The following blog post was written by Peer Advisor Sammi, an SMPA junior studying political communication and art history. Sammi is also currently abroad this semester in Florence. You can learn more about her here.
My study abroad preparation began a few months into my freshman year at GW. Being the type-A planner that I am, I started to research study abroad programs for the spring semester of my junior year before I even knew what I was doing with my life for the next semester. Over the next few years, I decided on a program, arranged my four-year plan to fit study abroad (see they are helpful!) and applyied to my program. After being accepted to my program in late August, I began researching packing lists and advice for studying in Florence and studying abroad as a whole.
All of that being said, there are many things that I did not plan for in my multi-year study abroad preparation. I am going to share a few pieces of advice that either nobody told me before going abroad or that I heard but did not take to heart. Hopefully by reading this, you will be spared some of these difficulties (albeit minor difficulties) in your own study abroad experience. If not, I hope you will be amused by my random stories (see #2). Here we go…
You have probably heard this a million times. So have I. Yet, when I arrived in Florence, I forgot entirely about my nice leather journal I got for Christmas and only took my camera with me on weekend trips. Documenting the day-to-day activities, even if it is just what you eat (I would love to have had a tally of how many slices of pizza I have had), helps you remember the days that comprise your everyday study abroad life. I have only been in Florence for five weeks, but I am already forgetting what I did in the days before I started classes. Find a medium that works for you—private journal, online blog, photography, video—and stick to it. You will be thankful for this when you get home and your family asks you what you did while abroad. I have a million pictures from this “Sound of Music” tour I went on in Mondsee, Austria (because the scenery was gorgeous) and other weekend trips, but only a handful from my days in Florence.
#2: You will miss American food/snacks
Everyone has that one snack that you would willingly eat for the rest of your life. For me, that is Hot Cheetos. After a few weeks of trying to decipher what the Italian snacks at the supermarket were, I started to miss my Hot Cheetos, which are nowhere to be found in Europe. I am lucky enough to have a few people visiting me from the US throughout the semester that will supply my Hot Cheetos need. I also had no idea how much I would miss burgers. Most of my meals during my weekend in Paris were burgers and fries (I know, pathetic) because I had not seen them in Florence. Now, I know of three restaurants within a five minute walk from my apartment that serve good burgers for those days I start missing American food. Before you go abroad, look up what items aren’t sold in your study abroad location (peanut butter, ranch dressing, Hot Cheetos, etc.) and decide whether you realistically can live without them for a semester. If not, pack some with you before you leave.
#3: Dedicate time to explore your home city
This lesson is one that I repeatedly told myself I would abide by before arriving in Florence and one that I find to be extremely important. There is a reason you are choosing to study abroad in a certain city, so make sure you give yourself the chance to explore it. I made a plan to travel at most every other weekend so that I could spend my other weekends exploring Florence and surrounding Tuscan towns. Despite this plan, I have traveled 4/5 of the weekends that I have been abroad. Although it has been absolutely amazing to visit cities like Budapest and Paris, I have not allotted the same time to enjoy the equally amazing city of Florence. Either travel less on the weekends (your bank account will be happy about this, too) or set aside a few hours every week to explore a new neighborhood—going into shops, trying out restaurants and visiting museums.
Studying abroad is a privilege that most people are unable to experience. While it may feel like it is a norm at GW, it is important not to take this opportunity for granted. These lessons are by no means life changing or even in the top 10 pieces of advice for study abroad. However, they have helped me, and hopefully will help you, make the most out of our time abroad.