Why did you pick this program?
I was drawn to this program because it was one of the few that gave me the option of visiting multiple countries. When I sat down to look at the various study abroad programs, most of them were based in one country. I couldn't possibly decide to pick just one! The fact that this program was heavily saturated with visits to historical sites and art galleries/museums was also an important factor.
What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?
I do my best at convincing them that it will change their lives for the better. I can't explain some of the ways because they are less heard than felt, but some include experiencing new cultures, learning in a completely different fashion, and meeting amazing people.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
If you're questioning your willingness and energy to do something extra... throw caution to the wind and do it! There were very few times where I seriously was not game for going out with friends or seeing another museum, and I'm very happy that I pushed myself to expend that last bit of effort. This is a very unique opportunity, so take every advantage you can of getting your worth from it.
Also, KEEP A JOURNAL. Handwritten. Do it every day for 15-20 minutes. This is a chance to remember the little details you might forget a few years down the road.
What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?
Around the midpoint in our four-week journey, we took a train from Lucerne, Switzerland to Milan, Italy, then transferred to another train to arrive in Venice. As we arrived at the train station in Lucerne, we were informed that the truck loaded with our bigger luggage items had gotten lost. Oh no! We were assured our luggage would be reunited with us within a day, so I wasn't too concerned. I had my wallet, passport, and some other essentials; no big deal.
We got on the train and headed out of beautiful Lucerne, with crystal clear blue water and snow-tipped mountains. After a few hours, it became apparent that the air-conditioning in our cabin was not working. It got very hot. But we arrived in Milan and prepared to board our next train. As we lined up to get on coach #4, we were told that coach #4 did not have functional brakes and that we needed to sit in a different seat. Yikes!
We finally made it to Venice after an incredibly terrible travel day, and were greeted with a four-star hotel that had blown glass chandeliers, spacious rooms, and incredible amenities. My friends and I dropped our meager belongings off then headed out in search of food.
What happened next is why this is my favorite story - we found a restaurant right by Piazza San Marco called Ristorante Principessa. I ordered carbonara, and it was the best thing I have ever eaten in my life. We got gelato afterwards, of course, then spent the evening exploring the wonderful maze of Venice. It was like we were being reminded to be thankful for our experience, even if things didn't happen how we wanted it to.
P.S. Our luggage arrived early in the morning the next day! AIFS was excellent with handling the slight mishap, and I commend them for their swift reaction.
Any tips and tricks you'd like to pass on to future travelers?
People have asked me if I felt that I over-packed or spent too much/little money while I was abroad... Truthfully, I think I did pretty dang well for my first extensive trip abroad. I brought about a week's worth of clothes and hand-washed them every few days or when needed. I saved my money for about 6 months prior to, asked for cash en lieu of gifts for holidays, and hardcore saved in the few months before I left by spending only when absolutely necessary.
I actually ended up having money to spare when I returned home, but I didn't feel as though I had skimped on any expense. Treat yourself moderately, this is not a vacation but a chance to broaden your horizons. You don't need to go shopping at the same places you shop at home just because it's in a different country. Instead, try going to that corner market! Take a peek in the store that says 'sandwich_', then laugh when you realize it isn't a place to eat lunch. Pay more for experiences, not for material goods, and you'll thank yourself later.
Be sure to research anything else you might have questions on, like plug adapters, cellphone v.s. WiFi, and exchange rates. This is not a regular trip!