Preparing for Study Abroad: Physically & Mentally

Today’s blog post comes to us from Fordham University student & #APIabroad blogger Nicole Alston.

CIAO! I’m Nicole & I will be studying abroad in Florence, Italy this coming fall semester.

I am thrilled to be blogging with API & share my experience in Florence with you all. I have travelled abroad before but never for this long! Sometimes, my upcoming trip can feel very overwhelming so I wanted to think through some tips that will help me & hopefully help you all prepare to go abroad! Although I will be abroad in Italy, I think these tips are applicable to any country you may study in! (I have also included some photographs of myself traveling abroad in the past which I thought correlated well to these tips!)

UNO: Check the average weather in your city for ALL months you will be abroad!

This is important to do because it will help you pack smarter & more efficiently. Italy will be devilishly hot when I arrive in August & will reach the 40s by December. Packing for multiple seasons is complex & takes some planning. When packing, if I found any piece of clothing that I couldn’t layer it or wear in more than one season, I couldn’t pack it. Mini tip: try to avoid excessive patterns, bright colors or other significant eye catching wardrobe items that will make it harder for you to build outfits, because (like it or not) we will be REWEARING clothing.

DUE: Get associated with the culture you are about to live in, determine the things that mean a lot to you – & research those.

Whether that be fashion, culture, eating habits, food offerings, language or local products (grocery store or pharmacy) having a certain understanding of what to expect before you arrive in country can cut down on the potential for us to experience excessive culture shock. Understanding a certain layer of the cultural behaviors that await me in Italy is extremely important for my mental preparation to study abroad. 

I know my routine will not stay the same once I arrive in Italy, so having an understanding of the Florentine way of life can help my mind realign itself to the behavioral realities of the country so I can better adjust my system. For me – eating habits & fashion styles are the most important aspects of culture that will help me to regulate my new routine abroad because those two things are how I define myself & my social relationships!

TRE: Expect a new cuisine!

Along with setting expectations for numerous cultural aspects you will encounter in the city/country you study abroad in – one of the most important is food! In my opinion, food is one of the most important cultural norms to grasp because it is something you will encounter at least three times a day & will most likely involve a certain social aspect. 

While it is extremely important to be aware & speak up of any allergies or dietary restrictions – don’t be afraid to try new foods/flavors – ITALIAN FOOD ISN’T JUST PIZZA & PASTA. While yes, I will be eating my fair share of spaghetti, I am most looking forward to the abundance of fresh ingredients & impressive food offerings.

QUATTRO: Enjoy the authenticity & (potential) simplicity!

Especially coming from New York City where most everything is modern & updated – many things in Europe are not. In America we have grown so used to modern appliances & systems that a large part of the culture shock we experience is because we expect a certain element of “Americanization” in our abroad cities.  If we embrace this unique element a lot of foreign cities have instead of focusing on all of the things that aren’t the same or that we aren’t used to, we can avoid possible initial uncomfortable first impressions. 

CINQUE: Don’t be afraid to take in the sights & see the touristy stuff!

Even though crowds of tourists can be overwhelming & exhausting – a beautiful  aspect of the city you are about to study abroad in are the sights that attract tourists! Don’t be afraid to be a tourist yourself! Although you will be living in your city like a local, don’t cut yourself off from some of the most beautiful pieces of art, architecture or history that make your city unique! Pro tip: check out the main sights at night – this will limit your tourist crowd interactions exponentially & often the sights are more gorgeous at that time of day:)

SETTE: Take the back roads! 

I know it can be tempting to take the most populated streets to where you are trying to go – but don’t be afraid to get off the beaten path! I know I have always seen the most beautiful things when I have taken the side streets & is often where the best cultural attractions are like authentic restaurants, shops & art galleries! 

OTTO: Don’t be afraid to get lost!

It is bound to happen – so don’t stress! If you know you need to be on time for class or work, take a screen shot of the walking directions on google maps while you are in WIFI so when you are out of your apartment you can refer back to them – but if you are walking to a store, a museum or the grocery store – don’t worry if & when you do get lost! Those can be the times of exploration & can offer you the most of your experience. You will also feel very capable once you get yourself back on track & will have discovered an alternative route! 🙂

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