6 Months In: My Study Abroad Regrets
I have now been living in Florence, Italy for six months. Overall I am really happy with my experience but there are some things I would have done differently if I did it all again. Hopefully this list will help some future study-abroaders to plan and prepare more effectively for a more pleasant, and relaxed study abroad experience.
Not doing enough research before choosing a program
Like I said, I am happy with my experience, (I can’t be too upset having nine months to travel around Europe). However, I do think that my decision could have used some more thought. Italy was really just a random pick that sounded beautiful and interesting. I did do a lot of looking into what Florence was like and places to go around Italy that just made me want to come here more but I sometimes question if this was the best choice for me personally. For those who are interested in moving here, I go to the CSU International Programs campus located in Florence (only California State University students can apply). The program is very small, the school has about 65 students. I am someone who likes to show up to class and then go home and have that be about the entirety of my college experience. Going to such a small school involvement is kind of unavoidable and we have things like organized fieldtrips that are pre paid for and if you don’t go then the money was just a waste. Personally I would rather visit the different cities on my own and go at my own pace, but these things wouldn’t be an issue for a more involved, group oriented student.
I moved home for the summer before coming abroad, both to have time with my mom and save on rent money before leaving (I recommend it). Since I had everything out of the closet and had to go through it anyways I spent basically the whole summer debating what to bring to Italy. Whenever an article was decided worthy, I threw it in my suitcase so I wouldn’t forget it. Even after spending months debating clothes I still did a terrible job. I brought too many shoes, dresses and skirts and clothes I would wear “when I lost weight from all of the walking and healthier food” HAHA, yeah, that did not happen in the land of pizza and pasta. You should just bring what is comfortable NOW. If you actually lose weight abroad then you can reward yourself with some new European clothes. I also regret thinking there were things I would buy here like clothes for the winter (which I did not really own because I come from central California) and makeup products I was low on because I always read in Europe they use a lot less chemicals, but I never read that they are also more expensive, probably because they use of better ingredients. Anyway, I did not realize that I really did not have enough money to be doing a bunch of shopping in Europe and I should have gotten cheap American products to bring along.
Not packing motion sickness or sleeping pills for the flight
My flight to Europe was pretty horrendous for both me and the people sitting nearby where I “got sick” on the flight. Yeah, the last five hours of that flight were about the longest of my life (luckily I had a change of clothes with me, which I also recommend). I had ginger chew candy from Trader Joe’s, which are awesome but were not enough for that long flight. It would have been really nice to have one of those medications for motion sickness or at least sleeping pills so I could have been knocked and hopefully avoided the whole thing.
Deciding to not take a loan
Taking out a loan is a decision that should be thoroughly thought out, getting into debt is not a light matter. However, I have not had to take out any loans yet in my college career and I wish I had done so for this year in Italy. I did not know how much money I would really need to have coming into this experience, living in a country where I can’t legally work. I highly recommend taking saving up seriously and really sitting down and doing the math for your budget. How much do apartments generally cost where you are going? Utilities? After monthly bills how much money a month will you have left over? Is it enough to get groceries, eat out occasionally, travel, and get hotels/Airbnbs on your travels? Luckily my boyfriend and I both have very supportive families that want us to get the most out of our time in Europe, but neither are rich by any means and I do not like having to get money from my mom no matter how happy she is to help.
A side note on money issues – I am very glad that I have PayPal because if you are in a bind and your family wants to help they can send you money on PayPal for free and it transfers to the bank in just a day. Also I recommend getting a Charles Schwab bank account because if a bank charges you a fee they reimburse you, so you can go to ATMs anywhere! (but be sure to look into safe ATM tips while abroad too to try and avoid getting your card copied)
Planning trips the last minute
After planning and taking a few trips planning a new one sounds so tedious (to me at least) even though it should be exciting. Aside from that it is also more expensive the longer you wait. Flights get more expensive and harder to find. Also whenever I finally go on Airbnb to find a place to stay (which I love and recommend for a good experience, but read the reviews!) it says something like “only 5% of properties are still available during these dates”. I try to find the cheapest, but still pretty nice and well located, places to stay but if there are only 5% or less left, obviously a lot of the good ones have already been taken and I have to up my minimum price to find something. Also waiting stresses me out! I would be so much more relaxed if I knew way in advance that my next school break was planned.
Not looking into travel options thoroughly
On a similar note to the last point, my hate for researching places to go, flights and places to stay sometimes makes me want to just settle on the first plan I figure out. In reality I should be looking into multiple flights, a variety of housing options (hostels, hotels, Airbnbs) and seeing what trip gives me the most bang for my buck. Because I tend to procrastinate with planning (and everything I should be doing in general) I panic and sometimes pick a plan that wasn’t the best. For example, there are many nearby cities with airports that have Ryan air (a cheap airline for getting around Europe) but I planned my first few trips flying out of Milan, a city I now hate and never want to be in again. I did this because the flights were a bit cheaper and it isn’t a very long train ride. What it is though is ridiculously expensive usually. It can cost 50 euros each way between Florence and Milan and then a terrible bus ride to and from the airport and train station. I would have been way better off booking flights from Pisa, which is at least half as much to get to, the train station is really close to the airport and it’s closer to Florence. Moral of the story, PLAN AHEAD, RESEARCH YOUR OPTIONS.
Being distracted by Europe/bored of my classes – aka not trying hard enough
My first semester here I was, of course distracted by the fact that I was LIVING IN ITALY and cared a lot more about that and having fun than classes. Also, being at such a small school there aren’t a ton of class options, which is understandable (one of my boyfriend’s classes has three people in it, including him) but it makes it difficult to fill your schedule with things you are actually interested in and relate to your major. The combination of excitement about Florence and boredom with my classes lead me to not really care as much as I should have about school and I wish I had kept my long term goals more in mind and done better (I haven’t gotten my grades back yet so I am really hoping it wasn’t as bad as I fear)
How I feel in some of my classes:
Failing to keep up with my travel journal/blog
This one is pretty straightforward, I have a journal that I meant to write in, ideally, daily. I wanted to be able to look back at even the small everyday things I did and remember what life was like in Italy, but I have written in it less than ten times in the past 6 months, oops. I also started a tumblr for posting pictures and writing little blurbs about my travels, but I think I logged into it a total of maybe three times, woops.
Not looking into local events more often
Living in a city like Florence there are many calendars around with events that will be going on around the city. Sometimes I check them and my boyfriend writes for a website/magazine for English speakers in the area so I hear about some from him, but there are probably many that I missed out on. When it’s the weekend if I’m not traveling I tend to be lazy nowadays. After 3 or 4 months taking walks around the city kind of lost it’s appeal, now it feels like “been there, seen that”. When there is an event however it makes going out more fun again. When the Christmas markets were going on I wanted to go every day and get more cookies and festive drinks.
Once again, I haven’t let theses small issues ruin my time in Europe, but it would have been a smoother experience if I had done things a little differently. The process will be different for everyone but hopefully this list helped you think about preparation a little more and you will avoid some of the issues and overspending I faced.
Have any of your own study abroad regrets? Comment below!