My mom used to tell my sisters and me that we could “do anything for a day.” I think she was referencing a job or project that we weren’t particularly excited to do, but I decided to apply a similar philosophy to studying abroad. The first thing I discovered while studying abroad is that I can live anywhere for six weeks. You might be thinking, isn’t she in Italy? That doesn’t seem like a very challenging place to live at all! You would be correct, I’m definitely not suffering over here. However, it is a challenge to leave the comforts of your own home for an unfamiliar place, no matter where that place may be.
Change in any form is usually accompanied by discomfort, even if it is only temporary, because unanticipated differences between cultures are bound to emerge. For example, spaces here in Italy are much, much smaller. My room for the past six weeks is approximately the size of a small walk-in closet and almost none of the buildings have air conditioning. No matter where you plan to travel, challenges will arise, but that doesn’t mean your experience has to be any less enjoyable. Wherever you choose to study abroad will be as great as you make it. Meaning, if you choose to sit in your room and watch Netflix every weekend, your time abroad probably won’t be very memorable. It takes some extra effort to find your place while abroad, and attitude is everything. When the going gets tough, the tough remember they can live anywhere for six weeks!
This next lesson might be hard to hear for the extroverts in the audience, but it’s true and needs to be said. It is okay (and sometimes preferred) to be alone while abroad. Clearly I’m not advising you to never speak to anyone and travel the world alone, because that’s not fun. Meeting different people and becoming friends with them is one of the greatest benefits about going abroad.
For example, my friends and I have vastly different class schedules and our field trips have never lined up perfectly. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. One of my favorite memories was created when I sat alone at lunch, ate the best avocado toast I’ll probably ever have, and listened to Nora Jones play softly in the background. When you think about classic “movie moments”, such as Audrey Hepburn in the opening scene of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the characters are always alone. If you want to create your own movie moments abroad, you have to become okay with being by yourself sometimes.
The third and final discovery I’ve made while being abroad, and something I remind myself of daily, is that things will go wrong. I wouldn’t call myself a planner because I go with the flow most of the time, but I also like to be exact, precise, and correct. Fun, huh? It’s been a challenge for me to experience moments when I don’t know when my delayed train will arrive, or if my flights will land in time for me to catch the next plane. The best advice I can give, and remind myself often, is to be patient, remain calm, and remember that everything will work out just fine.
When you can’t get a taxi on a Friday night, or when your train, plane, bus or boat (I’m looking at you, Venice) is delayed, take a deep breath. Remember where you are (not the stinky train station). Remember the country you’re in and the memories you’re making. Those times when you want to cry are just as much a part of your study abroad experience as seeing the Swiss alps, or going on other miraculous adventures with your friends. Inhale, exhale, wipe away your worries, and keep going. These moments may never happen again. When they’re gone, you might just miss them!