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First-Generation Student's Guide to Studying Abroad in Rome

January 29, 2024
by Alison Haskell

A First-Generation Student's Guide to Studying Abroad in Rome

Being a first-generation college student comes with some challenges, and so does studying abroad. So, what happens when you put those two things together? Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to feel scary. Being a first-generation college student can be used to your advantage when studying abroad and can grant so many new opportunities for growth. As a first-generation student myself, I didn’t know where to start on this journey, but hopefully these study abroad tips can give you the confidence to begin the start of your own journey. 

Don’t be shy, make a friend!  

Being a first-generation student can sometimes feel a little isolated and you might think that surely everyone else must have it figured out. I can assure you, that isn’t the case. But, I also learned that making friends with people who do know what they’re doing can be incredibly helpful. On my study abroad trip from the U.S. to Rome, Italy, it was my first solo international flight and had a layover in the Paris airport. I also had very little time to make my connecting flight and didn’t know what to do. I started following the airport signs, darting between fellow travelers, and rolling suitcases, eventually making it to what was maybe the correct gate.  

Upon getting in line, I noticed a mother and daughter talking about Rome. I thought to myself, “Hey! I’m going to Rome!” While waiting in line for our security check, I chatted with them and found out that the mother and daughter were returning to Rome on their third trip there together. They told me about their favorite places, helped me through security, and overall took me under their wing giving me a place of comfort while we waited for our flight. Not every encounter with a stranger goes this well, but the best parts of traveling are often the people you meet along the way.  

A study abroad student standing in a window

I wouldn't have made it to Rome without taking a step of boldness to have that conversation.  

It’s okay to spend a little money, budgeting is key. 

As a first-gen student, money was always a little tight in my family as we tried to make budget friendly choices in our everyday spending. Not always going out to eat, valuing window shopping over purchases, and sweet treats or going out with friends was saved for special occasions. Studying abroad, I met a lot of students that didn’t share this same experience as me and had more money to spend. Before I left to study abroad in Italy, I set a study abroad budget for myself to include the necessities like travel, groceries, and other essentials, but I also made sure to allow myself some fun money for impromptu trips with roommates, nights out in the city, and nice meals shared with good company. Budgeting helped me to feel financially secure while abroad and allowed me to feel like I wasn’t missing out on any part of my experience.  

A group of study abroad students posing for a picture

I allotted money for weekend trips with my roommates, one of such trips was a long weekend to beautiful Sicily.   

Be adventurous, do it scared. 

When I started college, I was terrified. Not having any repeated “good ol’ college” stories told by my parents in my mind, I had no idea what to expect, let alone any idea of what my education abroad would look like. But, if you’re like me and made it this far into college and are considering studying abroad with CEA CAPA, look how far you have come!  

Many times, in life we’re scared to do things that we want to do. For me, it was climbing the steps at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. An experience that anyone who travels to Rome wants to accomplish. However, I had a lifelong fear of spiral staircases (silly I know but it’s true). Despite this fear, I still decided to climb the steps along with all my other classmates. Everything in Italy that I did was often a new experience. I knew that this experience would be unforgettable (good or bad), but something to remember my trip by. Don’t miss out on the experience of a lifetime because of a little voice in the back of your head telling you that you can’t do it. Oh, and by the way, the view was incredible!  

A study abroad student looking out a window at a city

The view from the top of St. Peter’s Basilica. We saw our apartment from here!  

Make mistakes (Not on purpose of course, but if they happen, embrace it!)  

Because I’m the first in my family to attend college, I always try to do my best at everything, but sometimes that makes me want to be perfect. That’s simply not attainable, yet I try by planning out every little thing and taking control to prevent anything wrong from happening, but again, that’s just not the case.  

On one weekend trip with my roommates to Lake Como and Venice, I had a bad case of expecting everything to be perfect. Little did we know that our overnight train ride would turn out to be cold and miserable, our connecting train would get canceled indefinitely due to a transportation strike, and our Airbnb would be poorly supplied and have extra guests (wasps) in our rooms. How could this happen! My roommates had planned everything perfectly right? I blamed myself and my friends for the issues we had and became discouraged as we angrily tried to explore Lake Como with no sleep and poor attitudes.  

However, we all grew because of this experience as we eventually embraced the hiccups along the way, learning how to problem solve together, and most importantly, move on from the mistakes in planning we made and let go of the things we couldn’t control. Had we not let go of the little (and big) things, we would’ve probably called it quits and just went home instead of even finishing our trip in Venice as planned. But even though things looked bleak, we carried on as best we could, and even had the best day of our whole study abroad trip exploring Venice by wandering through the alleys, meeting eclectic gondoliers we now call friends, and making lasting memories with each other.  

A group of study abroad students sitting on steps with columns.

Exploring the villas of Lake Como and laughing together about our journey to get there.  

A group of study abroad students on a boat

Having the best day ever in Venice with our new gondolier friend Ricardo.

Ricardo's advice to us in Venice was to "get lost.” He said the best way to experience the city is by exploring with open minds and empty itineraries, and we did just that! Goes to show that perfect plans aren't what always makes the best memories. 


Alison Haskell is the Summer 2023 Alumni Ambassador in Rome, Italy, and is currently studying at University of Michigan Ann Arbor.
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