Studying abroad teaches you a lot of things, not only about yourself, but about the world and the people that live in it. It is overwhelming and amazing and breathtaking and every other feeling in the book. When you get thrown into a new culture, your eyes are forced open, and it’s either sink or swim. You can choose to feel overwhelmed and let that cripple you to staying in your apartment for the semester/year that you are there, or you can choose to live like the locals and experience things you’ve never dreamed of. I chose the latter, and you should too. So far, in my 4 months abroad, I have learned a lot of things.
1. Basic “necessities” are a lot harder when you leave the USA.
The U.S. has made it their mission to make things convenient. From getting gas, to getting food, to grocery shopping. Things are hard when you’re abroad. For one, it is impossible to find WiFi (I am currently writing this from a local KFC that has the fastest WiFi I have come across). Coming from America, where WiFi is literally everywhere and we all walk around like zombies with our face in our phones, having no WiFi is a refreshing shock. Stressful, but refreshing.
2. America is doing this whole traveling thing very very wrong.
Honestly, I am blown away with how easy it is to travel here. I have met people from Italy that have been EVERYWHERE in Europe. On my last trip, a Spaniard was asking me what state was next to Massachusetts, and I found it impossible to remember. He looked at me like I was crazy, not knowing my own country enough to recall what state is next to Massachusetts. I have taken trains and MegaBuses around Europe for 15 euro and flights across Europe for 90 euro… round trip! I haven’t spent more than 200 euro on a round trip plane ticket and I just got back from Africa! Italy to Africa! So America, tell me why my flight from Idaho to California is $300+? Please. Tell me.
3. Food is weird and amazing at the same time.
Italian food is AMAZING. Cappuccinos, risottos, pasta, pizza, croissants. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Bread is everywhere and it is delicious. However, if you have ever ordered sea bass and received a full fish on your plate, you know what I mean by the “food is weird” part. American food is really standard. You can walk down the street and pass a Mexican restaurant, sushi restaurant, and In-N-Out. In Italy, you can walk down the street and pass pastry shops, Cafes, and then boom there’s a pig head staring you in the face from the shop next door. I went to buy bacon, and instead got pig intestines. I went to buy chicken breast, and there in front of me was a fully skinned chicken wrapped neatly in plastic wrap for my convenience, beak and all. The difference of food in America vs. Europe is insane. Even the fast food here doesn’t really taste like fast food, it has a more authentic taste.
4. There are some really crappy people in the world
Since being here, I have experienced almost every race, religion, and personality there is. I have safari’d with Muslim Moroccans, lived amongst Catholic Italians, bartered with Africans, partied with Spaniards, and the one thing I have learned, is that no matter where you go, there are going to be people that are, for lack of a better word, shitty. On my last flight I was elbowed, grabbed, and hit in the face (accidentally) by an Italian woman next to me, while her young child screamed and spilled things everywhere. Just a complete lack of courtesy mixed with a high level of rudeness. There are also a lot of fake people I have encountered. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people are two-faced, or act a certain way to try and get people to like them, no matter what the cost is to those around them. And don’t even get me started on the terrorist attacks all over the world, like the most recent Brussels attack.
5. There are some really amazing people in the world.
Of course, mixed with the bad, there is a very large share of amazing people I have come across. For example, on my recent trip to Morocco I met some of the most genuine and helpful people that I have ever come across. A lot of the people I come across over here are truly so kind. My Italian I professor made every class so enjoyable with her jokes and stories about Italy. A lot of the time when people hear us speaking English, they will talk to us, trying to improve their English and asking us about where we are from, genuinely interested. Almost everyone I have met speaks more than one language, which I think is incredible. In Morocco, the tour guides spoke roughly 4+ languages with ease. I am blown away with how “cultured” people on this side of the world are. Come on America, why didn’t you force me to take a language all the way to fluency like over here?
6. The world is really not that big.
In my short 4 months studying in Europe I have been to 2 continents, 5 countries, and countless cities. For Spring Break I spent the first half in Barcelona, Spain, and the second half in Marrakesh, Morocco. I woke up in Spain, and fell asleep in Africa. I struggle to wrap my brain around this. I have seen and done so much in such a short amount of time. Geography aside, I have been in places where some of the people I am with run into old friends from middle school, not having a prior clue that the other was in Europe. What are the odds that you run into someone you know, halfway across the world? In Barcelona, my boyfriend Cameron and I were walking with our friends down La Rambla (a main tourist strip in the heart of the city), and we were offered information about a club from two (rude) American girls, I brushed it off, but Cam was certain he had seen one of the girls before. When we got back to the hostel he discovered that the girl had recently graduated from the college we attend in the Greek system we are associated with. What are the odds? Small world.
7. Soda changes wherever you go.
I know, this one isn’t the greatest discovery, but being the Coca-Cola lover I am, this one is huge. I have gotten a Coke in every country I have visited, and it never tastes the same. The Coke in Italy is so sweet and goes flat pretty much upon opening. The Coke in Morocco tastes like it has some sort of spice in it, and it is delicious. The Coke in the U.S. tastes syrupy and stays carbonated for forever. The Sprite in America is sweet and mixes well with vodka, while the Sprite in Italy is bitter and awful. Fanta (delicious) is popular in Italy, not so much in the U.S. Mind blowing, really.
8. Foreign gyms are a scary, scary place.
The gyms in Italy are small, smelly, sweaty, and scary. However, I was determined to staying fit abroad.
At first, it was overwhelming how many people they can fit into a small space meant for working out. In the middle of your workout, someone will come up and take the weight off your bar, or your dumbbells from next to you. A lot of peoples’ forms are so off it’s painful to watch. People “set up shop” in a small area, bringing 5 sets of dumbbells, one bar, and two benches into a small area for themselves. In the locker rooms there are just a bunch of naked people walking around and having casual conversations. This was the most shocking part. Cameron said that in the men’s locker room there will be naked men talking to each other with their legs up on a bench (lovely visual). Kinda funny though. At first, all of this stuff combined was horrible and made me not want to work out. Now, I can’t imagine not working out there. We have met some of the coolest people at the gym. Being one of the only women working out in the weights section was weird in the beginning, but now I really enjoy it. When studying abroad, it is inevitable that you will gain weight, but how much is up to you. Check out the local gyms, it is a really great place to meet some of the locals.
9. Money is not everything.
Honestly people, I know money is important, but it is not everything. I have discovered that I would much rather leave Italy at the end of my program with $0.00 in the bank than try to save my money and miss out on something I really wanted to see. Yes, I may have spent 90 euro on a wine tasting in Florence, but how many people can say they rode Vespas through the Tuscany countryside? I have never regretting spending money on a trip. I have, however, regretted spending money on material things while being here. You know how our parents drilled into our heads to spend money on experiences, not things? It is so true.
10. I have said “no” way too much in my life, when saying “yes” is the best thing I have ever done.
The main thing that I have learned is to just say yes. Say yes to that random Monday night at the bar with your friends. Say yes to the African man selling a really cool piece of art on the streets of Morocco. Say yes to eating the local food. Say yes to an overnight excision in the Sahara Desert. Say yes to walking through a flooded Venice during a rare Aqua Alta. Say yes to that 20 person hostel room. Say yes to having the experiences of a lifetime. Stop saying no. Stop saying “what if” and start livin’ ya damn life.
Get out there and just do it.