This post comes to us from scholarship recipient Katie Mattingly. Katie is currently studying abroad in Florence, Italy from the University of Kentucky.
On social media, timelines are filled with the amazing food, views, new, crazy, fun adventures. You rarely see the harder parts of study abroad: the pre-departure anxiety full of tears at the airport, flight cancellations/ delays, lost baggage, un-air conditioned apartments, missing home and the people there.
Don’t get me wrong, studying abroad has been the most amazing experience filled with new adventures, joy, sight seeing and chaos that I wouldn’t change for the world but there are a few things to keep in mind when abroad to keep those expectations in check:
- Adaptability. I cannot stress enough how important this trait will develop here. Being flexible and calm is the best thing for you, and coming from me that says a lot because I am not the most flexible or calm person, but being here has taught me how to be. For example, my flight was delayed out of Louisville so I was late arriving to Washington D.C. When I arrive at my gate, after sprinting through terminals, a woman tells me that my flight had been cancelled and that they were putting me on the next flight to Europe. I couldn’t help but to think “PANIC!” but instead, I took deep breaths and thought to myself: this will all work out, I’m going to make it. I ended up making it to Europe. I was supposed to have a layover in Brussels and arrive in Florence by 11 am, instead I ended up in Frankfurt, Germany, a totally different country than expected, and arriving in Florence 5 hours later. I had no choice but to be flexible in this situation. Upon arriving to Florence, my phone plan was not working. I got an Italian SIM card, the cheapest option (€30 for the month – unlimited iMessage and app usage, definitely recommend)but discovered that my phone locked up. I had to find an Apple store in this foreign country and call my phone service. What a mess! It ended up all working out, though. Being adaptable to various situations is key when abroad.
- Live in the moment. This is one of the key take-away messages from any trip abroad. ALWAYS LIVE IN THE MOMENT. Traveling in another country is so powerful and you do not want to take a second of it for granted. There are new things you will see every day if you open your eyes to it. Get lost! During the day time, of course. I have stumbled upon so many awesome places from taking a wrong turn down a side street or taken a different way to class. Also, BE PRESENT! Yes, it is important to take pictures and videos. But try to soak in the culture. Try your hardest to stay off your device and really be there, soaking it all in.
- Be open. Not only with yourself but with others around you. It is so important to talk about your feelings and not bottle them in. The first few days, even weeks, can be a tough transition. You are in a new city with new people, a totally new time zone, new buildings, new foods, new appliances, new everything. Which is so incredible, but can sometimes be overwhelming. On the first day of class, my roommate and I went out to explore to try and find a grocery store. We walked miles trying to find a grocery store, kept asking people where to go and could not find anyone who spoke English. This was tough. We got back to our apartment, sweaty and disappointed, and sat there for a few minutes in silence. That night, we all started talking about how that was a rough day. We had had sore legs from walking an intense amount, were exhausted from the previous weekend in Rome, had very chaffed legs, and missed home and the people there. The next day we all woke up so refreshed and felt like it was so necessary to talk about our feelings. We were reluctant to tell each other our feelings because we didn’t know if the other had felt the same or not but we realized that everyone is in the same boat here. None of us have felt those feelings since, and if we do then we will 100% make sure to discuss it because there is nothing worse than bottling up emotions that could take away from this amazing experience!