1. Things most certainly do not always go as planned.
Despite your best efforts, planning in advance, creating a rough agenda, or whatever it may be, traveling and living in general while abroad do not always turn out exactly as expected. A friend and I planned a weekend trip to Milan. We bought the train tickets and booked a hostel on a Thursday night, and had a list of restaurants, clubs and general areas we wanted to hit. Additionally, we had mapped out distances between the places we’d be and wanted to be. Upon our arrival, we were slightly disoriented and a lot of what we had planned ended up being counterproductive. Instead we spent the day wandering around the city, ending up at Milan’s Duomo, which is astoundingly beautiful. We ended up sitting in the piazza with some wine, people watching and talking until dinnertime. Rather than getting frustrated and bummed out about the unexpected, we went with it and decided to explore the city without any sort of direction or plan, and this ended up being one of our most memorable days/experiences.
2. Going with the flow and keeping a positive attitude are essential.
When plans don’t materialize or go as expected, go with it and definitely make the most of it (see point 1). Wandering around for example can bring you to some of the best places, or past some of the most obscure places that you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. Ask locals for restaurant recommendations. Laugh at the fact that you have to run a little over a mile back to the station to make your train. When I reflect on my time abroad, I remember the things that went wrong and my positive reactions to them the most. I remember laughing/running to catch my train back to Florence from Bologna and I remember wandering around Milan for hours spending quality time with my friend. The way you react to these situations is crucial.
3. Homesickness may come in waves, or not at all.
I wasn’t homesick for 99% of the time. The 1% of the time I spent being homesick was the result of something absolutely ridiculous and I regret it. You will more likely than not miss the little things like Chipotle, guac, and Goldfish like I did, but you’ll survive the 3.5 months without them simply because you don’t really have a choice and because they all taste so much better after waiting. If you’re homesick for other reasons, try to focus on what a great experience being abroad is and the fact that you will never have the same experience/opportunity ever again. Even if you come back to the place you’re studying, it will be with different people, at a different time, and you will be a different person. So if you get homesick, absolutely do not let it get in the way of enjoying and making the most of your time, because more often than not the reasons contributing to the homesickness are trivial compared to all the awesome things you’re experiencing abroad.
4. Do, see, or try something new everyday.
Really though. It doesn’t matter if it’s a food you’ve never tried or a site you’ve never seen or a route you’ve never walked. Do something unusual or out of the ordinary every single day. Make a point of going to a new museum or restaurant or walking a different way to class or exploring a new area of the city. Not only do these things help you to get to know a place better, but more importantly they help you get to know yourself better.
5. It isn’t all rainbows and unicorns.
See point 1, as well as point 3. Also, you and all of the people you’ll be spending time with are humans, and therefore are not perfect. Just because you’re abroad living the dream doesn’t mean you’re always going to be happy. I honestly thought that everything would be perfect because I was abroad and nothing was going to get me down, but the reality is things are still going to happen that you don’t necessarily like. The key is to not let those things bother you too much or to get in the way of your time abroad.
6. Enjoy the little things, because they’re actually the big things.
Words cannot describe the joy I felt walking by the Duomo in Florence everyday and night. I never once took that for granted. I stared at it with admiration every time I passed it and reminded myself of how beautiful it is. I watched many sunsets at Piazzale Michelangelo, and I wish I saw more because they’re unreal. I enjoyed the fact that I could walk literally everywhere and that my longest walk at any given time was 20 minutes. Walking everywhere is one of the things I miss the most about being abroad. Even the details of the buildings are ingrained in my mind because I loved them so much…even though they’re just buildings. I also miss the obscure shape of my apartment key. The list goes on.
7. Almost everything is a learning experience.
Even the bad things. I got my debit card compromised over spring break in Greece, but I learned to 1. Be more cautious of the ATMs I’m using and 2. Handle and manage such a situation. If something happens like this again, I’ll know how to handle it because I’ll know all the right questions to ask the bank, things to take note of, etc. On my second to last night in Florence, I got my phone stolen. I’m pretty sure it was stolen right out of my hand because my purse was pretty much the Fort Knox of purses, but it pretty much just taught me to back my phone up to my laptop. I did back up to iCloud, but not to my laptop, and I didn’t know when I’d have an iPhone again and the only thing I was worried about off the bat was when I’d have access to my pictures. If you care about your notes/pictures/calendar/etc. put them on your laptop too, because you just never know. If you’re lost or can’t find your way or aren’t where you thought you’d be, use it as an opportunity to use another language, get to know someone know or just explore!
8. Keep a journal.
Before I left for Italy, my dad handed me a little black notebook and told me not to buy him anything, but to write a journal entry every day for him in the notebook as his gift. I had planned on blogging a little bit while abroad, but never really thought about keeping a journal. About halfway through my semester, I figured out that my dad had tricked me into writing in the journal for myself, and I’m so happy he did because I know I wouldn’t have kept up with it so much if it hadn’t been for him. I literally wrote in it every single day about what I did, how I was feeling, what my plans were, etc. Now whenever I feel like reflecting on my time abroad I can go and read my journal.