Friday, December 13, 2013

10 Things I've Learned While Abroad

For my last blog post I wanted to sum up everything I’ve learned while abroad. While I’ve learned so much more than just these 10 bullet points below, these are among the most valuable and important things I want to share with my friends & family, and especially to future study abroad students. While I was preparing for my trip it was hard to find a blog similar to mine to help ease my nerves and to help prepare. Therefore, I hope this information finds future students well.
Last, none of this information I’m about to share about my journey in Italy would exist without the two most important people in my life: my Mom & Dad! I remember the first day I told them I was seriously considering studying abroad and without hesitation they asked how they could help make this possible for me. Thank you mom and dad for letting me vent while I was stressed about the pre-departure process, for sitting with me ALL day long checking off every item for my visa application, for listening to my crazy check-lists, for calling me with words of pride and encouragement everyday while I was in Italy, and of course for financially supporting me; making the best four months of my life and this amazing experience possible. I can never thank you enough!

And now… The 10 things I have learned while studying abroad:

10. Just some random useful tips/facts about life in Florence:
-There ARE such things as mosquitoes in the winter! I think they finally disappeared from our apartment around mid-November. They’re vicious! 
-When crossing the road don’t be scared… they won’t hit you.
-Don’t go to the leather market with a bunch of American friends, take a local with you who speaks Italian, you’ll get the best price for sure.
-The best gelato shop is Bellamia, don’t let anyone tell you differently!
-Don’t hesitate to try out the bus system. It really is more convenient than walking home alone in the dark.
-Look up. Someone told me to always look up in Florence while you’re walking because that’s where you’ll find the real beauty.
-Scandicci (4 tram stops away from Florence) is an easy getaway for awesome gelato and a market on Saturdays, as well as Fiesole (bus no. 7 from Florence) which has a beautiful view of the city and the best pizza at Blu Bar.
-Bread and water aren’t free.
-Wake up early one morning for no reason but to just walk around. This is when the city is most beautiful.

9. American Pride. While living abroad I’ve learned that Americans aren’t the only ones who believe their country is the ultimate best. I’ve met people from all over the world- Australians, Spaniards, British, Africans, and of course Italians- all who have such great pride in their country! And many who look at me like I have four heads when I respond that I am from Connecticut in the States. (For the past four months, I’ve either been from New York or Boston, depending on the intelligence level of the person I’m speaking with. Everyone knows where New York is, Boston can be a bit of a stretch for some). My point is however, it’s an eye-opening experience to learn and understand a different culture rather than one you have been surrounded by your entire life.

8. Educate yourself. Before your trip, during your trip, and after your trip. There is nothing worse than ignorance, especially an ignorant tourist/visitor. Do yourself and the locals a favor and study about the city you will be living in before you arrive. Research about the currency there, how to call a cab, how to say please & thank you, and other important facts about the country itself. While living in a foreign country, immerse yourself in the culture. Step out of your comfort zone and go to the places where no tourists can be found.

7. Be aware of stereotypes. Especially the one that all Italian men are sweet, romantic, angels. Many of them actually rely on the fact that American girls come to Italy with hope to find a sweet Italian boy as seen in the movies (i.e. just watch the Lizzie McGuire Movie if you’re curious about any Italian stereotype). A friend told me its typical for a guy to come up to an American girl with his friends near and speak in Italian, not saying anything romantic at all, and the girl will stare at him melting, listening to his accent, when actually he probably just called her a stupid name to make his friends laugh. Tip- Learn some foreign slang/ swear words before coming abroad. Another Tip- it’s not true to say that the sweet romantic guys don’t exist here, because they certainly do, you just most likely won’t find them at Red Garter and Lion’s Fountain (typical American hot spots in Florence).

6. Budget your money. This can be seriously tedious, but necessary. If money grows on trees for you, then go ahead and ignore this one. But if you’re a broke college student like me, take note. For future study abroad students make a list of all the places you’d like to visit before coming abroad. Consider the most important ones to you and why you want to visit them. When you get abroad its easy to just go where your friends want to go because it’s convenient. Travelling in Europe is cheapER, not necessarily cheap. Also, when it comes to those shoes you’ve been eyeing all semester or that present you want to buy for your Mom & Dad, don’t wait until day 105 out of 109 of the semester to get it! Spread out your money so you’re not digging for coins during your last few weeks. Most people spend the most money during the first few weeks, and during the last. If you’re smart, you’ll take my advice and spreeeeeaaad it out!

THE TOP 5 (The kind of important stuff about life)

5. Spontaneity. While it can be beneficial to plan, budget, etc., do not plan it all! Leave room to be spontaneous. This is something I struggled with while I was abroad since I’m the type to always have a plan. Instead, I found the most unexpected and unplanned events allowed me to make some of my favorite memories. Be open to changes and opportunities. 

4. Fear. Throw this all away when you come abroad. If you let it take over you as you’re trying to learn new things you’ll be filled with regret. Be open to everything and everyone. Just because you’re scared to do something, don’t let that be a reason to avoid exploring new things. Take advantage of your surroundings, don’t shy away from them. Don’t be scared to ask the waitress something in Italian, for example; even if its not correct, without trying you’ll never learn.

3. Happiness relies on you and you only. I love making people happy, but it’s easy to make worrying about what others think first a habit, rather than simply doing what you want. Don’t surround yourself with negative energy even when it seems impossible to ignore. Make new friends. Do something different each day. Being abroad has given me the opportunity to completely make my own choices, right or wrong, it’s no ones choice but my own and I’ve learned its only up to me to find my happiness.

2. Time is so precious. When I first got to Florence I thought, four months isn’t too long but it’s plenty of time to accomplish most of everything on my to-do list. I would often walk by a store or a restaurant and say to myself, “oh I’ll just go some other day!” But time goes by so quickly, and before you know it, you have one week before your final exams. My rule/advice to future study abroad students: never say no. When a friend asks you to go to Verona with them for a day trip GO, when someone asks you to go to lunch after class GO, and when someone asks you to go out even though you’re tired and probably shouldn’t just, GO! You have all next semester in America to be on Facebook and to watch movies in your room.

1. Travelling will change your life, I promise. Among the 7 different countries I’ve travelled to during the past 109 days I’ve experienced many different cultures, seen many different things and learned more than I could have ever possibly imagined. I’ve learned, to really travel you must completely immerse yourself in the culture; go beyond the beaten path and find new things about each place that you wouldn’t easily be able to find on Wikipedia. Not always easily done within a short time frame. Fortunately, within my four months in Florence I’ve had time; though still not enough, to discover so many hidden gems. This is my favorite kind of “travelling”. This experience has been invaluable to me. To travel is to learn but it’s all about the journey and what you make of it. I’m sad this journey is over, but I’m anxious & excited knowing that my travelling days have just begun!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

All good things...

..must, unfortunately come to an end. First, I can't believe we are down to 10 days left in Italy. It's amazing how quickly time flies. I've really been slacking with my blog posts due to a change in pace in the second half of my semester . Looking back at my posts from the first 10 weeks here, almost every weekend I was travelling somewhere. Ten weeks of classes Monday-Thursday, then packing, travelling, alot of sleeping on buses, walking tours, photoshoots etc., then loads of laundry, blog posting and picture-uploading. A continous pattern. SO many memories and experiences that I am beyond thankful for. For the past 3 weeks though I've taken a break from travelling to enjoy my time in Florence. I don't have a schedule or any trips planned. My calender is empty yet I've never felt so busy because everyday there's something new I want to do. After weeks of trying to learn my way around the city, adapting to every-day life here, I have acquired this feeling as if I've lived here for years. Sadly, four months is just enough time to adapt, and then to say goodbye. But realistically, I've basically been on a four month vacation, who would ever want an experience like this to end? It doesn't mean I don't miss my family & friends and life back in America, but this journey has just been too good to be true.
Sunset over Florence from my apartment
So what have I been doing for the past few weeks exactly? After my last trip to Greece, which took a lot of out of me, Mom and Britt came to visit! It was so nice to see my family after so long!! We went on a day trip to San Giminagno and Chianti for wine tasting and horseback riding. One of my favorite days during my entire time abroad so far! Our tour guide Isam, could not have been more fun! We felt like he was part of our family by the end of the day. That Saturday, we went on a day trip to Venice. Such a beautiful and very unique city! We lucked out with great weather and no floods. The rest of the weekend I showed them my favorite parts of Firenze. It was so nice to share with my family what I have seen and done, and I was so happy they were able to see for themselves what this beautiful country is like.

Mom & Isam!

Trenchard girls in Venice!

The rest of my time has been spent exploring new places and meeting new people in Florence. As I am writing with just 10 days left in this city I have a list of about 20+ things I still wish to do before I leave. The amount of things to do here are endless. I've also really been focusing on practicing Italian. It's amazing how much easier it is to learn a language while you're living in a country where they speak it. I took spanish for 6 years and still can't put a sentence together. I've taken Italian for 4 months and I can usually understand people's conversations as I'm eavesdropping on the street. It's a great accomplishment.

Throughout the city they are beginning to put up Christmas decorations in preparation for the holidays. There are christmas lights strung down almost every street in the center of the city. It's magical! The Christmas markets have opened in the Santa Croce area and they are putting a giant tree in Piazza del Duomo! Every store window has greens and traditional decorations. They do not mess around here in that department!

For the rest of my time here I plan on squeezing in a day trip or two, a few historical stops around Florence, shopping and spending time with the great people I've met here. If we ever do get to come back to Florence again in the future, it will never be exactly the same. So I'm cherishing the last few days with my friends, going to our favorite restaurants and staying out an extra hour or two each night. Every single person I've met while abroad has taught me so much about life and about myself. I'm always terrible at saying goodbye-- I know December 14th will be an especially sad day here in Florence. But….America watch out, I'm coming home!