Music and Studying Abroad: Why Your Music Choices Matter More Than You Know!
Cameron Cipolla, SAI Ambassador
April 1, 2019

As a music major living in Music City (aka Nashville, TN), music has been at the forefront of most of my college experiences. While other students were off at frat parties on the weekends, students at my school were going to “house shows,” which are essentially parties with live music, mainly made up of student bands and artists. When not at house shows or studying for music theory, music history, music tech, or any of my other classes, you could find me at various local music venues and writers rounds. Needless to say, my life revolves quite heavily around music, which is why I stepped away from my major in the Fall of 2017 to study in Florence, Italy. When studying in Florence my classes were extremely varied in subject matter, but not a single one of them had anything to do with music. Frankly, I was relieved. I was excited to have conversations with people without hearing the words “gig” or “jam.” It was not until after my semester concluded that I realized just how big of a role music played in my study abroad journey.

Growing up in Los Angeles, CA, my family and I have attended countless concerts at the Hollywood Bowl throughout my life. A few months after I returned from Italy my parents and I went to see one of our all-time favorite singer-songwriters: Paul Simon. This concert was different from the rest, however, because it seemed as if one second I was trying to get comfortable on the wooden benches that fill the majority of the venue, and the next I was on a bus to Vienna, catching a glimpse of the reds, greens, browns, and oranges that paint the hills of Austria in the fall. Ironically, the song Simon played was “America.” This was my go-to travel song while studying abroad, but I did not realize it would stay with me for years after my semester ended, instantly transporting me through time and allowing me to relive specific and life-changing memories. This is a concept that is familiar to everyone who has ever listened to music. Music provides us with an intense sense of nostalgia, and acts almost as a dating mechanism or time-keeper of our most vulnerable memories. Often these nostalgic songs even evoke a romanticized version the emotion we were feeling at the time, even decades later. In other words- make sure you are very satisfied with your music choices while abroad because those songs will stick with you through life!

Chances are you will be traveling quite a bit when you are in Europe, so I have compiled a few tips to make sure you take full advantage of your music listening opportunities!

Beautiful Siena makes a wonderful day trip from Florence. I listened to John Mayer the whole day. (My pick: Love on the Weekend- John Mayer)

1. Download all your songs while you have Wi-Fi!
If you are anything like my friends and me, your data plan will be quite restrictive. You simply cannot waste precious data on streaming songs, so it is in your best interest to figure out your playlist ahead of time and download it. I am a creature of habit, so I listened to mainly three or four albums on repeat throughout the entire semester. Still, I would give yourself some options because the last thing you want is to be trapped on a sixteen-hour bus ride to Budapest and get bored of your music.

When in enchanting Roma, you must listen to some Dean Martin! (My pick: On An Evening in Roma- Dean Martin)

2. Make different playlists for different experiences
Personally, I had traveling songs, walking songs, and certain songs I attributed to specific cities or countries. This is very helpful because you will associate those songs with particular trips and memories, almost like an audio photo album. Not only will this allow you to find new music and enjoy the process of making playlists and sharing them with friends, but your future self will thank you for the vivid nostalgia.

One of my favorite songs came out while I was in Copenhagen, and it was on repeat throughout my whole trip! (My pick: Evergreen- Yebba)

3. Listen to music as you are walking to class—sometimes
As I mentioned previously, music can enhance your experiences and heighten your emotions, so finding a go-to walking song is a wonderful way to put an extra pep in your step as you are walking to class. Since I had a strange obsession with Simon and Garfunkel at the time, my walking song was either “Baby Driver,” when I was feeling happy and excited, or “The Only Living Boy In New York,” when I was in a more reflective and contemplative mood. Music intensifies your personal experiences, but in turn it also can cut you off from the rest of the world. Take some time to walk or travel without music as well, soaking in the sounds of the city. If you are willing, try to recognize how your walk to class or to the market changes with the presence or absence of music. It might sound stupid at the time, but months and years after your semester ends you will be clinging to any and every memory you can find, so taking a moment to analyze and thoroughly examine your surroundings will be extremely beneficial in your effort to get the most out of your study abroad journey.

have never felt more calm and peaceful in my life than while exploring the stunning Interlaken, Switzerland. (My pick: Georgia- Phoebe Bridgers)

4. Listen to music while cooking
My final tip is to listen to music while making all your favorite meals fresh from local markets! While eating out and trying as many restaurants as possible is a definite must, it can also cause financial stress and frustration. One of the best ways to encourage home-cooked meals is to make a playlist so your cooking experience is more enjoyable, and possibly even something to look forward to. I studied in Italy and I am half-Italian, so my cooking songs took a cue from my childhood and my surroundings. Initially I listened to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, or Louis Prima, eventually expanding my playlist to Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan and so many more. I started to associate cooking with jazz and big-band music, and every time I cook a meal and listen to those songs it is easy to picture myself back in sunny Italy even if I am stuck in rainy Nashville, TN. So, put on your favorite songs, open your windows, and sing along, because at the end of the day you are in a beautiful country with so many enticing and intriguing opportunities, why not put them to music?

Of course, there’s Vienna, Austria. I only visited for a day, but the sweet sounds of Simon and Garfunkel will forever be engrained into my brain. (My pick: America- Simon and Garfunkel)

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About SAI

SAI is dedicated to providing academic and cultural learning experiences abroad that enhance global awareness, professional development and social responsibility. We concentrate our programs in Europe, with a focus on in-depth learning of individual European countries and their unique global role in the geopolitical economy, humanities, and in the arts.