“Being abroad is a strange yet terrifying yet completely liberating and exhilarating experience,” says the girl who has been here all of five days. If we are being real here, I thought I would be gallivanting all over Europe, drinking wine, eating pizza, and practicing my Italian on beautiful willing locals/Armani models. School? What is school? I am just going to travel and tan and be a European for the next few weeks. Hold up, woah, press pause. That is all wrong, my friends. Well, not all of it, but being abroad requires a little hard work and it really reveals who you are when dropped in unfamiliar waters. This is what I have learned these past few days.
Know when it is time to buck up and do something and when it is time to go home. You are abroad, gosh darn it. You obviously did not pay X amount of money to sit in your apartment and watch movies all day. The world is waiting for you! You are here to explore, to practice the language, to meet people, to see things people dream of seeing, to take advantage of life! See it, enjoy it, live it, and take it all in. But if you are ill, injured, or physically exhausted, don’t stress! The Coliseum will be there tomorrow. So will the Eiffel Tower. Maybe even Big Ben. You will have other opportunities but know when the time is right to stay and see or go and rest.
Find a happy medium between comfy and fashion-forward for your clothes. It is no secret that Europeans are world renowned fashion know it alls. I have even seen Roman women treck ruins in Louboutin high heels. True story. But that doesn’t mean you have to. Dress to impress as the Europeans do, but please do not sacrifice your feet to the cobble stones. It really isn’t worth it. I invested in Birkenstocks today (which happen to be alla moda here in Italy) and wow did I not know what I was missing out on. Adjust your closet to your comfort and vise versa, but never sacrifice one for the other. There is always a happy medium.
If you are ill, take action immediately. European pharmacies, unlike American ones, open late and close early. So if you are ill, it really is hard to be proactive. Bring with you extra Advil, a thermometer, an over the counter cold and flu medicine, and an extra pack of band aids from home just in case your local pharmacy is closed. Call a doctor immediately. Often times they do house calls as well!
Explore outside of your host city. I am head over heels in love with Florence but I would be lying if I said I am not psyched to go to Croatia for Ultra Music Festival and to the Amalfi coast. Explore your city, but do not be afraid to get out there and see something new!
Know enough of the language to get directions and ask basic questions. I am currently learning Italian so I am not having many problems getting by here in Florence. But if I was in Paris, Munich, or Copenhagen I would be lost to bits. Knowing how to ask who, what, when, where, how, and why is never a problem. Yes, lots of Europeans speak English but they will be impressed with you- and appreciative- if you try to speak their language.
Keep a journal, a blog, a photo diary, ANYTHING to remember these moments. No, Instagram doesn’t count. Neither does Facebook. It doesn’t matter if writing isn’t your strong suit, you will want to look back at these days with a full and clear memory. It can be just a sentence or two! Write every day so you can always look back.
Make friends. Like, duh. Who doesn’t want to make new friends? Talk with people in your classes, in your program, friends of your roommates, locals even! Invite them out to the bar, invite a group over for dinner, go to gelato, go to a museum, go do anything! You are in a new place. New friends would be a bonus addition.
Focus on your classes. That is the whole reason you are here. Classes are so important I can’t even begin to stress it. You are not in Europe to eat gelato all day (ahh…wishes) and go out every night. Study and study hard so you can play hard. Nobody likes writing a paper or doing a project while your friends are traveling new places and having the time of their lives. Do not procrastinate, study in groups, get your school work done efficiently and yes, make sure it is correct!
A good work ethic in the classroom will make this all happen. Classes are classes and they are important and the reason you are here. But studying abroad is the one chance you have to be out every night with friends, travel the world, meet new people, and make some amazing memories. Do your school work, but make sure you get the full experience.
Originally posted on Memoir of a Cliché, reposted with permission from Ally Arrigo.