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One Month Abroad: What I’ve Learned

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

From the moment I heard that studying abroad was a thing (maybe around 12-years-old), I’ve wanted to go. It started as a plea to be an exchange student abroad for a year of high school, but that debate never went my way with my parents. Instead, they suggested that I go abroad when I was in college, when I was older and able to do more.

I went through high school and my first two years of college looking forward to the opportunity of going abroad. Now that it’s finally here and I’ve been in Milan, Italy for an entire month, it feels surreal. It feels like I’m actively crossing things off my bucket list and exploring the world just as I’ve always wanted.

That being said, not everything has been simple and easy and enjoyable. The first day of travel to Italy was one of the most stressful days of my life, and getting accustomed to a new place is a hefty challenge. This is what I’ve learned in my month of studying abroad in Italy so far.

Bureaucracy Sucks (for the most part)

My good friend, bureaucracy. While I understand that certain legal measures need to be taken in order to study abroad in another country for a semester, the amount of things I had to do to even step foot in Italy was atrocious, yet alone to stay in Italy. 

The big thing that all the abroad counselors warn you of is getting an Italian visa. It requires gathering handfuls of papers that you didn’t even know you had, then shipping off all those important documents and your passport to a consulate to wait up to 12 weeks before your passport is shipped back to you. Luckily everything on this end went fine for me, but I’ve heard horror stories of the consulate not returning your passport or sending back everything because you don’t have the right documentation, and then you have to start again.

If that wasn’t enough, once you have your visa, you have to get your permit to stay once you’re in Italy. It requires a lot more documents (different ones from the visa!), a stamp you can only get at a tobacco shop, hours of waiting at the post office, and a huge fee. This is only your temporary permit, because you have to go back to the police station to get fingerprints and—you guessed it—present more documents. I won’t even get started on the Codice Fiscale. 

One of the most stressful parts about the whole onboarding process when going abroad is all these documents and things you have to get in order before or during your trip. This is definitely dependent on which country you decide to study at and with which program, but it can be stressful regardless. The only good thing is that once you’ve completed everything, you’re free of worry for the rest of the trip.

Public Transportation is a Must Know

Being a girl from northern Colorado, I was never exposed to public transportation. I drove everywhere and hadn’t ridden a public transportation bus until I got to CU Boulder. Going to Europe, I knew that I wouldn’t have access to a car and would have to rely on public transportation to get me everywhere. I was nervous about this, but assumed that I could figure it out.

Now that I’ve been in Europe for a while, I am a strong lover of public transportation. My Milan transportation card is my pride and joy, and I feel like a little kid every time I ride a train somewhere. Everything is convenient and for the most part, reliable. Not being with a car has certainly shifted my perspective of transportation needs, and I am thankful for all the systems in place to make it easy for people to get around. I will say that I still miss driving, however.

Europe is Pretty

This is probably a given, but Europe is beautiful. Whether I’m taking a train through the Swiss Alps or walking through Milan to get to class, everything is so different from back in Colorado and I’m trying to soak up every second of it.

All of the European cities I’ve been in have been very walkable, thanks to their centralized architecture and dense populations. I love looking at all the buildings that are older than the United States itself, and wandering through history museums. 

From the trees to the wildlife, almost everything is unique. I loved going to a small town in Italy where my friend lived and seeing the rolling hills of greenery and fields that go on forever. No matter what you like doing, I can guarantee Europe has a place for everyone.

School is Different Than Back Home

This has been my most shocking experience so far: actually having to go to school. I’m currently at Bocconi University, which is a management and economics school. Half of my classes are business and the other half are history, and all have different structures than I’m used to in the United States.

For starters, all the classes are an hour and a half long, and they happen at very random times. A professor can cancel classes day of and schedule others right on top of other commitments, so you’re forced to choose. They take attendance very seriously as well, and it’s your responsibility to record your attendance at the start of each lecture. The grading procedures are different too, where your grade in a course is based 100% on a final exam at the end of the course. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, there’s a midterm, so it’s 50% for two tests. Talk about stressful!

That being said, there are some serious advantages to studying at Bocconi—the main one being that there’s no homework. This is because everything is based on the final exam, but at the moment it just feels like I have so much more free time now without assignments filling up my day. Along with that, the midterm exam period is a week and a half long, meaning that you don’t have classes for that long in October. Classes themselves end the first week of December, and you have three full weeks to take your exams (which is two months if you’re not an exchange student). I’m not sure if I like one model more than the other, but it’s definitely been a learning curve.

Watch Your Wallet

This is more metaphorical than physically keeping hold of your wallet. When you’re studying abroad, it is so easy to spend money. Coming to Italy, I had a lot of logistical costs to make (bedsheets, cutlery, hangers, etc.), but then once that’s over the costs keep coming. First there’s this trip, then there’s another trip, and then you want to go out for a night, and you want to eat out.

I think that the point of studying abroad is less the education but more the experience of being where you are. So, spending money (and often a lot of it) is inevitable. Still, it’s important to watch your finances and budget for what you expect to spend and what you actually spend. I’m not sure I’m the best person to be talking about this either, since I’ve been spending a lot…but hey, I saved up this summer for a reason.

You Can’t Do Everything You Want To

Not even money can buy you everything. At the beginning, I was so excited to get out and do as many trips as humanly possible. I was the kind of person who wanted to go to 16 countries in 16 weeks, and had a plan of making that happen.

Of course, things rarely go as planned. Turns out my body doesn’t like being thrown around on planes and trains every couple days to have fully planned activities and then class the next morning. Since being here for just a month, I’ve gotten sick twice and am still dealing with the aftermath of a sinus infection. Some plans have been halted or canceled, and I’ve been physically forced to slow down. 

In a way, this is a good thing, as it’s teaching me the boundaries of my health and my limits between traveling and relaxing. At the same time, it’s really frustrating when you only have four months in a place you may never go to again and want to do all you can, especially when you see others doing the same thing. 

Have Fun and Focus on the Moment 

Despite the stress of travel, bureaucracy and sickness, I’ve loved every moment I’ve been in Italy. It’s certainly a once in a lifetime experience, and I’m definitely  not taking that for granted. When I get overwhelmed, it’s important for me to be present in the moment and remember that it’s just awesome to be in Italy in the first place. 

Although I miss my family and friends back in Boulder (along with the football games), I know that I’m going to come back to them eventually and have a lot of fun stories to tell. It’s been a month into my four month abroad trip, and there’s going to be plenty more opportunities for learning and enjoying the moment. 

Anna Bedell

CU Boulder '25

Anna Bedell is the social media director at the Her Campus, CU Boulder chapter. She writes content mainly on entertainment and culture, along with personal essays and experiences. A junior at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Anna is majoring in business administration with an emphasis in marketing and a minor in journalism. She’s recently studied abroad at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy for the fall semester. An involved student in the business school, Anna writes for the school’s marketing department, is a representative for the Leeds Student Government, and works as a Leeds Student Ambassador. Outside of school, you’ll find Anna rock climbing, watching movies, writing, or traveling around. She’s sure to constantly update her Spotify profile and will never miss an opportunity to talk about her cat, Biscuit.