Maintaining a Sense of Identity in a New Place
Katherine, Fall 2023, Florence
September 26, 2023

One piece of advice I found online when preparing for my study abroad (and I wish I could have cited this person, because it really stuck with me) was that you will continue to be the same person at your study abroad location as you are at home. Your skills, weaknesses, insecurities, comfort zones, social skills, etc will not magically change for the better once your plane lands. And that’s a good thing! One of the few familiar things you can rely upon during your time abroad is yourself, and although you will grow and change in many ways over your experience- being authentic to yourself will always pay off in the end. So, how do you honor your sense of personal identity in a new environment, often thousands of miles from home?

1) Bring clothes you know you like, fit you well, and that you reach for at home
The first suggestion I can offer is that your style isn’t going to change overnight, so please try not to force it! Like many other study abroad students, I was sucked into the idea of “revamping” my look to better fit Italian fashion norms. I packed light with just a few favorite pieces, and left many of my favorite pieces home to make room for new, more “Florence appropriate” options. Once I arrived, however, I found myself missing some of my tried-and-true staples I left behind. Plus, shopping to fill those wardrobe gaps became a nightmare (as someone who loves shopping!) due to style differences and sizing chart confusions. Having clothing that made me feel comfortable and confident without the hassle of searching for new pieces was a game-changer for me, so I definitely recommend prioritizing space in your suitcase for the clothes you reach for most at home- even if they supposedly don’t fit the “aesthetic” of your study abroad destination.

This dress has become a wardrobe STAPLE, so I can only anticipate I’m going to wear it a thousand more times

2) Learn and practice techniques to cope with rejection and insecurity
Rejection sucks. Whether it is romantic rejection, rejection from someone we tried to become friends with, or a particularly crabby grocery store attendant, it is human to struggle and internalize negative reactions to us putting ourselves out here. I have dealt with insecurity my entire life, and healing from it will be a lifelong journey. Learning tips to self-regulate and process feelings of rejection and insecurity can be an invaluable tool while studying abroad. After all, you’re learning how to do lots of things for the first time! Mistakes will be made, and lingering on them will end up drawing your attention away from the positive moments. However, it is important to note that one must always move through life with constant self-reflection and awareness of others’ safety, consent, and comfort. Considering that, try not to internalize the dirty look that one random guy gave you after you laughed a little too loud at the restaurant and keep living large! The people who will truly appreciate you can only find you if you’re 100% authentic from day one!

First coffee I successfully ordered in full Italian! Definitely failed a few times before…. had to practice not focusing on my embarrassment and just trying again next time!

3) Embrace change and have fun!!!
I know this sounds cliche, but college is an incredible time for defining your identity and exploring personhood. One of the invaluable aspects of studying abroad is realizing how small your world and community is when you consider the grand scale of the world and all the people that coexist on it. This perspective opens your eyes to the fact that so many diverse opportunities and paths exist for people to take; some that you may not have fathomed before leaving home. Embrace that you will most likely change as a person due to your study abroad experience, and that’s a good thing! We aren’t supposed to be static beings, and study abroad can provide the perfect time to look at yourself through a fresh outlook. Finding yourself is a rewarding, fun experience- so don’t forget to make time for it while abroad!

I love watching the sunset, so I usually try to use that time of day to self-reflect and connect with people I miss from back home

Written by: Katherine Treviño-Yoson, Fall 2023 Florence student from Saint Mary’s College of California

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