When studying abroad, there is a lot to plan in advance. It may feel overwhelming to students who are trying their best to adequately prepare and respond to situations they may encounter abroad. I decided to compile questions that students often have about studying abroad and provide my insight.
Question 1: How will I make friends?
How to make friends is one of the most commonly asked questions that I have encountered while working as a peer ambassador. It is completely normal to want a strong community of people around you while you are in a new place! I like to describe studying abroad as if you are a child going to summer camp. Most people coming into summer camp do not know anyone or only know a few people. However, everyone is there with the desire to make friends and have a good time. Studying abroad is the same way! Most people who choose to study abroad are super open to meeting new people and making new connections. When you study abroad, it can be tempting to find one group of friends immediately and only spend time with them. However, I encourage you to constantly step outside of your comfort zone and put yourself out there! Whether that be going to the Viva Experiences hosted by SAI or joining a community organization, you should try something new and expand your social network while doing something you are passionate about. Some of my good friends were made through attending all of the different Viva Experiences that were offered in Florence. I kept seeing the same people every few weeks and started forming connections with them while also doing cool things like making leather wallets, gold leafing, and paper marbling! I also recommend attempting to make friends with local residents of your city! This may seem scary (especially if there is a language barrier), but even simple things like attending the same coffee shop every day and speaking with the owner can lead to a friendship! Befriending local people can help you gain an entirely different perspective on your city and can be a way to see some cool spots that you would never have otherwise found! Overall, my biggest piece of advice is to focus on just being yourself. Do not be afraid to do things by yourself! If you follow your passions and remain open to connections, friends are sure to follow.
Question 2: How do you budget effectively?
Budgeting is another major concern that students have in regards to studying abroad. It is important to know that every student studying abroad comes from a different background and a different financial situation. Before you go abroad, you should try to save up as much as you can. I worked multiple jobs the summer before I went abroad in order to save up money. From there, I was able to roughly calculate how much money I could afford to spend on studying abroad. I recommend making a separate bank account for studying abroad and only filling it with an amount of money that you are comfortable with spending. That way, you will not get carried away and spend outside of your means. There are a lot of little hacks that you can do to make sure you do not overspend. For example, you could only bring cash to a market or restaurant so that you do not spend more than a certain amount. As I mentioned before, everyone is different. Your version of budgeting may look differently than your friends. Some people may travel very cheaply while others may want to spend more money on certain comforts. It is important to advocate for yourself and prioritize your spending on what is important to you. For example, my roommates and I went together on most of our weekend trips. However, there were a few destinations that we each turned down because they did not fit into our budget or timing. When planning excursions, you should prioritize your top destinations and experiences while learning how to politely decline ones that do not fit well for you. Even though studying abroad can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it is okay to occasionally say no to things. It is all about finding a balance.
Question 3: How important is it to know a foreign language while studying abroad?
This is a common question but also a tough one to answer. Location is generally the main factor that determines the importance of language knowledge. I studied in Florence which is extremely tourist-friendly and had many accommodations for non-Italian speakers. However, I visited smaller cities in Italy and found myself in situations where I had to speak or read a bit of Italian to get around. Generally speaking, most major cities will be easier to navigate without a foreign language than smaller towns and rural areas. While I did not require fluent Italian for survival in Florence, I do recommend learning conversational phrases in the language of any area that you study abroad. I prepared for about 200 days on Duolingo to familiarize myself with some vocabulary. I also recommend taking language courses either before or while studying abroad. Being immersed in another language is the best way to learn, so studying abroad is a great opportunity for anyone interested in learning a language!
Question 4: How do you prepare for challenges you will face while abroad?
Before I studied abroad, I did as much research as I could in order to try to prepare for any challenges I might encounter. I printed the entire SAI Ready-Set-Go Pack and tried to make sure I had prepared for every challenge. I opened up a new credit card specifically for traveling so that I could avoid card freezes and extra fees. Additionally, I paid off my phone so that I could unlock it for use with an international carrier. I also loaded on a travel phone plan for the first two weeks of my program so I could have time to arrange an international phone plan. I spent hours watching vlogs about living in Florence and trying to research the local culture. While a lot of the research that I did was super helpful, I realized upon arrival that there would be so many more things that I could not have prepared for ahead of time. A huge part of studying abroad is adapting to new situations and building mental resilience and flexibility. I always tell anyone interested in going abroad to expect the unexpected. If things do go wrong, there are always resources through SAI, the local university, and the community that can help. Since studying abroad, I have found myself better prepared to adapt to different situations. Instead of fixating on the situation, I have learned how to accept it and come up with an action plan. I recommend to anyone studying abroad to try to build the same attitude of acceptance towards any setbacks, big or small. I think it is one of the most important parts of self discovery and growth that a student can have.
Written by: Josie, Fall 2022 Florence student from University of South Carolina