Top 5 Greatest Lessons Learned from Studying Abroad
During the 2014 fall semester, I was given the wonderful opportunity to study abroad in Torino, Italy, home to the 2006 Winter Olympics and one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the world, Fiat (owner of Ferrari and Maserati, ooolala). In the land of pizza, pasta and gelato, I anticipated a semester filled with nothing but great food and never-ending adventures. Little did I know, however, that I would turn into a giant pasta noodle, Wi-Fi would be a very limited resource and my funds would quickly deplete from traveling each weekend (the poor exchange rate definitely didn’t help).
I soon discovered that I was embarking on a life-changing journey, watching myself grow in countless ways. Each experience, positive or negative, provided me with a very important life lesson that I will keep with me and remember for the rest of my life.
Here are some of the greatest lessons I learned from traveling abroad while living in Torino for a semester.
Pay attention to detail
Since Torino is very close to other European countries, it was very common for all of us students to travel to a different country or city each weekend for a reasonable price. Every trip I went on, however, required a lot of planning and relying on multiple modes of transportation (literally planes, trains and automobiles). And with many trips, came many lessons learned, including how important it is to pay attention to detail when planning a trip. Simple things such as allocating enough time to travel to the airport and ensuring you’ve selected the correct dates of travel are important factors to pay close attention to. Failure to take these details into consideration can cost you a lot of money and even cause you to miss class. It helped me to write down every single detail of my trip beforehand, plan accordingly and double-check that everything matched before making any purchases.
Be aware of your surroundings
At the beginning of our program, all of the students were told many horror stories about the prominent issue of pickpocketing in Europe. It’s easy to brush the warnings off and think, “Oh, that would never happen to me.” By the end of our semester in Torino, however, at least half of the people in my program were victims of pickpocketing at least once.
It’s crucial to always be aware of your surroundings and to always keep your belongings in close sight. I always kept my small purse across and in front of my body, ensuring that nobody would succeed in stealing anything. If you’re staying in a hostel, it’s advised to keep your expensive items and travel documents in secured lockers while you’re out and about. Also, it’s extremely important to always travel in groups and ensure that you’re never alone. No matter how safe the place may seem or how comfortable you feel, it is crucial to always have people you know around you.
Immerse yourself in the culture
While living in a foreign country, it is easy to be drawn to your comfort zone. After experiencing the different phases of culture shock and a little bit of homesickness, I found myself hanging out with only American students in my program. This was comforting initially, however, I found that I wasn’t speaking Italian anymore and wasn’t feeling a part of the culture as much.
If personal growth is a priority while abroad, it’s so important to allow yourself to be fully immersed in the culture surrounding you. By befriending local Italian students, we were not only provided with the best gelato recommendations, but also given opportunities to practice the Italian language and learn more about Torino’s culture. It may take a little effort and feel a bit awkward at first, but it is so worth it in the end and is extremely rewarding. Take note, one of the best ways to truly learn to speak a different language is by conversing with locals on a day-to-day basis!
Budget each trip
It didn’t take long for me to realize how important it was to budget a specific amount for each trip and especially during the week while I was living in Torino. A tactic my friends and I relied on was withdrawing a limited amount of money per trip and per week and not allowing ourselves to exceed that amount for each time period. Budgeting with friends makes it easy to monitor each other’s spending and kind of fun to reach a common goal together.
Get involved with your host university
Although it can be difficult to develop a routine while living abroad when you are constantly traveling and readjusting to your school schedule, there are usually many wonderful opportunities to get involved at your host university. Our study abroad program allowed us to get involved and even get credit for participating in internships. Marketing being the emphasis of my major, I was given the opportunity to participate in a marketing internship for a well-known car designer. The internship made me realize how passionate I am about my major and allowed me to get a taste of what type of career I will be pursuing in the future.
Getting involved allows you to build connections abroad and network for possible opportunities in the future. You can not only earn academic credit through an internship, but also build your resume while residing in a foreign country. Depending on the study abroad program, advisors are usually available to assist you with internships and other opportunities to get involved.
Studying abroad was an experience I will never forget. I was able to make countless memories and build friendships with many different people across the globe. I was able to challenge myself in new ways and discover who I truly am as an individual. For anyone considering studying abroad, my greatest piece of advice is to live in the moment. View each experience as an opportunity to learn and grow. And don’t forget to take lots of pictures!
Niki, a Pearson Campus Ambassador, is currently a junior at California State University, Chico and is pursuing a degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Marketing, including a pathway minor in International Studies. She enjoys reading, running, horseback riding and, most of all, traveling around the world.