Preparing for studying abroad can be exciting, hectic, and nerve-racking. Don’t even get me started about the application and Visa processes. Let’s just say I will never complain about going to the DMV again because this was much worse.
Along with all the required preparation, it’s also a good idea to read books and blogs and talk to people who have been here before. That’s the best way to get the useful, real-life advice that will really help. I’ve been here for a little over a month now, and I’ve compiled a list of some things I wish I had known before I came here.
1) Take a summer course or learn more of the language somehow. I can’t stress this enough. I tried to teach myself some Italian over the summer before I came using an Idiot’s Guide and lessons on CD, but there is really no substitute for speaking and listening with a teacher in a class. I thought I would be the only student here who really knew nothing when I came. Although almost everyone was in the same boat as me, it would be so helpful in daily life to have a better understanding.
2) Don’t expect reliable WiFi. I am living on WiFi in this country. I also have a little Nokia phone with an international SIM card for emergencies, but I depend on WiFi for all non-emergency contact with the outside world (and for homework). It is very frustrating. We have free WiFi in our apartment, but it is so unreliable. We share it with 5 CEA students across the hall, and the more devices connected (iPhones, laptops, tablets, etc), the weaker the signal. Usually I can’t have WiFi on my phone and my laptop at the same time. And many times it just doesn’t want to work at all for anybody (which is happening for me right now as I’m writing this). Unfortunately there’s nothing you can do but pray to the WiFi gods, so just prepare for that culture shock.
3) Grocery shopping will never be the same. Food here is much fresher and healthier for you because there are little to no preservatives, but that also means it goes bad very quickly. Experiencing the markets is definitely a unique experience. It can be very overwhelming and challenging (especially if you don’t speak the language), but it also really good quality and cheap food. The easier and more comfortable option is to find a supermarket. They are still not like American grocery stores in size and food selection, but it is much more familiar to American students. That being said, be careful not to buy too much food every time you shop. Most people here buy small amounts of food almost every day because a) you have to walk home carrying it and b) the food goes bad very quickly, usually not more than a couple days, so you should use it immediately. Oh and if you see milk not being refrigerated, don’t freak out like I did. They (somehow) package the milk so that it can be kept for up to a few months without going bad. But once the package is opened it lasts just a couple days like normal milk.
4) Get Viber! It is really the best app for free texting and calling over WiFi. Even though I read blog posts about what apps to get for studying abroad, I didn’t get Viber because I thought I could use Skype or other chat apps. I use What’sApp and Facebook Messenger for texting and Skype for video calling and regular calling, but the calls drop constantly. My roommate has Viber and almost never has that problem. I downloaded Viber when I got here, but in order to register your phone with the app it needs to send you a text message. I can’t receive that text right now, so it won’t work. So please do yourself a favor and download it before you come, and you can find out if you need it while you’re here.
I hope that my advice here will be able to help prepare you for your life abroad, better than I was prepared. You’ve probably heard it a million times, but you are in for a fantastic journey. I won’t sugarcoat it; there are many frustrations that come with living without the comforts and conveniences of the US. But it is all part of the most amazing experience of your life. I’m so happy you’ve chosen to take the risk and embark on this adventure! Best of luck!
Samantha Wood is the Fall 2013 CEA MOJO in Florence, Italy. She is currently a junior at Salve Regina University.
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