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My Study Abroad Experience and Tips (As a First-Time Traveler!)

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 Rutgers chapter.

Unless you count a family cruise when I was eight, which was the first and last time until now that I needed a passport, it’s safe to say the world of travel was almost completely unknown to me. 

For twenty-one years of my life, I had never flown on a plane. Being able to full-scale travel for the first time was something I had never imagined. That was until I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad in Bologna, Italy for sixteen days as part of Rutgers’ Travel Writing course. 

Not only did I get to bond with other journalism and communication majors and make new friends, but I also got to work on an amazing article with my research group, explore the stunning scenery, and so much more!

I certainly had a lot to learn. I was going to be on a long flight across the world without family or without ever having stepped foot in an airport. It’s safe to say I have a habit of “going big or going home.”

With help from my close friend and travel buddy, who also studied abroad with me, my other classmates, our professor, my group’s amazing Italian interpreter, with whom we worked with on our article and my own willpower, I was able to gain experience! Now, I want to share my experiences and tips to anyone who might be studying abroad for the first time, or to any other first-time travelers out there!

sleep deprivation is no joke

While this seems completely obvious, even during my busiest or when I was extremely sick, I have never not gotten at least a little bit of sleep. However, this all changed once I sat down on that plane. I figured the power of the antihistamine in my routine allergy medicine would suffice, but I was proven very wrong. Please do anything you can to try to get some sleep. Whether it’s a super innovative and comfy pillow, noise-canceling headphones, an eye mask, etc. Any safe over-the-counter medicines to help sleep could also help, especially when you’re on a long flight that will arrive in the morning time.

Jet lag is painful, and my first day was an utter blur and almost panic-inducing because my body had no rest. I was running around airports lugging my suitcase and taking in the atmosphere of a brand new world. If you’re of age and into wine, I recommend taking the flight attendant’s offer for a glass or two to help calm any nerves. Even if all of these tricks don’t seem to help, after a day or two, you’ll be fully adapted to the time zone and finally get sleep once you’re off that plane.

Have a plan (but learn to adapt)

There were so many little things I either forgot about or didn’t realize I would need! Especially when it comes to direction, I often took the follower route amongst my group. However, it’s always important to have ways of communication and transportation even if you’re not the “leader.”

I recommend having a temporary international phone plan so wifi will be way easier to access. This helps for communicating with loved ones or classmates and also, Google Maps can easily be on your phone rotation. Trust me, it’s worth it. In general, there were things the rest of my group and I had to learn to adapt to as well. The brutal heat was one of them. Albeit, my ghostly pale and sensitive skin is happy to report that there was no case of traumatic sunburn! (I took sunscreen very seriously as a precaution.) We also had to adapt to limited bathroom access, sometimes having to pay for them depending on where we were. Although some cultural differences were shocking to us, it’s important to respect them. Keep an open mind to make the most of your time abroad.


I am a very “play-it-safe” type of gal, and I still was for many moments during my trip. Still, please experiment and try new things. Safely, of course! In fact, one of my main regrets was that I should have done more experimentation. Luckily, I do have some new experiences under my belt, and a lot of them had to do with trying alcohol. Although I was of drinking age both by American and European standards, this trip was really the first time I had some “big girl” drinks. I tried various sips of different types of liquor, a lot of which I either liked or didn’t.

Our class wine tasting wasn’t amazing for my taste buds, as I’ve realized I’m not a wine girlie, but it was still super interesting to try. I’ve learned that I’m the type of person who likes her super sweet barely alcohol-tasting cocktails. But in general, I also got to see things I’d usually never see by just being around a new place. I encourage anyone to see what might interest them and go for it. I even attended a classical/electric violin concert with some of my classmates, which was something I didn’t expect out of my trip. It turned out to be such a cool show!

Live in the moment as much as you can

This is going to sound ironic since I have over a thousand photos from my time in Italy, but don’t forget to live in the moment! Bask in the glory of the sights with your own eyes too! I always advocate for safety and being aware of one’s surroundings, especially in a foreign country or populated tourist areas. But, try to also have instances of just taking everything in. I certainly had my moments of panic. Nevertheless, don’t care too much if you’re accidentally late, or you accidentally embarrass yourself, because it’s inevitable.

Studying abroad is a learning experience and I was able to learn so many amazing things. It’s all a part of the experience. No one can be perfect or know everything, especially in a new area! And living in the moment makes for amazing memories to come. Some of the best moments on this trip were the unexpected, simple things such as dinner with my classmates, taking a stroll around Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore, and raving over how good Italian McDonald’s is.

I hope anyone who wants to study abroad has the opportunity to! It was truly one of the most fun and transformative things I’ve done in my life. And yes, I will admittedly be that person who continues to bring up my trip to Italy whenever they get the chance to in conversation.

Alyssa Chierchia is a senior attending Rutgers University-New Brunswick. She is a Journalism and Media Studies major with a double minor in Gender and Media and Creative Writing. She will never stop talking about pop culture, feminism, or fan edits, and is usually watching a show or a movie in her free time.