I spent the spring semester of my junior year of college studying abroad in Florence, Italy.
I had always dreamed of visiting Italy, and I knew I wanted to study abroad during my college years. Studying abroad has always been a thought in the back of my mind. I always wondered, "How cool would it be to study academics and culture in and out of the classroom in Europe?" I had originally planned on applying for the Rome program with AIFS Richmond University, but I cannot tell you how happy I am to have switched to Florence--a blessing in disguise.
I loved Rome's landmarks, but not so much the city itself. It was too big for my liking when I visited for orientation, and I was constantly worried about getting my belongings stolen.
It was definitely a challenge to live abroad for three and a half months: new culture, new peers, new everything. I wouldn't say it was everything I had imagined it to be. In the end, I'm glad I did it – and here's what I learned in the process.
1. Go out and explore.
Sometimes I would just be hanging out in my apartment on social media and not doing anything productive. My class hours were longer than what I'm used to. I was so tired and it was draining my energy; I didn't want to do anything on the weekends while I was home in Florence.
There were many times when I had to completely force myself to get ready, walk out my apartment building, and just keep walking. Once I was out, I was totally fine and felt like I could walk around the city for hours. I realized that I was only in Florence for so long, and besides the famous landmarks, it mostly offers shopping and eating and that I didn't have to spend any money to explore the city.
It sounds cliche, but not many students focus on the "studying" part when they're studying abroad. I really struggled with my Italian language homework and tests, as well as exams for other classes. I took two art classes so we only had critiques. As for the other lecture-style classes, we had to write essays in a certain time frame.
We had to remember word for word from our practice questions and couldn't use notes or anything. If I could go back to those times, I would have really taken a chunk of time out of my day to study the material more so I would come extremely prepared for exams.
3. Try new things.
We're all used to food and other things that make us feel "comfortable," but sticking to this won't allow new experiences and stories to come into our lives. Comfort in certain situations can block us from trying something new.
Although it's a New Year's quote, it is still my favorite about this topic: "The New Year means nothing if you are still in your comfort zone." While it can be nice to eat comfort food once in awhile, try new dishes, even if your comfort food is Italian and you're studying in Italy. Just try something different on the menu. Or if you're looking for adventure, go paragliding over the Swiss Alps.
4. Learn who you are.
I always knew that I am a shy and reserved person, but I had never fully accepted it - not until I studied abroad.
Before going abroad, I was fearful: of different parts of the world, fearful to try new adventures, and definitely fearful of traveling by myself. After traveling without my parents, I became more independent.
With going straight into new cultures, I learned how to be patient and open-minded. I learned how to truly look at things with all new perspectives--literally. I would turn my head at a certain angle and try to see it from another person's point of view. I learned to react appropriately in situations when something goes wrong.
5. Be your own person.
You don't have to say or do things just to try to make people like you. I learned not to care about what others think of me in college. But then I went to Italy alone and had trouble making friends. I changed friend groups frequently and tried to get others to like me.
This is something that you shouldn't do. I realized that I was totally wasting my time, and not focusing so much on exploring and creating new experiences: experiences that I could either make on my own or with a small group of people I had eventually become close with. Instead, it felt like high school all over again where everyone is changing friend groups 24/7 and doing anything just to belong to the group.
6. Document everything.
I received a travel journal for my birthday in January, and I thought I was going to write in it every day, except I didn't at all. I have never been good at keeping a habit of journal writing. How I documented my stay throughout Europe was by taking photos and GoPro videos. All 2,000 photos and hundreds of GoPro video clips have a story behind it, and to me, that is the best way of remembering things because it takes me right back to that very moment.