Pre-departure: I knew I was flying to Rome January 27th, 2011…and that was the only fact that I was absolutely sure about. I had no clue as to what to expect. I had no idea what my apartment would look like, how grocery shopping would be, how transportation would be. I mean I was told “how” all of these things would be done, but everyone knows hearing something and experiencing are two totally different things. There is no USE wasting your time worrying about it (even though worrying is inevitable) because the truth is you will not actually grasp these things until you get there. One thing that did comfort my nerves about the unknown adventure ahead of me was that I knew there would be at least 8 other people in the same position as me, the other students from La Salle embarking on the same journey. One of my other main concerns was how my budget would work out, but it’s really hard to gage until you actually get there and do a trial week on how much you will spend on groceries etc. It’s better to have too much rather than too little. I gave myself a $6000 max budget, because I wanted to travel to other countries. I ended up spending $5000 (flight, food, travel included) which was only equivalent to $3000 Euro at the time. $5000 was the perfect amount of money to travel to other countries, splurge on food and most importantly to buy a plane ticket back home.
During: So my first day, I absolutely hated it. It was the first day I arrived, I was tired because of the plane ride, time difference and I was hungry. My apartment was small, not “modern” to American standards, and completely not what I expected. First, I needed to eat. Second, I needed to sleep and third, I needed to get out and start to explore. Point being, don’t have any glorious expectations about your first day…your body is physically stressed and your anxious, give it a couple days! I honestly could write pages and pages about my experience, but I will try to sum up the main points of what made my experience the absolute best 4 months of my life.
1) Have a “care-free”, but travel-smart attitude: Now is not the time to be picky, go some place new, order some crazy new food or drink, and don’t be afraid to get lost. DON’T BE AFRAID TO GET LOST, it WILL HAPPEN. Don’t waste money on taxis, keep your walkin’ shoes on and figure it by yourself (WITH a FRIEND of course). You find more and learn more this way. (Do make safety a priority!)
2) Di Simone’s pizza- The best pizza in Rome personally, and conveniently located on Via Carini right by AUR, don’t worry- everyone will gravitate there naturally and soon enough you will know exactly where it is and how to order in Italian!
3) Nothing is in your control, accept it ahead of time: This is a general study abroad attitude. For 4 months of your life all you have to be responsible for is feeding yourself, keeping yourself safe, traveling to crazy places and having an amazing time, oh (and studying of course- really important too). You don’t have control or impact on what happens at home. Don’t spend hours on Skype dealing with family or friends issues. Enjoy being away from it all. Maybe this was just me, but being away from my friends, family and all the “nit-picky” things I was responsible for in America (car insurance, phone bills, etc.) made my 4 months away the most stress-free, happiest of my life. There is a sense of total freedom and independence that comes with this experience. It’s refreshing and revitalizing (of course if you use it the right way).
Post-Departure: Leaving Italy was a mix of feelings for me. I wasn’t really “ready” to go and I didn’t really miss my family too much, but I couldn’t wait to show them the woman I became while I was away. I wanted to share with them every amazing bite of gelato that I ate, the 20 pounds I gained (from eating pasta everyday) and just how amazing the Italian culture was. My excitement was well received by my family, but only for the first week or two. Then I think it became annoying to them. Maybe it was more annoying to me that they couldn’t relate or would never really be able to appreciate the Italian culture the way I did. This over-excitement soon turned into reverse culture-shock. I began to compare the American culture and Italian culture, and the more I realized how different my culture was from the Italian one I had adopted for 4 months, the more I became a little confused as to where I belonged. I remember how amazing my time in Italy was, and it seriously was the happiest and most stress-free 4 months of my life, but now I was back in America and “home” did feel good. Soon enough I adjusted to being back home, and learned to embrace American culture again (it comes pretty easily). My time in Italy will always hold a special place in my life, most notably as the trigger for the travel bug that I now have and for the friends/connections that I made that will potentially open up opportunities for me to go back to Europe to work and live!