Less than a week ago, I hugged my parents, friends, and family goodbye and set off on my own adventure. I have always been independent, but never like this. I got through security, my plane had free movies, and the nine-hour flight seemed to fly by. That is until I set foot in the Paris airport for my layover. The nerves kicked in and I began to feel as if I had made a terrible mistake. It really hadn’t hit me that I was leaving to study in a place so foreign to me until that moment. I put on a brave face and boarded my flight to Florence. From the airport to meeting roommates and all the commotion of the day, I really hadn’t had time to process the drastic life change I was making. At the end of the day, I crawled into my new bed in my new apartment on an entirely new continent with 6 strangers and stared at the ceiling. I felt one thing: panic. I thought to myself, what have I done? I wish I could just turn right around and go home.
Since I was going into this without knowing anyone, I kind of assumed everyone else would be in the same boat. That was not the case. I have met a lot of people who came from the same schools or have other friends here and it made me feel more alone. I instantly missed my friends and family and had to constantly remind myself that this was what I wanted. Just remembering that exploring a new place on my own and branching out was a big growth goal of mine helped me to stick with it overcome that feeling a little bit.
Ahh, the comfort zone, isn’t it great? I thought it looked pretty nice after I had been shoved out of it. Not knowing proper etiquette at restaurants, how to use euros, what things I could and couldn’t bring, and so much more caused my anxiety to stir. The days following my arrival were flooded with orientation activities, eating delicious foods, and meeting new people, and I realized something. Each day is becoming a little bit easier, surroundings are becoming a bit more familiar, and strangers are becoming good friends.
Overcoming some of these things has been no simple task. I reached out to friends who had been abroad in Europe or who currently are in Europe with my questions about what to bring and how to travel and how to get through the first few days, which really helped. I also downloaded Duolingo before coming so I knew I few basic phrases which made me more comfortable (even though I didn’t say them at first in fear of mispronouncing and offending locals) and also just asking locals “how do I say … in Italian?”, because I genuinely want to learn and be respectful, is easy and a great way to learn.
I have just been so humbled. I have never been misunderstood or gone to a store without being able to read labels or felt like I was so out of place in my life. Being put in that vulnerable place where I am in someone else’s territory and feel so unsure of every move I make really put me in my place. It’s easy to see the language barrier as an inconvenience when someone who doesn’t speak English comes to America, but to experience it myself helped me to understand just how incredible people from other cultures are, and how a little kindness goes a long way.
SAI has also made this process easier. When I decided to study abroad, I had a lot of options and it was definitely a tough choice. I wanted to go through a provider program because I thought it would be helpful to have those guides both in the US and in Europe and also to have activities and excursions planned through the program. this decision has already paid off by making arrival and the adjustment period much easier to handle.
Alexa Jo is a spring 2020 Florence student from Winona State University.