One of the best decisions I have made in my entire life was to study abroad in college. If there is any possibility for you to do it, I promise you that it will be the most enriching, awesome opportunity you will possibly experience during your college career. This is the time we should all be creating the most amazing memories that will last a lifetime…so live it up! When, at any other point in your life, will you be able to immerse yourself in another culture and travel to places you have only dreamed of…for an entire semester? Maybe riding camels in a trendy silk shawl across the gorgeous Moroccan dessert is the right getaway for you. Or skiing the powdery slopes of the Swiss Alps? Possibly you could see yourself riding a speedboat through the Mediterranean, with a breathtaking view of the Island of Positano, in the Amalfi Coast.
I chose to study abroad in Firenze, Italia. I have always wanted the flexibility to explore Italy (of course, the delicious Italian cuisine was a contributing factor) and other parts of Europe. It is so convenient to have an absolutely perfect home base with easy weekend travel opportunities right at your fingertips. The Santa Maria Novella train station is within walking distance from the center of the city (Piazza del Duomo). A complete gateway to Europe!
Now comfortably knowing my way around this entire antique city, I have found myself longing to come back to my cozy Italian apartment after weekend trips. I have discovered my favorite gelato shops and Panini joints that I visit on a regular basis. I can always count on my friendly restaurant neighbors to greet me when I come home from a long weekend or a hectic day of classes. Not to mention, they are geniuses at always cooking up a delicious smell to waft through my green shutters, serving as the perfect morning wakeup call. Maybe I am just a bit biased, but if you do end up deciding to study abroad, I will always and forever recommend my beloved Firenze.
I have compiled a great list of the “do’s” and “don’ts” to help you along in the study abroad process…
- Save up as MUCH spending money as you possibly can. Work your hardest all summer or winter break…it will surely pay off when you are sipping a Piña Colada in Cinque Terre! Europe is not inexpensive; however, it is really affordable to travel while you are there and see as much as you possibly can.
- Take advantage of all of the travel opportunities and day trips offered while you are there. Whether you’re booking weekend trips with your friends, or even exploring a plane alone…it is totally worth it.
- Be a smart packer. Plan on buying specific things when you get there (hairdryer, straightener, toiletries) to save some room in your suitcase for extra necessities. Plan on leaving certain things there once you leave to save room in your suitcase for presents and keepsakes you bought while you were there. If you have an old pair of boots or used toiletries you can leave behind, do it!
- Definitely download Viber! It is a perfect way to text or make calls from your IPhone (at no charge when wifi is available) to your friends and family back home. Download the app while you are still in America!
- Consider the best time of year for you to study abroad, depending on what you still need to accomplish back at your home university. Going abroad during the fall semester allows you the extra time to coordinate summer internship/job plans early…before everything is filled. Studying abroad spring semester gives you that extra something to look forward to after Christmas is over!
- Choose a good sized, practical purse. The best kind are the ones with a long shoulder strap that you can wear across your body, and that has a zipper so it can close completely (beware of pick-pocketers!). Also bring a smaller one for going out at night/traveling on weekends.
- DON’T over pack! For us girls, this can be an extremely difficult concept to adapt to. Really try to speak with someone who has traveled to your destination during the same time of year so they can give you the scoop on the fashionable and useful apparel you will need. Every single thing that you bring has to fulfill a good purpose. Keep in mind, you will be wearing clothes more than once! Comfortable shoes, and neutral items that can be mixed and matched are staples in an abroad wardrobe.
- DON’T wait until the last minute to get things done before you go. Be sure you have your passport information in order and apply ASAP for your VISA…they can take awhile to process and get returned to you!
- DON’T out rule being able to go because of your major. Plan a venture early on (freshman year). Have a game plan. You may have to take a summer course or two in order to make it work, but the rewards, as you can see, will FAR outweigh any inconvenience.
- DON’T forget to make copies of all important documents to leave at home, and also bring an extra set with you in a folder. Have all emergency numbers (for banks, chard card companies, etc.) easily accessible when you are there.
- DON’T forget to advise your bank at least two weeks prior to your departure where you will be travelling and the duration (in addition to any weekend excursions you have booked). They will need to know if you are travelling to another country within what timeframe as well.
Be adventurous. Try new things unique to that particular country/region, learn something new each day (even if it’s a different part of the city), and just have an amazing time! Embrace your new surroundings every second you are there – weekdays, weekends, enjoy it all! Learn, relax, enjoy, and know that the time goes by incredibly fast!