When you are studying abroad, locals don’t really like you very much. Vendors will lie to you about how much something costs, police officers will lie to you about offenses… the world is full of lies. Sorry to be the one to break it to you. But, here is something you may not know. Not only does your host country lie to you, but your ADVISOR has lied to you. Once again, sorry.
Before I came abroad, people gave me loads and loads of advice, many of which I meticulously listed like some kind of maniac. I packed according to these seemingly well known rules, planned my trips, organized my schedule. And then as soon as I got here, I realized all of these people were mostly wrong.
Okay, to be fair, everyone is different, and different advice works differently for different people. At the same time, I’ve only been here for two weeks, so you probably shouldn’t trust me anyhow. But for me, and maybe you, too, here are a couple tidbits of advice that will make you want to pull your own hair off once you cross the pond.
1. Don’t overpack. Well first of all, overpacking is a pretty broad term, but I’m guessing these people mean “Don’t bring a ton of shit.” So when I came abroad, I got to the gate with my two measly suitcases, and noticed… everyone else had a lot more than I did. Crap. Now that I’m here, I see that in some miracle, my roommate brought an actual appropriate amount of things to wear and actually looks nice for class while I am sitting in the back of the room with a holey t-shirt and shorts. This makes me sad. So if you’re not planning on spending a lot of money to shop (Um, I have clothes, I really didn’t need more) then bring an appropriate amount so that you won’t feel compelled to buy more.
2. Follow (this) list of clothes. On the many packing lists I saw all over the Internet, people would list like five t-shirts, one dress, one set of pajamas, seven pairs of underwear… Umm WHAT? Luckily, I caught on the absurdity of this before I got here, but really? I change my outfit like four times a day, and I like it that way. It’s the little things in life people. So don’t rely too much on those Internet packing lists. For instance, at home, I never ever wear jeans and instead wear leggings. So why would I bring three pairs of jeans to Europe? I’m sorry, but the best fashion in the world will not make me want to stuff those babies on my legs.
3. Have your parents send you money each month/week/etc. What are you, twelve? First of all, if your parents are anything like mine, they seem to be on another planet most of the time. I don’t know about you but the last thing I want to do is let my parents control the money I’M spending. I can see it now. Mom: “Really? You need a new bag? Why? I don’t get it.” Um, shut up mom. Plus, you’re TWENTY-YEARS-OLD! You might as well learn how to budget before you, oh I don’t know… graduate college?
4. Don’t plan trips before you leave. This is a NOT GOOD IDEA. Seriously. Yes, you will meet new friends who will be really cool and will want to plan trips with you. But let me tell you something– if you try to book Oktoberfest in any month after August with your new bff, there will be no spots and you will be spending the weekend in your dorm. Alone. So book the musts- maybe one or two (especially big festivals like Oktoberfest, and for Italy people, the Amalfi Coast)- before you actually hit the road. This will make you feel like you’re well on your way, too, which is nice.
5. This is a real school. I don’t know what colleges you guys go to (clown college, maybe?) but I have never gotten so little work in my entire life. I think the last time I had to do a bs worksheet was before the fifth grade. Don’t get me wrong here, classes are interesting and sometimes boring, just like classes at home. But you won’t have a panic attack every time you look at the syllabus and spend hours upon hours writing papers and presentations and reports. Instead, you will spend hours upon hours traveling the WORLD!
6. You will be homesick. Okay, to be fair, I’m two weeks in, so this will probably change. Anyway, during the summer, I was obscenely bored at home. I figured that once I got here though, I would miss it and make it seem like a utopia in my own head. Um, NEGATORY. I feel like I never lived there at all. It’s a really nice feeling to forget about my boring hometown for a bit. I try to forget about home as much as I can. I miss some of my friends and family, but I know that a day in the very near future will come when I will see them again, so I really just feel like I’m on vacation.
7. You cannot sustain a relationship here. Have you ever gone on vacation and not hooked up with someone? Uh, probably, unless you’re a huge slut. Like I said, this is like vacation, and thanks to Skype/ Email/ WhatsApp/ Phones/ Snail Mail/ Texting/ etc., it doesn’t even really feel like you’re away from them at all. Don’t end your relationship just because you’re going away for a little while. It’s not worth it because hooking up with locals doesn’t suddenly make you a citizen of the world– TRAVELING THE WORLD DOES.
8. Prepare for culture shock. I think that saying this is actually a stage of culture shock, which is when you eventually get really depressed and hate your host country for a bit because it’s so different from your real life. But if you have half a brain, you have probably realized that being a student studying abroad isn’t very much like being a real local. For instance, here in Italy, I speak English most of the time (even if I speak in Italian, vendors talk back to me in English… frick), I go out during the week (well, other students do, I have class at 9:00 am every day), I see American sorority girls in Lily Pulitzer dresses and Tory Burch sandals, and I cook sad meals that feature cheap pasta and bad wine. I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t as close to a “real Italian experience” as we would like to think. Don’t get me wrong, it’s crazy fun to be a student abroad and you learn a lot about yourself even if you think you won’t. But being a real Italian when you have been a ditzy American for the last twenty years? Yeah, no.
9. You’ll know your way around by day three. Uhh what? I still get lost in my college town sometimes. Even though I’m not too far into my living here, I really can’t imagine being able to give anybody directions without a map in my face (and even then) by the last day I have here. Jeez, I hope I can find the airport.
10. If you’re careful, you won’t get sick the first few weeks. In our group of about twenty, I think fifteen are sick right now. These are not good odds. As of right now, my dear roommate Andrea is passed out in a pile on her bed and sneezes so much that I told her I’m just going to make a recording of me saying “Bless you.” Let’s consider here– you’re in a foreign country, you’re in a city, you have many roommates, you’re eating food you have never had and you probably don’t know what it is, you regularly sleep on buses, and you drink on days that end in “Y.” I’m pretty sure you’re gonna get sick. Bring Theraflu. SERIOUSLY. You’ll be happy you did.
So that’s all I have for now. Like I said, I’ve only been here for two weeks, so who knows if any of this stuff will change for me. I’ll keep you updated. CIAO!