As the clock counts down the days until my next journey to Switzerland for eight months, I recall the beginning of this semester’s life in Florence, Italy. I think about not only what I learned about the cultures, food, and places I experienced but also the travel knowledge I obtained from this experience. The following are my top ten tips about studying abroad (especially in Europe).
// Explore your city
In order to truly embrace and capture a sense of where you are studying abroad, you must explore where you are living. On this exploration list should not only be the major attractions in your town (ie. Florence Italy’s Duomo or Leather Market), but also the little places (the amazing panini shop hidden behind the leather market). I of all people hate tourists, hate them. They stop all the time in the middle of the road, don’t know what they are doing, are loud, annoying, and don’t try to embrace the culture around them. Explore your city, but don’t be a tourist in it. You live there now. It is your home. Sure, go on some tours with travel companies if they are provided to obtain more knowledge about your city, but embrace the culture through your eyes and observations.
// Food brings people close
Everybody loves food because not only is it delicious but it brings people closer. One thing I regret about not doing in Italy was taking a cooking class while there. Now I know for next time to take a cooking class to really embrace the foods in the culture around me. Also, don’t be afraid to spend that extra money on getting the food you want, when will you have the chance to again?
// Backpack. Backpack.
Dora the Explorer’s voice echoes through my head as the read this. A backpack is a key essential to studying abroad, especially if you plan on traveling often. Not only is it perfect as a carry-on item, but also for packing away all the items you need for the weekend. There are different kinds of backpacks and each person has their own preference. When in Italy, I used one of my sports team bags from high school. It worked great, but after a while the zipper started to have problems because of all the weight in my backpack. This upcoming trip, I will be using a larger, sturdier backpack like this one. Some bags can be very expensive so make sure to check your local Sports Chalet or Big 5 for end of summer deals or discounts.
// Throw out the books
Well, kind of. Don’t throw out your school textbooks because you will need them. But do throw out the tourists books. Before my trips, I like to research information about each place I am going to get a sense of what the major attractions are in the town, the smaller attractions (can be found on Yelp or TripAdvisor), famous foods, and a unique fact. I do my research before hand, write down the very important things (times museums close, etc) but I leave the travel books at home. Not even at the home in my new city. Back home. In America. Capish?
// Learn the local language
Every culture has different dialects. Think about in America. People speak differently in California than they do in Georgia or New York or Minnesota. Learn the dialect of the people, or try to understand the differences. You don’t have to be a pro at the language, but try to see where it differs than what you know before hand (especially if it’s the language you are studying in school). Also, get to know the locals- not just their language. Connect with the people around you. Make friends with the chef at your favorite panini place, or the waiter at a restaurant you like. Learn the locals.
// Classy, not trashy
Alcohol is different everywhere. If you are studying abroad in a country that allows drinking under the age of 21, take it slowly. Even if you drank under 21 in the United States and think you can handle your liquor, it is different. There are various percentages of alcohol. Also, when you do go out to a bar- be careful, especially if you are a female. There are different types of bars. Know the difference between an American bar where mainly Americans go, a bar that attracts students and is filled with creepy men, and a real bar. When in Italy, our advisor suggested we had someone she called a DW (designated walker). Just remember whether you choose to have a DW or not drink a lot, whatever make sure you know how to get back to your house safely.
// Money on my mind
Money is a big change while studying abroad. You have to learn the conversion rates for different currencies, especially if you are on a budget. A tip that I learned along the way while shopping in Italy was that because of the conversion rate you always time the Euro price by 1.5 (cause that’s around the rate). The tip is if you wouldn’t make for the item (food, clothing, accessories) if the european price was a dollar then don’t buy it in dollars because it’s more expensive. Let me explain. If a dress is 45 euros, ask yourself if you would buy the dress for 45 dollars. If the answer is no, then don’t buy the dress because it costs way more than 45 dollars. If the answer is yes, convert the price so you know how much you are really spending on the dress.
// 99 cent store
They have these in other countries! Ask your advisors or people you live with that reside in your town year round if they know where the local 99 cent store is. They have everything in there for 99 cent euros. If you don’t have anyone to ask, you can always Google it. Not all places will have these, but many major cities do.
To truly embrace where you are living, blend into the culture. See what they wear, how the dress, their customs. Do they wear shorts? Dress? Jeans? Know where you are living and wear you are going. Generally in Europe, especially small towns, they don’t wear neon pink and orange so if you are wearing that they know you are a tourist and will treat you differently. If you try to embrace their culture, they will open their heart to you. Also, if you know some of the language, even if you suck at it, just try. They want people to understand their cultures and embrace it. So blend and embrace the cultures.
// The toughest part is goodbye
Saying goodbye to all of the cultures you have fallen in love with, embraced, opened your heart to, put meraki into, are gone. Just like that. At first you are excited to be coming home back to your family, your friends, your culture. But sooner or later, if you put all of yourself into your travels you will miss it. You will crave the desire to explore. To be back. Strive for that. Sure, it’ll be hard when you come back. But I’d rather feel that connection to that place and have such a strong sense of love for it that I want to be back as soon as I can. Strive for saying goodbye to be the hardest part of your trip because that means you’re doing something right.
These are some of main things that stick out to from studying abroad in Italy and tips I will follow as I begin my journey throughout Switzerland.