re required to take an Italian language course, which has become really helpful in speaking with the locals. In Florence, most Italians will already speak Italian, but it does help to know some basic phrases. Making an effort to speak even a little Italian will also be appreciated, plus, learning a second language is always a helpful and beneficial part of the whole experience.
Assumption: School will be easy
I feel like many students that study abroad go into the experience thinking that the school aspect will either be harder than at home or a complete breeze. So far, I wouldn’t say its been a “complete breeze,” but it has been easier. I think this is because I have each class once or twice a week, so I have plenty of time to get assignments done until the next class, and I also have Fridays off.
However, just because you have a good schedule doesn’t mean you should put less effort in. I’m not sure about other countries, but in Italy Midterm exams and research papers are a big deal. You’ll have to be well prepared for when those come around. At the Lorenzo de’Medici Institute in Florence, attendance is also extremely important, so skipping class is probably not the best idea. As long as you show up to class and do your assignments on time, school won’t be an issue.
Assumption: I’m going to be a better, more confident version of myself after it’s all done. It’s going to be the best experience ever.
I still have about two and a half months left of my study abroad experience, but I can definitely already say this is true. From what I have experienced, I have felt like a better version of myself.
Making this trip possible was already a very huge accomplishment for me because I had to work hard to get here and make some sacrifices along the way. I chose to do this semester abroad because I knew I needed to come out of my shell more and grow in confidence. What better way to do this than to live and be educated in a different country?
Studying abroad is a very individual experience because you learn more about yourself than you probably could living back at home. You learn what your boundaries and limits are and what scares you or doesn’t scare you. You realize what you are capable of. In just a short amount of time I have seen a lot of Italy. Every day I appreciate this experience more and more.
If I could give one piece of advice to anyone who is going to study abroad, it would be to live in every moment and take in as much as you can, because this could be your only chance.
Use the experience to grow into a better version of yourself. Learn as much as you can about the world around you and don’t take anything for granted! I hope you make the most out of your experience, wherever you decide to travel, because you will only be glad that you decided to make that dream a reality.