I’ve been home for a few weeks now, and with that it’s time to sum up my last several weeks abroad and leave with a few tips for anyone else interested in studying abroad! I left off in my last post with my trip to Rome over spring break, but straight from there I went on another trip to the Amalfi Coast of Italy and Naples. This was actually a guided trip I found online, where all the participants were study abroad students, mostly from Florence. We were able to see a lot this way and save some money as well, and it was kind of nice to go on a trip where everything was planned out for me. Our first stop was Capri, which is a small Island that has the bluest water I’ve ever seen. We took a boat tour around the whole island and it included a stop in the Blue Grotto, which is a small cave where somehow the water seems even more bright blue and almost as if it’s glowing! It was pretty amazing, and fun because we had to get into smaller 3 person canoes with a guide to even be able to fit into the cave. We stayed at a really cool hostel overlooking Sorrento. The next day we spent on the black sand beach in Positano, another beautiful coastal town. Next we drove to Naples, the birthplace of pizza where I really do think I had the best pizza of my life. Just look at those fresh tomatoes.
We also hiked part of Mt. Vesuvius which is an active volcano, then explored the ruins of Pompeii. And that finally concludes my spring break travels. 🙂
Soon after that as I had gotten back into my routine of school in Milan, I discovered an unfortunate truth about the reputation Italy has for pickpocketing – someone stole my iPhone out of my purse on a city bus. Of course I had heard the warnings about tourists being targeted for this kind of thing, but I had actually gotten in the habit of being hyper-aware of my belongings when in public and had done pretty well up until then, but it’s almost impossible to be entirely safe from it. In fact, two of my roommates and several other people I knew had the same thing happen throughout the semester! I ended up buying the cheapest phone I could find in the store just to replace it for the last month. Luckily I had backed up my pictures and contacts, and had brought a camera along just in case of this. As inconvenient as it was, I had to realize that at least it was just a material possession and that if this was the worst thing that had happened to me so far with being alone in unfamiliar places and traveling to various countries in the past few months, I wasn’t doing too bad. I really did feel a lot safer in general in the cities I went to in Europe than I do in cities in the US. So, the tip I would give from this experience to others studying abroad, is to always be aware of your valuable belongings no matter where you are, and be prepared to deal with adversity and if something bad does happen, don’t let it get you down and ruin your whole experience.
Another tip I would give is to be flexible with transportation methods. I noticed that sometimes flights within Europe were really cheap one way, but really expensive for the other. When I went to Prague I got a really cheap flight there, but the return flights were expensive so I got a 13 hours bus back instead, which tome was so worth it since I had the time for it anyway and it actually gave me almost a whole extra day there! (I did the same thing when my flight back from Berlin got cancelled and I would have missed classes if I got a later flight.)
Anyway, the remainder of my trips were to Cinque Terre in Italy (five colorful towns on the coast), London, Barcelona, and Lake Lugano, Switzerland. I loved all of them, but instead of going into detail on each of these I’ll just post some pictures that pretty much sum them up!
One thing I would recommend for someone studying abroad is to try to learn some of the language, especially if the school you’re attending offers the opportunity. And if you already know some of the language, even better! I didn’t know any Italian when I got there but I took a two week pre-intensive Italian course through my school when I first arrived, and then a semester Italian course for the rest of the time. Obviously four months isn’t nearly enough to become fluent, but by the end I could at least understand a little bit when I heard people speaking Italian and speak a little as well, which made me feel pretty accomplished. I felt like it was my duty by living in their country to at least try to learn some of their language, especially when so many of the people there have learned mine.
Another tip I have is to download the google translate app; not only does it help to directly translate words, but it has a camera feature where you can scan words in print and it will automatically translate them. For example, when I first got there and was shopping but didn’t know the words for things like laundry soap (my roommate accidentally bought fabric softener instead) or makeup remover, I would scan them in the store to make sure I was buying the thing I wanted. I would also suggest knowing exactly how much money you have before you leave to go abroad (since you most likely won’t be making any), and budgeting by week.
Something I would want people to know about studying abroad is that if you do it right, it won’t set you back on your school track at home. Just make sure to check with you major and minor advisors before you go to make sure your credits will transfer back. If you have electives left it’s the perfect time to get those credits, but for me, all of the courses I took are actually counting toward my major or minor. And of course, just make sure you go to your classes! I’m not totally sure how I managed to keep up with my classes and grades when there were always so many opportunities to travel and explore, but I did, and it was so worth it. I’m glad I decided to study abroad in the first place, I’m glad I went all the places and met all the people that I did, and I would recommend it to anyone. Just from the experience of putting yourself in a new country surrounded by new people, you are guaranteed to learn so many things. I think my favorite part was being able to experience other cultures firsthand, and almost feel like a local in Milan by the time I left. The hardest part was leaving, but at least I can look forward to visiting some of the friends I made and hopefully returning to visit Italy some day!