By Jasmine “Werifesteria” Au, Contributing Writer
Five months ago, I left Iowa State University’s campus in Ames, IA to begin my spring study abroad experience in Rome, Italy. Traveling has always been my passion, but I have never been out of the states longer than 6 weeks. Naturally, I experienced my share of culture-shock, homesickness, and even loneliness from being away from friends and family, but the things I had learned and sites I had seen could never be replaced. As an avid supporter of traveling and studying abroad, I’d like to share advice to people who are considering or are en route to studying abroad.
Seize the Opportunity
More often than not, people overlook traveling as an experience that can be done later, but I beg to differ. If the opportunity presents itself, you should take it, especially when you are young. The key is to avoid making excuses. Don’t tell yourself you can travel later or you can’t afford it. Steps can also be made to make time and funds.
Even though studying abroad means several months in a foreign country, bringing your entire wardrobe is not necessary. In fact, bringing as few things as possible is ideal because, let’s face it, you’ll be coming home with a new wardrobe and souvenirs. A few of my classmates had to purchase a second carry-on when we returned home which was a nightmare for them when we flew back to the States.
Extended visits to a foreign country also gives you the opportunity to see nearby towns and neighboring countries cheaply. With that in mind, it is absolutely crucial to know how to pack light.
My first weekend trip was to Florence, Italy. To no surprise, I over-packed and brought a large duffel bag. I ended up hauling an uncomfortable, heavy bag throughout the town until my friends and I found our B&B, then I had to repeat after we checked out too. So let me reiterate: having outfit options are not worth the struggle, although fashionable.
“When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do.”
As a student abroad, you pass the threshold from foreign tourist and become a “local foreigner.” In order to feel comfortable in a foreign country and make it your new home, you must live and breathe the same air as the locals. If you look like a tourist, you’ll be treated as one, which may be dangerous.
In many locations, pick-pocketers wreak havoc on tourists. While people can tell you are not a local, they can also tell if you are familiar with the area and local customs. Knowing what locals know and doing what locals do is not only a sign of respect, but also a means of protection.
Culture Shock, Homesickness, Loneliness
The best way to deal with culture-shock, homesickness, and loneliness is to go out and enjoy the town. Find a café or park you can become a regular at. Whatever you do, you must not stay at the dorm and Netflix binge your life away. Relaxing with Netflix is okay every once in awhile, but don’t waste your life away. Try not to be in constant communication with family too. Set a regular time to Skype and keep to that schedule. If you are talking for friends and family 24/7, you’ll miss out on great things.
Be Fearless, Try Everything
Especially, try food. Always be down for lunch. But really though, explore everything, taste everything, talk to everyone (that isn’t shady). If there’s one thing I have learned about finding good eats is that you should avoid restaurants near major attractions. Those places are generally more expensive and cater to Western tastes. Find hole-in-the-wall, local places. Not only will food be cheaper, but you’ll also have more authentic tastes.
No matter where you are, safety will always be an issue so certain steps need to be taken to prepare. Before traveling, be sure to research the area. Keep valuable things in safe places. I always kept my purse in sight and when I’m in crowded areas, I kept a hand on it at all times. I was one of the lucky ones who someone attempted to pickpocket but failed.
For the first week abroad, I made sure to travel with friends. I started walking by myself when I began to understand the area well. I never traveled outside the country alone, but I know many people who did so and had a great time!
Money, Money, Money
Studying abroad is expensive but with a little planning and budgeting, it can be done. Schools always provided study abroad scholarships that many people don’t know about so obtaining them is easier than most people think. Once abroad, being conscious of your spending will help substantially. Good food doesn’t have to be expensive. Cook at home when you can too. Be sure to have a backup plan with someone who can support you from back home in case you run out of money as well. Understand the capabilities of your bank and consider using Venmo, Paypal, or Google Wallet. Traveling with friends can reduce traveling costs as well, especially when finding an Airbnb or sharing taxi/Uber rides.
Studying abroad is an opportunity that people should take. The lessons it can teach are endless and the experiences will follow them for the rest of their lives. The experience is ultimately how you make it so with a positive attitude and a thirst for travel, you can have the time of your life.
Featured & Article Images: Jasmine Au