Nine Tips for How to Survive Your First Week Abroad
Katherine, Rome, Spring 2019
February 20, 2019

1. Come Prepared

One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give is to come prepared. Make sure you call your bank as soon as you know you’re studying abroad and order euros! This is typically the most affordable way to change currency. The most expensive way is in the airport through a currency exchange office, but it’s also really convenient. But either way, make sure you have some before you land in your host country. Additionally, make sure you pack your carry-on with the things you will need the most once you land so you don’t have to tear your whole suitcase up. This was a huge stress reliever for me and I felt so organized once I arrived!

Delicious lunch with a beautiful view in the Italian countryside with SAI.

2. Establish a Budget

Coming abroad can definitely feel like a huge vacation, which can lead to a vacation mentality and some really reckless spending. I know I’m already an example of this! But just make sure you take a step back your first week or so and just establish a budget. Let yourself get settled and stock up on necessities like shampoo and conditioner and then set up a firm budget for your weekly expenses. Don’t forget to calculate in those travel expenses!

SAI led trip before classes started to Ostia Antica, a beautiful ruin town near the coast outside of Rome. A place I never would’ve thought to go see if it wasn’t for SAI!

3. Unpack Right Away

I highly recommend unpacking as soon as you move into your new housing. I know that I just wanted to throw my stuff down and take a nap but my roommate motivated me to unpack and WOW it made all the difference. Although my room was really different than I was used to, it felt so comforting to know that everything had a place and that I was all set up and ready to go. Also, a few of my roommates didn’t unpack before we all went out to dinner and had to do it when they got back and they were super unhappy about it! It might not seem like a priority to everyone but definitely take the time to unpack right away. Avoid living out of a suitcase at all costs!

Gnocchi from one of our favorite restaurants! An absolute must try if you’re in Italy.

4. Venture Out to Find the Essentials

I assume most of you, like me, brought enough shampoo and conditioner to last me the first few days but not much longer than that. Head out before Orientation starts and stock up on shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste, whatever you use on a day to day basis! Go ahead and get this done before classes start so that you don’t have to worry about rationing your items or running out when you don’t have time to go shopping. And if you have this extra time, you don’t have to feel pressured to buy things at the very first store you go into. Almost every store I’ve been into has had the same general categories of items but really different brands and varieties of things. So shop around and find things you’ll actually use that are affordable! Don’t let the foreign language scare you either — come prepared with the Google Translate app and you should be able to figure it out.

On one of our very first days in Rome, my roommates and I went out exploring and got our first look at the Colosseum. Even looking at this picture now, it doesn’t feel real!

5. Make New Friends, Especially your Roommates

This first week abroad can be extremely overwhelming. Between the new time zone, the culture shock, and the rush of Orientation, it can sometimes be easier to gravitate towards someone you already know or to just hang out by yourself. But everyone is in the same boat this first week — so don’t be shy or scared of reaching out to new people! Your roommates are an especially important part of this. You’ll be living with these people for the next four months, so try and set aside some time to get food or just hang out around the apartment! Try and go out to dinner the first few nights together or invite your roomies to go shopping with you. Be outgoing!

6. Explore the Local Cuisine

This is probably the most important piece of advice I can offer. It can be really easy to gravitate towards the American/touristy restaurants. Don’t do this. Not only will the quality of food be lower, but you’ll probably end up paying more for what you’re getting. I cannot recommend enough just going out in your neighborhood and looking for local places! My roommates and I found the most amazing Farm to Table restaurant down a side street off the main road where we live. It’s our obsession now and we go all the time. So don’t be afraid to try something that has a smaller menu or seems like it’s out of the way. It’s okay if not every restaurant or meal is exactly what you’re looking for — as long as you’re trying!

Wandering around the incredible neighborhood of Trastevere, where John Cabot University is located. Absolutely in love with this beautiful city and school!

7. Don’t be Afraid to Try New Things

Seriously. I cannot emphasize this enough. Branch out! Go on trips or excursions that SAI provides, even if it’s not something you’d normally do. Go to new restaurants, explore new places, and try new foods! You’ve got the next four months (or so) ahead of you, don’t be afraid to branch out!

8. Naps are KEY

Although you should definitely try as many new things as you possibly can, there’s no shame in a good nap. Or five. Seriously, adjusting to an entirely new country can be exhausting. As can adjusting to a new time zone or going through multiple full days of Orientation. So don’t be afraid to take a few moments for yourself and rest.

9. But Don’t Forget to Go Sightseeing!

Between Orientation and re-adjusting to the time zone, you will be exhausted. But don’t let this stop you from going out and exploring your new home. Although there will be plenty of time for this over the next few months, nothing is better than those first few dramatic views of your beautiful new home!

Katherine is an SAI Rome spring 2019 student from the University of South Carolina.

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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.