Beautiful wine country!
What you need to know:
- Studying abroad is about taking advantage of any experiences thrown your way. For me, studying in Italy meant embracing different parts of the culture (including the love for good food!) I'm here to tell you that the pasta weight was worth it - and why.
- Read on for tips on how to make the most of your study abroad experience.
Are you familiar with the phrase, "When in Rome?" Well, for me, it was "When in Florence," and oh - I definitely did as the Italians do!
The country of Italy is not only beautiful, simple, and historic, but it also mastered two of my all time favorite things...pasta and wine! During my final year of college, I decided to take on a couple adventures as a young student (its never too late!). I knew I wanted to study in a country that combined my love for good food, history, and art, and while Italy was the obvious choice, the city to call home was not. I eventually decided on Florence, and while there, I fell in love with Chianti, Michelangelo, and of course the food. Not only did I live above an Italian cafe, but I also lived next door to a grocery store. Our fridge was the size of a cooler, so in essence we had to shop almost every day for groceries. Unlike what I found back home, the food was fresh, appealing, and bountiful.
After a few weeks, I noticed pants were getting a little tighter and I just could not curb my cravings for carbs! School in Italy didn't make it easy either. We had a cappuccino machine in our common room and our Italian Life and Culture class consisted of sharing classic Italian dishes. Lunch is the most important meal for the Italians and it's not uncommon to have a two hour mid-day break post-lunch. I began to really understand why the Italians base their lives around their family, friends, and meals. Almost every day we were trying new sandwiches (paninis), endless gelato flavors, hand tossed pizzas (thin crust, never thick), and (hot from the oven) pastries.
Can you blame me!?
Make the MOST of your Time Abroad
Sure, packing on the extra pounds may not have been the most ideal souvenir from my study abroad experience, but it was not about how I looked. For me, it was about getting caught up in the Italian way of life, the Italian way of thinking, and embracing the Italian zeal for experiences (even the ones that begin around the dinner table). Beyond eating like (or with!) the locals, here are some more handy tips for immersing yourself in the local culture, ultimately allowing you to maximize your experience abroad:
USE the language.
If you are studying abroad in a country that does not use English as the main form of communication, try to get in the mindset of using that new language as YOUR main form of communication. (Side note - if you are studying in a country where English is the language, why not brush up on some local slang?!) Speaking may be slow to start, beginning with a sort of mixed combination of the two (Spanglish, Chinglish, etc.), but eventually it will seem more natural and you will find it easier to use the new language. You will be surprised how fast you pick up the local lingo if you use it daily. Plus, its more fun to try using new words through interactions instead of sitting in front of a book memorizing.
Embrace the customs.
Avoid trying to fit your old habits into your new location - instead, identify and acknowledge the differences in the country you are studying abroad in. (But this is just the first step!) Understanding the cultural differences will help you have a better study abroad experience, but practicing the customs will help you have a truly enriching life experience. Some habits are easier to embrace than others, such as an afternoon nap, or a glass of espresso after dinner. But some habits take a bit of practice - waking up early or dressing more modestly. Try to avoid picking and choosing which customs you celebrate or make your own. Appreciate them all!
Walk, Run, Cycle - Explore.
Originally, I began jogging to counteract those added extra meals each day. But I quickly learned that exploring the city on my own was a fantastic method to seeing even more of Florence, especially the quiet streets that are oftentimes overlooked. For the first time, I didn't see running as something I dreaded. It opened my eyes to reflect on what I was really doing there, and better absorb the Italian culture. Walking, cycling, and running will allow you not only to better see how the city fits together, but it can provide you with quality time with yourself to better process your experience.
Meet your neighbors.
The best source for information about life in the area will definitely come from those who have been there for awhile. By befriending the locals, you are bound to open up a wealth of information, the "inside scoop." See firsthand the local way of living, get recommendations for the tastiest dives, practice the proper way to greet amongst friends, or maybe be taught a short cut to the subway!
Whatever strikes your fancy back home, its likely to still do the same where you are studying abroad. Joining clubs or sports teams provides ample opportunity to socialize or learn something unique. Opportunities abound for trying new activities while abroad - get involved early, and often. Break out of your academic routine in search of experiential learning.
Step away from the computer.
Yes, you read correctly. Try to discipline yourself to use your computer sparingly while you are studying abroad - after all, its hard to immerse yourself in a culture from inside your room. Add some authenticity to those Facebook updates! On that note, while it may make you feel safer and more comfortable to befriend people from your own culture, try instead to branch out and meet different people. Interesting international friends will complement your desire for new experiences and adventures that are unlike what you find back home.
The Joy of Immersion is Long Lasting!
The brilliance of studying aboard is trying things you never knew existed and seeing the world through a different vision. My experience in Italy completely changed my life and even three years later, I am still longing for my days there. Every country has something special to offer, and I implore you to study in a place who's "thing" and your "thing" (in my case, bottomless pasta coupled with amazing architecture) jive. Regardless of where you study, you are bound to find happiness, and in the end, you will be very grateful for the experience (even those extra 10 pounds!)