Confessions of a Study Abroad Student

By: Vincent Ventura

Studying abroad in the past few years has become increasingly popular. One semester or summer, we pack up our lives and move halfway across the world with a bunch of strangers. It’s basically a reality show with language barriers, cultural differences, and much better food. Without a doubt, studying in Rome this past spring has been one of the most defining experiences of my life. Here are some tips that I think apply to any student studying abroad:

  • Embrace your host culture. Strike a balance between exploring your host city, host country, and surrounding countries. You chose this place for a specific reason and should take the time to indulge in the local culture. Speak the language, make local friends, and eat authentic food. Realize that the place you are studying in may not be the same as the rest of the country and explore outside your neighborhood.
  • Don’t experience behind a camera lens. As products of the Information Age, us millenials tend to whip out our smartphones to visually document our travels, build our photo libraries, and share to our Instagram followers. Hold the phone, quite literally. Take a moment to absorb what you are looking at before you take the shot. Make the effort to curate and record what is truly special. Use pictures and video as ways to remember what is important to you- not just meaningful visual images but useful information like street names and menu items.
  • Studying abroad is exhausting. Between classes, assignments, going out, and traveling on the weekends, there seems to be very little time to sleep. Make the judgment call between when you want to sleep and when you need to sleep. This can be detrimental to your health. Don’t be afraid to “disco nap” but realize the difference between rallying and going to bed early. I’ve been there and I feel you.
  • Pack smartly. Look at the weather, dress in layers and don’t forget to bring raingear, comfortable shoes, toiletries and medicine. Looking nice definitely takes a backseat when you have a headache, your feet ache, and you are soaking wet. Bring the essentials especially clothing that can be mixed and matched. Don’t worry about being an outfit repeater- your travel companions won’t either.
  • Planning successful trips takes time. Devote time to finding the cheapest flight, check-in procedures, luggage restrictions, transportation from the airport as well as things-to-do, attractions, and the best options for lodging. Although you may be paying 10€ for your hostel, if they don’t give you clean bed sheets and are distant from the major sites, it may not be worth it. Respect the review.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask. You never know what kind of advice your friends can give you unless you ask them. Poll your friends, locals, teachers and social media connections for travel recommendations and suggestions. They know you better than any website does and can do it with a personal touch.
  • You don’t have all the time in the world. When you arrive abroad, you feel infinite. Truth be told, the time flies faster than even a normal semester. Plan your time wisely because before you know it, you will be teary eyed on the plane ride home.
  • Value downtime. Leave time within your everyday life and your weekend travels to breathe and be spontaneous. Stop thinking about the next step and live in the moment. Sit in a café, people watch, or wander. These memories when you are appreciating where you are and what are you doing are often times the most sacred.
  • And most importantly, “Don’t Settle.” Everyone’s experience is different. Focus on making yours the best it can be. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and try something new. Realize that things will not always go according to plan. Don’t settle but strive for the best (in every sense of the word).

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