Study abroad is an experience that is unparalleled by any other college experience. One is plucked out of one’s familiar environment and let loose in a different country, often with a different and unfamiliar language and culture. Studying abroad might thus seem daunting and scary to many a wide-eyed undergrad. Prior to arriving in Florence, I had expectations and fantasies that did not quite match up to reality. There are many things I learned, and some advice I wish someone had given me before going abroad.
First of all, it is important to keep in mind that it is absolutely okay to make mistakes. You WILL mess up. I have recounted many of my mess-ups in my blog posts for this course, and at the time, they seemed like the most important, most horrible or most exciting thing in the world. Following every single one of these was, however, acceptance, and I got over the initial shock. New, exciting things would happen, and it would just take too much energy to dwell on unwelcome occurrences. For example, my wallet got stolen in Barcelona. I had already had a bad day, so at first, I burst into tears, panicking about what I would tell my parents and pitying myself. However, I realized quickly that I did not want to let this ruin my vacation, and decided not to care as much anymore, since there was nothing I could do at this point and I merely had lost some cash, ID cards and credit cards that I could cancel. It was an annoying inconvenience but not the end of the world!
My second tip would be to book transportation in advance as far as possible and practicable, especially trains between bigger cities. I usually tried to do this, but there have been times where I have not booked trains in advance, for example between Florence and Rome or Florence and a smaller city like Pisa, and had no problem. This led me to believe that it is usually okay to simply roll up to the train station, purchase a ticket, and get on with life. However, one too many times, I had a bus or plane out of Milan or Bologna to catch and did not book my train to Bologna or Milan in advance. I ended up having my train of choice either all sold out, which put me in a severe position of time crunch, or having to book first-class tickets for an astronomical price because the standard fare was sold out. This happened at least twice and I recommend booking tickets in advance to avoid having to overpay or ending up behind schedule!
Tip number three: Speak the language as much as possible. Yes, you might feel ridiculous or uncomfortable or nervous, but sooner than you think, your time abroad will be over and you will simply not have the same opportunities to exercise your newly acquired language skills. There is nothing quite like learning a new language and then communicating with locals. What is the point of learning a language if you’re never going to speak it? When else will you speak it but in the country where that language is spoken?
Another crucial tip I wish someone had impressed upon me is to go to class as much as possible. Skipping a class once or twice to enjoy the abroad experience is already pushing it, in my opinion. Classes abroad have less homework than those at a university’s homebase, and you learn most of the relevant information in class. I know this because *a friend of mine* has missed two Italian classes because the Italian class meets four times a week for an hour and fifteen minutes, and she feels quite secure in her Italian learning skills. However, we do learn something new and relevant every class, and she has had to independently learn and catch up from classmates’ notes.
Also, don’t be afraid to make new friends and create new bonds with people from your home campus that you have not spent a lot of time with! Going abroad and traveling bonds people more than I thought it would, and I got close to people I had either never met in New York or had barely spoken to in the past. Further, I met a large amount of people from different backgrounds abroad. For example, my Italian class is composed of a girl from Malaysia, one from Slovacchia, a guy from Poland, one from China, and a girl from Lebanon — not one of them is at home in New York. I probably would never have gotten to know these people if we weren’t attending the same class at NYU Florence, especially because some of them study at NYU Shanghai or Abu Dhabi! Also, don’t be afraid to branch out using dating apps or good old-fashioned flirting. (It is quite possible to meet wonderful people on, for example, Tinder, or at a chimney cake stand in Budapest.) It is easy to solely stick with the people you already know or went abroad with, but it is so much more rewarding to also create new connections and make experiences with people that are new in your life.
Fifth, I would say to not worry too much about what other people think or are doing. Study abroad is truly a time to focus on yourself, and while you should check in with your parents once in a while, calling them for two hours every day might be counterproductive. Don’t put pressure on yourself to satisfy everyone, go on all the trips other people want you to go on, worry too much about your future, etc. Put your well-being first and focus on yourself! You will have enough time to worry and not be as carefree as you are now once you are back home. Enjoy your time abroad and live with no regrets!