I leave for Milan tomorrow. For what felt like ages, I felt dread building up inside me and I was afraid it wouldn’t stop snowballing. I knew I’d be leaving my comfort zone, meeting new people, and speaking a language I’m far from fluent in, all while farther from my friends and family than I’ve ever been. But now as I’m counting down the hours to my departure, to my own astonishment, I’m actually far more confident than I expected I’d be. The key along the way was tricking my brain into interpreting my nerves as excitement (the physiological responses to both emotions are similar, so it’s easier than you think!). Here’s how I got there.
I can make myself do, enjoy, or become anything if I romanticize it hard enough. I started with the fun stuff: researching Italian media, learning about local bands and celebrities. There’s no way I’m getting to a Måneskin concert and not understanding a word that’s said, so I started watching their interviews and getting a better grip on the language—way more motivating than Duolingo (although I used that, too). At the same time, I started making Pinterest boards, not only around the things I want to do and see, but also around how I want to grow as a person.
Here’s where it helped me the most, though: I learned to even romanticize the difficult logistic processes. For Visa application sessions, booking tickets, or any other work you have to do, set up your space if you’re able. Light candles, make some tea or a smoothie, and play music. Brown noise in the headphones kept me sane (and I highly recommend it for any neurodivergent folks out there trying to get some work done—Deep Layered Brown Noise 12 Hours on YouTube). I even put on my glasses, which make me feel significantly more responsible somehow. Do whatever you need to somehow appreciate the difficult parts of the process, and you’ll push through it.
GET A PENPAL
You don’t have to actually send letters back and forth (unless that’s your thing—honestly, I almost tried it). My favorite resource for this is the app HelloTalk—a language exchange app that connects you with native speakers of your target language who want to learn a language you speak. Even if you don’t know enough of your target language to carry a conversation in it, plenty of people want to practice their English while discussing their home country and life there. I’ve been recommended songs to listen to, shows to watch, niche places to visit, and much more. And of course, if you are learning their language, it’s a perfect place to practice and ask questions!
I use the desktop app Notion to organize everything in my life, and it’s been an absolute lifesaver for preparing to study abroad. If you’re not familiar with Notion, it’s a digital note-taking and organization workspace you can download to your computer and your phone—there are lots of videos on YouTube explaining how it works. I have a checkbox list of everything I’ve needed to do to prepare, and throughout the process I’ve checked it occasionally to ensure I was still on track and hadn’t forgotten anything. I have a page for learning Italian, a bucket list, and a color-coded packing list. Having these systems helps me to feel more in control of the process, which lowers my anxiety and reassures me that I’m not falling behind. I can’t recommend this enough (and if anybody wants the template to my page, feel free to contact me and I can send it over).
MAKE A (simple) BUCKET LIST
I’ve seen other bloggers write on this need they feel to make their trip The Experience. I expect to easily fall into this mindset, so in making my bucket list, I’ve been very intentional to set realistic expectations for myself. Rather than listing high-energy trips that’ll take more time than I can guarantee I’ll have, I’m making a list of small yet significant things I hope to do. Here are just a few examples:
Get a tattoo
Find street performers
People-watch at a park
Meet locals outside my program
Have a successful conversation in Italian
They’re simple things, but thinking about them somehow gets me more excited than thinking about visiting the Duomo di Milano or the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.
Even using the tactics I came up with, the dread never fully went away. I’ve been able to turn some nerves into excitement, yet still, I’ve stayed nervous. But it’s been helpful, and I want to keep incorporating tools like these into my day-to-day life so I can also stay excited and well-grounded.