Taking Advantage of this Opportunity

Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime experience that most people are unable to repeat. Therefore, I thought I should take advantage of as many opportunities as possible to see the world while abroad. I realized that it is okay if I was unable to go to a different country every weekend, but I made a point of exploring wherever I decided to go. So, I have complied a list of five essential things one should do in order to gain the most from this experience.

Making sure everyone knows the plan.

            I realized very quickly how important it is to coordinate information about transportation plans and where I was staying with the girls I was traveling with during personal travel time. It is very necessary to make sure everyone has booked the same plane tickets, trains, and knows exactly where they are staying before leaving to travel. I was not expecting how much of a language barrier there would be in Italy, and it is so easy to get separated from the group. So, I always made sure I was able to navigate the train or metro systems and have the right tickets in case anything happens.

Stepping out of a comfort zone

            Traveling allows one to experience new, exciting things almost every single day. I learned that while it is important to be cautious, it is equally as important to step out of my comfort zone. For instance, I am sometimes nervous about trying new foods, but when I tried Porchetta for the first time, I instantly fell in love with the local delicacy.

Being aware

After a couple of weeks of studying abroad, I realized that people take advantage of tourists who do not know certain rules or know what they are doing. I learned that it is okay to speak up and politely question a bill at a restaurant or tell them that they did not give me enough change back. Sometimes it is a misunderstanding, but I soon became comfortable with sternly questioning what seemed ‘off’ or unfair.

Doing research

            I personally do not enjoy visiting a place during personal travel time without doing some research about the best places to go. Apps like Yelp, Pinterest, OpenTable, and reading travel blogs have really helped me figure out the best things to do in each place. Yes, it is fun to stumble into a great restaurant or cool area every now and then. But researching the culture, landmarks and museums of the places I visited helped me better manage my time, experience and money.

Managing money

            Although the smaller towns in Italy are very reasonably priced, I found that larger cities in Europe are usually much more expensive. However, even in the most expensive cities, I figured out how to properly manage my money. When in my residence during the week, I typically avoid eating out for meals as much as possible and try cooking most of my meals at home. This saves so much extra money for the weekend and keeps my waistline in check. I also make sure I always have cash on hand, because it makes splitting bills and paying for taxis a lot easier.

Staying healthy

            Like I said before, cooking meals at home during the week really helps me watch my figure. I also limit the amount of pasta and cheese I eat by going to the local butcher and fruit/vegetable stands to get fresh ingredients for my meals. Working out is hard to squeeze into the schedule, but I make sure I go on at least a 45 minute walk every day even if it is just to go run some errands. Getting on a solid sleep schedule also helps me get through my day, and I make sure I have some melatonin or tea right before bed in order to ensure a good night’s rest.

            Studying abroad was not how I expected it to be. The world is full of interesting places, with vastly different cultures and languages from what I am used to. I have laughed, cried, relaxed, panicked, and most importantly learned so many valuable lessons living in a different place than I could ever imagine.

This is a photo of my friend and I after we explored the Coliseum and had a great, planned out day of Rome.

-Madeline Hand