Anna Walnoha | Staff Writer
To have the opportunity to study abroad is amazing. You have the chance to take in new places and cultures, meet new people and maybe even make lifelong friends or find an incredible story to tell on a job interview.
After you sign up to study abroad, talk to your advisor and attend the classes, meetings and orientation that are required before you leave. By that point, you’ll be ready to go and already thinking of what to pack, your excitement growing as the trip approaches.
But be careful of what to expect when you first arrive. I am currently studying abroad in Rome, and I am writing this article to share a more accurate account regarding that. Do not be frightened by what I have to say, though; this is just some friendly, neighborhood advice.
To have a successful first week abroad, do not arrive with any high expectations. This doesn’t mean that your trip won’t be perfectly amazing from the get-go, but if you start with expectations lower than that, if what you originally thought doesn’t come true, you won’t be disappointed and will still be able to appreciate your time. Take everything with a grain of salt and go along with what is actually happening no matter what.
Something crucial for your trip is to check the weather before you leave so you can pack accordingly. No matter what season you go, you should always bring a variety of clothes just in case. That way, you will always be comfortable. You will probably be buying some clothes during your stay, but you want to buy clothes and will never have to worry about a sudden change in the forecast. Also, if you’re going to buy clothes abroad, you’ll want them to be souvenirs that are different and unique, not just tights from a discount store because you forgot to bring a pair of your own.
Another major thing to do as soon as possible so you can have some peace of mind is to have a phone plan ready to work for when you arrive. If your phone carrier does not offer any international plans or the price is simply too far out of your reach, do not fear, for there are other options for you to still reach your family back at home.
One of those options is utilizing smartphone apps. Before arriving, try downloading WhatsApp, a Wi-Fi call and text app that will allow you to keep in touch with your family and friends at home regardless of whether you have data abroad.
However, you will still need a phone number in order to be reached by campus for emergency updates, or if you book a hotel somewhere off campus. When you first arrive, you will have the chance to go into the city and explore or run errands. During this time, you could visit one of the few phone stores in order to get a brief plan set up.
Be aware, though, that European phone carriers are a little different from the ones we are used to in America. However, they aren’t difficult to figure out with a bit of help from the employees, who almost always speak English. Walk into any one, and you can ask for a new SIM card for your current phone or a flip phone with a SIM card of its own. You will still have to pay for a plan, but they are inexpensive. The workers will also put the SIM card in for you, so you don’t have to worry about messing anything up.
If you’re willing to pay the extra cash to have a foreign iPhone, you can also do that, but it is not really worth it since you won’t be there forever.
After your phone is situated, you may think that everything else is good and all ready to go. But that’s not quite right.
When you are given a tour around the city, pay attention to what is said about transportation. It is very easy to get lost or take the wrong bus or Metro. You will not be an expert when you first arrive; I am three weeks into the program and am still trying to get a grasp on my surroundings. No matter where you go — whether it’s an excursion to Florence or a weekend trip with your friends to Germany — you will need to know ahead of time the transportation routes of the area to help you get from where you arrive to where you are staying. Figuring it all out ahead of time will save you much stress and aggravation so you can just enjoy the experience once it’s finally happening.
Finally, never be afraid to ask questions. Everyone on the campus you’ll be staying at is there to help, and they also understand that you’re new to the study abroad experience. Even when you are in a new area, regardless of if you know the native language, always try to ask the questions you may have so that you don’t get stuck and can find the solutions to your problems.
All in all, go into your time abroad knowing that you will make mistakes, get lost, become frustrated and think you are making a fool of yourself. But if your main goal is to have a good time, then in the end, none of the little trip ups that occur are going to matter.