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Five Tips for Making the Most of your Time Abroad…especially when things don’t go quite as planned!

Savanna Hagerty spent 12 weeks on Performing Arts Abroad’s Music Summer Study in Florence, where she took music courses and did an internship at a local music school. As part of her internship, she took advantage of PAA’s internship capstone project, and wrote a series of blog posts. This is one post from that series. You can read the original and see other content from Savanna here.

I dedicate this post to the hard adjustments that come with being abroad for more than 1 week… I can hear the gasps already. Being in Italy isn’t a dream 100% of the time??! You didn’t absolutely fall in love right when you got there?! First of all, studying abroad has been a lifelong dream since I first began to consider college. I love to travel and I knew I wanted to spend a substantial amount of time in Europe at some point in my life. Studying abroad was the perfect opportunity, and while I have loved being here in Florence, the adjustment was a slow and difficult process.

On my first day, I tried to beat some serious jet lag by exploring a bit of the city. I went in the wrong direction, took more than a few bad turns and ended up surrounded by strange graffiti covered buildings and cracked sidewalks on the outskirts of the city. Not exactly how I envisioned my first exploration. But after a good night’s rest, I was able to attend orientation at my school, find some cool places around town, and meet some pretty neat people. During my first week, I patiently walked the streets on my own, getting to know this city that would be my home for the next 12 weeks, and slowly fell more and more in love. My first few weeks were pretty difficult and unfamiliar, and I’d like to share some tips that helped me make the most of my study abroad experience…

#1. Culture Shock is a real thing, and it’s OKAY

When I was preparing for my trip to Italy, I obviously knew about culture shock, but never thought I would go through anything quite like that. I mean, I moved to a college that’s a 20 hour drive from my hometown, so obviously I can handle a 20 hour flight difference no problem. Wrong. Being in an entirely new environment by yourself is hard, no matter how you look at it. Struggling to become adjusted is totally normal, and everyone goes through it to some degree. One way to combat this is to just throw yourself in there. It can be so easy to hole yourself up in your room, especially when it’s over 90 degrees and humid outside, and try to bide your time, but the sooner you get out and do things that you’re uncomfortable with, the sooner you’ll start to become comfortable with them! Exploring the city was the best way for me to become accustomed to it – so go and get out there!

#2. Don’t make comparisons to your home university

It can be really easy to judge something that’s happening with your advisor/professor/classroom for not working the same way as it does back home. Things will run differently no matter where you are – it’s all part of the experience! Sit back and just let things run their course! You may find that you like this new way of working in a classroom, but you’ve got to go through it first!

#3. Don’t be afraid to reach out to an advisor/coordinator

My program coordinators have been such a blessing to me throughout my time studying abroad. They are literally getting paid to help you through your study abroad experience and make sure everything runs smoothly! Plus, they have likely been in your city for a while, and know all of the tips and tricks for navigating it. Mine have been so helpful in providing events and activities for the students in our program, giving recommendations for places to see and things to do, and are always willing to answer any questions I’ve had. Use your resources!

#4. Go to all of the events … even if they don’t speak English

I have learned so much and met some very interesting people, simply by attending different events all over the city. Odds are someone in the room speaks English other than you, and even if you don’t find someone who shares your language, what an opportunity for some serious local immersion! If you’re trying to learn the language, this is a great way to interact with locals and put your skills to the test!

#5. You’re traveling for YOU, man!

“Savanna, this is an amazing trip, and even if nothing works out, you’re going to have the time of your life in Italy.” I cannot possibly tell you how many times I’ve given myself this exact pep talk, especially in the first few weeks. When things get difficult with school or work, and you are stuck in translation, and constantly having to pull out Google Maps (not hating on it tho, because Google Maps is actually my best friend), it can be so easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. But even if nothing seems to be working out, you have the potential of making this the trip of a lifetime!! Things will hopefully get better in the end, but don’t forget to look around you in the present. Take a different route home, go to that gelateria you’ve been wanting to try, have some “me-time” at aperitivo, and buy the ticket for that museum. The options for exploration are endless, and they begin with you.

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