Studying abroad is a dream for most college students, and having it finally become a reality after much preparation and anticipation can bring a flood of emotions like you’ve never felt before. Excitement, freedom, loneliness, anxiety – these are all felt throughout the process of adjusting to a new culture. It is a continual learning experience that not only teaches you new things about a different culture, but also about yourself. Here are a few things I discovered during my first week studying in Florence, Italy.
Practice your Italian
Although I spent two semesters studying Italian in the States before arriving in Florence, everything I learned fled my mind as soon as I arrived. I was surrounded by the constant Italian chatter everywhere I went. Worried I would embarrass myself with my very broken Italian, I opted for the easy out and spoke in English. I soon realized I didn’t want to spend a whole semester in Italy without evening trying to speak the language. So, my advice: Squeeze out that tiny bit of Italian you remember from Duolingo that you tried to practice the semester before arriving in Florence. And trust me, the locals will appreciate the effort.
Pay attention to tourist traps
Those who have been in Italy before know you can easily get caught up by the tourist traps. You want to get the full Italian experience but don’t let your wallet suffer for this. Your coming into a new country and not knowing where to go or what to see you can easily get caught up in the typical tourist mistakes. Don’t find yourself at a gelateria with gelato mounds stacked high above the counter. Instead, find the flat gelato. Not only will it taste better, but it won’t be marked up to tourist prices. You can also find yourself paying up to four Euros for a liter of water or paying cover charges of five Euros just to be able to sit down and have a meal. To avoid this, bring a reusable water bottle and fill it up at one of the many running fountains throughout the city. These little traps can start to add up and as a college student, you probably don’t have money to spend on things like these.
Take time to relax
From many students I’ve spoken to, a big adjustment and something we are still learning is being able to relax. At home in the United States, you often feel as if you’re running from classes and school activities, to work and hanging out with friends. So much is on your plate you barely have time for yourself to sit, be quiet and be present. Here in Florence, not everyone is constantly on the go. As I adapt to this relaxed lifestyle, I recognize the importance of taking the time to talk to friends over dinner and getting to know the baristas at your favorite coffee spot. Speak with those around you and get to know them. Enjoy the slow times, take time to read a new book, sip on a cappuccino and unwind.
Every person has a different experience and story unique to them while studying abroad. I believe the few things I mentioned are universal and happen in some way to each person studying abroad for the first time. Be open to new ideas and beliefs. Be quick to listen and slow to judge. Immerse yourself in the culture and soak it all in. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity.