There are a lot of things that you can expect while you're studying abroad. For example, you can expect to attend class, study a lot, learn about different cultures and customs, eat a ton of incredibly delicious food and have some life-changing experiences. There are a few things, however, that I have come to learn that they forget to tell you about studying abroad. Here are a few of the things I have learned throughout my experience in my first week abroad in Italy.
1. The keys and locks are unique and can be dysfunctional from time to time
One major difference I have noticed in Europe (compared to the United States) are the locks and keys. Not only do the keys come in all different shapes, lengths and sizes, but they are almost all uniquely shaped—and I'm not just talking about the curves of the actual key. The key to get into my apartment building is a similar key to those that are typical in the States, although it is square. The key to get into my actual apartment looks like a metal stick about 6 inches long and it has all sorts of different squares and rectangles on the end. Additionally, the locks are extremely sensitive. If you do not have just the right angle or torque of the key, the door will not open. Some of the locks are also extremely old, and are not well oiled, so they don't turn as easily. I learned this on my second day abroad, as I was locked out of my apartment for 2 hours in the middle of the night because the lock needed oil and would not budge. My advice is to test out and play around with your keys and the lock to get a hang of the specific nuances and strategies required to open up your door so that you are not stuck in the streets of a foreign country with no place to go.
2. If you think NYC drivers are aggressive, you're wrong
Not only will drivers in Europe honk at you if you are in the street, but they will go as far as climbing out their windows to yell at you as they whiz by. Not only this, but the taxis, cars, motorcycles and buses will actually run you over if you don't move. As I was sitting in the back seat of a taxi going to my apartment the first day, my taxi driver came within one foot of making contact with a woman walking in the middle of the street. That being said, be sure to be aware of your surroundings and be conscious of traffic and where you are walking in order to stay alive during your time abroad.
3. Wifi is rare
Not only is wifi rare in Europe, but when you actually have connection to wifi, it is extraordinarily slow compared to the wifi in the United States. That being said, an international phone plan is a great idea. Also, downloading an offline map of the area you are in will be extremely helpful-there are a bunch of different apps available for that.
Personally, I love not having wifi 24/7. It is so refreshing being able to enjoy a meal without the people you are with being on their phones. Also, I check social media once or twice a day (if at all). It is easier to be present and to enjoy every moment when you don't have the internet and constant access to social media distracting you.
4. You should bring a towel with you
Thankfully as I was leaving for the airport to catch my flight to Italy, I was still getting ready up until the last second. I was straightening my hair, and as I was packing up the last things, I realized my flat iron was still a bit hot to put in my suitcase. So, I quickly wrapped it in a large dish towel so that I would be able to pack it. Thank goodness I was running behind because that dish towel was a life saver on my first day. A towel, for example, is something that you may not think about bringing, but is very necessary. The first thing I wanted to do when I got to my apartment after traveling for 15 hours was shower. After I got out of the shower, I realized I had no towel. I was extremely grateful for my large dish towel, but I recommend bringing a towel if you want to be able to successfully dry yourself off.
5. You will learn how to read a map (and other survival skills)
Remember when I said that wifi was rare? Yeah. The means no Google Maps. This will be a great opportunity to practice your map reading abilities since nobody will be telling you which way to go. I highly recommend planning extra time to get to places because it is super likely that you will get lost the first few days. As I was walking around Florence the first few days, I couldn't help but think about my first week at Miami as a freshman. I remember looking at all of the buildings thinking "wow, all of these buildings look the same." And, "I will never make it back to my dorm." Now, being a rising senior, I could walk around campus with my eyes closed. At the end of your time abroad, you will know the city you are staying in like the back of your hand. But until then, carry a map with you everywhere you go.
6. Splitting checks at restaurants is uncommon in Europe
The students in my study abroad program learned this fact quickly. It is unlikely that restaurants will split your checks. It is necessary to have ample amounts of cash so that you can pool your money together. My friends and I also have made a system where we alternate paying with credit cards and then everyone pays the person who paid for that meal with cash. It makes for excellent opportunities to practice mental math.
7. Eating dessert is close to an everyday occurrence
It is socially acceptable and even recommended to have dessert every night. In Europe, it seems as though you start off your day with breakfast, as you are greeted each morning with fresh croissants, cookies and other pastries to accompany your morning coffee. Additionally, in Italy especially, there is gelato everywhere you look. You walk by it all day long. It is nearly impossible to resist, especially after sweating profusely the entire day as you cram as much activity into one day as possible. Not to mention there is no air conditioning in your classrooms or apartments. By the end of everyday, you feel as though you deserve dessert and by all means, you should do it. It doesn't mean that you need to have a ton each night, but a little scoop of gelato, or a small sweet will not kill you. After all, when is the next time that you will be able to eat something that great again?
8. You will walk more than you do on campus
You think your 15 minute walk to class is tragic? In Europe, your feet are typically your main source of transportation. You walk nearly everywhere. To go to the grocery store, to find food, to find that one place with the best gelato, etc. You walk through museums and famous buildings. You walk to and from class and back and forth from your apartment. You will walk around your city so much in one day, and that's without getting completely lost. On the bright side, you can work the dessert that you had last night, and can get in some sort of exercise in for the day. There should be no concern whatsoever about getting your steps in for the day. In fact, you will probably get an entire week's worth of steps all in one day.
9. You will learn a ton
I have not even been abroad for a full week and I have learned more about myself and the world than I thought was possible. The things you will experience while studying abroad will be invaluable. It is a whole different kind of independence, being in a foreign country alone, fending for yourself. Although it takes some time to adjust, it truly is incredible. The fact that I get to live in a different country for an extended amount of time is amazing. I get to go sit in the heart of Florence and eat a sandwich in between classes. Some of our homework assignments involve walking around museums, or sitting in cafés and writing about our experiences, observations and thoughts. I truly cannot describe just how much I have learned in a short period of time.
10. You will go from being strangers to great friends in about 2 days
I went into my study abroad program not knowing a single person. I later learned that the majority of the people in my program did not know one another. As with anything it takes time to adjust and to make friends, but in a matter of hours we hit it off and learned more about one another. We went to dinner as strangers and came out knowing one another a bit more. Two days later, it feels as though you've known one another for years. I think it's safe to say everyone is worried about making friends during their time abroad. It is crazy how things work, you meet people and you just seem to click. It feels like you've known each other for years and it's been one week. That is the beauty of spending time abroad with a small group of people—you get to know one another really well and really fast. The first few days abroad can be extremely intimidating and even stressful. But knowing you have people by your side as you take on this new adventure is incredibly comforting. I promise that with time, you will get to know one another and go from being strangers to great friends in a very short time.
Studying abroad is truly an experience like no other. Of course, you will absolutely learn very valuable things in the classroom. However, there are many, many important things that you will learn from your experiences that cannot be taught in a classroom. That is part of what makes studying abroad the phenomenal experience that it is. There are things they will tell you and things they will not, but hopefully this will help you get started on your adventures!