Studying abroad for an entire year can seem very daunting. At first, I was scared about the big transition and all the FOMO I would get from my friends back on campus. Something that I wasn’t told about from friends who had done study abroad is that the beginning is very tough. The adjustment to a new home, different people, a new routine can be overwhelming. In my case, I was thrown into Rome where I don’t speak the language fluently, the culture is very different and all my friends were back at home. My entire comfort zone was shaken. This is normal.
Of course, the city of Rome is outstanding and it is not hard to be in awe of it, romanticize everything, and be thankful for the opportunity to be here. However, it took a while for it to hit me that Rome is my new home and that I am not on a long vacation. Once I felt like I had a home and a stable friend group, my entire abroad experience shifted. Getting a routine at first was difficult but after establishing one, I felt a lot like myself in this new environment. I got a gym membership just a couple of months ago and I wish I would have gotten it sooner. I feel the most myself when I am doing the habits that have always brought me happiness and authenticity. However, it is also important to stray away from the routine. I often take long walks in the city, taking the opportunity to enter a church or museum I hadn’t seen before, try out a new place for dinner, see a neighborhood I hadn’t stumbled upon before. These spontaneous things allow me to immerse myself in the city and create memories. I often think to myself that I wouldn’t want to be back home thinking I wished I could have seen or done something.
To that extent, that also means making memories outside of Rome. Traveling across Europe has never been cheaper or easier for me. There are so many direct and economic flights to cities and countries I have never been to before and exploring these places with your friends is what makes the trips so memorable. This semester alone I have traveled to Greece, Norway, Bulgaria, Spain, Morocco, Malta, Netherlands and England (all in one semester!). I also have friends studying abroad in other cities and we coordinate so that we can see each other and travel together (which is the best combination).
Academically, as an architecture student, the city of Rome is such a wonderful precedent of great architects and art. The opportunity to see and learn in person is incredibly invaluable and will serve me for the rest of my career. I have learned this year to time manage all my academic tasks in order to give time to exploring (something I struggled with last year).
My Top Tips for Studying Abroad:
1. If you are interested in traveling to different cities, countries, towns, etc., I highly recommend making a list. When planning a trip with friends, share with them your list and it can be easier to choose a place that everyone is interested in. Along these lines, I recommend making a document with all you “free” weekends, deadlines, exams and holidays. This way it can be easier to see which weekends work for you and which don’t. If you don’t have places in mind for a specific weekend, I recommend going to the skyscanner website where you can insert dates and select a feature of flying anywhere. This way you can see the cheapest flights for your desired weekend, and it can be in a place you would have never seen yourself going.
2. If you are someone who thrives on routine, I recommend finding ways to implement your habits from home to your new living situation. Finding a good gym membership, buying your typical groceries for cooking, allotting time for reading, etc. These things are what help make your new home feel like one and ease the transition process.
3. Do more spontaneous things and say yes. It’s easy to make a long list of museums you want to visit, restaurants you want to try and things you want to do. However, this list can easily be piled on to and remain unchecked. If you happen to have a free morning one day, use it as an opportunity to check off one of the things on your list. Who knows when the opportunity will arise again.
4. Speak with your professors to see what opportunities they have. Since the faculty are not based in the US, reaching out to them about potential opportunities like research, internships, etc can be really helpful and different to what a professor from campus would provide. Perhaps you could extend your time abroad in the summer with a different and enriching experience.
5. Document your experience abroad. One day in the future it will be great to look back at all your memories and moments in this unique phase of your life. I personally like to journal my day to day but I also have a separate instagram account where I post fun things I have done while abroad. Many of my friends also have accounts that seem like journal entries and it’s fun to look back on your feed. I would also recommend documenting experiences, restaurants, museums and things that you have liked. People will reach out to you for recommendations whenever they visit the city so it is handy to have one for yourself as well.
6. Learn the basics of the local language. If the first language of the country you are studying abroad isn't English, I would highly recommend practicing basic phrases like asking a waiter for a table, how to order a coffee, asking where something is, etc. I would also highly recommend practicing the pronunciation in order to make it easier for the message to be clear.
7. Even though I could go on about so many little things, my main advice would be to just be thankful of the opportunity that you are being given to study and live in such a different place where you can get out of your comfort zone and immerse yourself in a unique culture. At first it can be challenging to move to a different country but just remind yourself of all the great things that are coming out of it.