Congratulations on making the decision to enroll as a year student! I imagine you are eager to celebrate your upcoming adventures and next major chapter in your life. But, if you are anything like me, the weight of your decision will hit you, somewhere around August, like a cherry red vespa speeding down a via. You will attend several meetings before your departure in September and every time you are handed a name-tag with your name and length of stay, you may grow a little more nervous. After all, studying abroad for an academic year can be a scary thing. So from one year-student to another, I’d like to help you out.
Packing. Holy cow! Eight months! You barely know how to handle moving in and out of dorm space. Packing is one of the more stressful tasks pre-Florence. I would personally recommend taking one big rolling suitcase, a smaller rolling suitcase, and a daypack or purse (for you ladies). Aside from the obvious (clothes, toiletries, your baby blanket), think carefully about what you want to bring. You are working with a very limited amount of space in both baggage and room, if you have roommates. Do you want to take all of your Arrested Development and Star Wars DVDs? Take the discs out of their collectable box sets and put them into your brother’s old CD case. Need all seven of the Harry Potter series? Invest in an e-reader or settle for one paperback edition of your favorite book. Space is key, people. That is something you will not have a lot of in the next eight months (unless you land a single in Nazionale or Holiday Rooms).
Money. Speaking of things you will not have a lot of after eight months…money! Remember your dad or mom telling you about the importance of moderation? This is where that lesson comes in handy. I cannot stress this enough: Budget BEFORE you leave for Europe. Decide how much money you are willing to part with when it comes time to traveling on the weekend/buying fancy European clothes/weekend food/movies/drinks/etc. Life can be expensive here. I have known an unfortunate few who burn through the majority of their fuel somewhere around December. Ouch. Also, it’s a bit tricky because as a year student, you will be one of the few. Semester students who may be willing to spend more money while they’re here to surround you day and night. Don’t fall into a semester state of mind. Keep thinking ahead.
Staying in touch. I’m the youngest child of six children with two adoring parents and part of a Fellowship-of-the-Ring-esque friendship circle back home. Mastering the art of staying touch takes time and more importantly effort. We all know the various mediums of communication – postcards, Skype, phone calls, pigeon mail, etc. – but it comes down to making an effort. No one needs to tell you how much fun you are going to have here, but it’s nice to have a gentle reminder to Skype your poor mother who wants to see her baby child’s face. Set up a schedule with those close to you. I recommend Sunday afternoons when the school opens. You can access the school’s WiFi and talk freely. Write down all of the upcoming birthdays you will miss and buy postcards ahead of time to mail them out. These people are your support team.
Come with an open mind. You will see/hear/taste/do weird things in Europe. Fun and interesting things, but still very different. You might even get lost in some strange city where you have to hark back to high school and use one-year experience of French to find your way to a hostel. That flamboyantly dressed lady in Germany might be one of the nicest people you will ever meet. You may meet your Italian pop star twin and be drawn into a scandalous adventure. Point is, Europe might just be the Promised Land, but only if you make it so. You have to be willing to look like an idiot once in a while to learn and grow during your stay. Abandon that silly anti-French notion, your Jersey Shore image of Italians, and shed any fear at the door. Because the minute you step off the plane, you are here. This is your year. Make it into something incredible.
By Katie Wilson
Categories: Life Abroad