My Study Abroad Advice

Allison Derrick headshot
Allison Derrick
May 18, 2024

Rome was a wonderful place to study abroad this past semester, and there are many things I’ve learned along the way that I would recommend to other students who are about to travel abroad. 

1. Get a local SIM card in your country. 

This is based on my personal experience in Rome, but buying a SIM card at Vodafone was a huge money saver and I ran into virtually zero problems with phone service, even when traveling to other countries. My particular phone plan with Verizon offered an international plan of $100/month, where you could keep your phone number and use it normally abroad. However, my roommate, Ella, and I decided to go with IES Abroad to Vodafone, where we figured out a phone plan that was $25 for the first month, then $10 for each month after. We had a different phone number for the whole semester that started with +39. We renewed our balance each month on the same day and it was super easy! This worked well for my friends who were abroad in Madrid and Copenhagen as well. 

2. Document your whole experience!

I brought along my digital camera and made sure I took at least one picture on it a day so I would have a little collection when I was done with the semester. I also kept a journal, where I would write at least a sentence each day to remember the smaller things that I otherwise wouldn’t have. Having all the pictures and writing to look back on will be something I’m really glad I did when I’m missing this semester. Blogging through IES Abroad is another way to document your semester!

3. Buy postcards everywhere

Every new place we went to, my friends and I would buy a postcard and write about our trip on the back of it. Now I have a little pile of them that I can flip through and remember the smaller parts of the trips. This is such a fun souvenir that doesn’t take up a lot of space in your bag, either. 

4. Spend some weekends in your home city

This was advice that was given to me before I left, and I didn’t really understand why until the end of my program. I think I spent about 4 weekends in Rome, and that’s on the higher side of most students in this program. It’s so easy and exciting to travel somewhere else on the weekends, but I definitely could have enjoyed more time in Rome, just walking around and experiencing all the city has. This is also particularly true in Rome because there’s just so much to do that you can never do it all, truly. But prioritizing a few weekends to just stay in the city you’re studying in and seeing what it has to offer is something I would really recommend. 

5. Try to learn the language

This is maybe the one regret I have. I was taking Italian class and learning, but putting it into practice is much more difficult than I thought. I usually felt awkward, so I wouldn’t try to the fullest extent. In hindsight, I would have put more effort into practicing Italian in real-life Rome, and I also would have tried learning a little bit before I got there, if it was possible. 

6. Invest in the experiences in whichever city you’re in

Tourism is a huge industry in Rome, as we all know, and we didn’t really think of paying for the tours and events until the end, but it is a great way to experience and properly see the history and monuments. We finally bought tickets to go into the Colosseum at the very end of our semester, and I am so glad we did. I went to the Sistine Chapel with my family when they were here. In the cities that we traveled to, we sometimes would research around and pick a boat tour or something similar that was affordable and allowed us to see a side of the place we wouldn’t otherwise have seen. In Rome, we went to a Lazio game and it was worth every penny. In most cases, I would say there’s a reason why these different events and tours are flooded with people; there are so many things worth seeing! 

One of my favorite things I did in Rome was take a pasta making class in Piazza Navona with my friends. It was so much fun and very easy to participate in.

7. Some luggage/travel essentials!

First, I would highly recommend the travel backpack from Amazon that pretty much everyone has. It fits the plane requirements of RyanAir and other similar airlines, holds way more than it looks like it does, and was a lifesaver on our trips where we packed a lot of days into just that one bag. I think my roommates and I all had them, and they’re super useful for traveling in general after the semester is over. 

Next, I ran into a few different suitcase issues. On the way over, the airline lost my suitcase and weren’t able to track it down for a few days. For this reason I would recommend getting a Tile or an AirTag so you can have some peace of mind that you know where your luggage is! Everything got sorted out and was all good, but that’s something I wish I had invested in before I left. My carry-on suitcase handle broke as we returned home, so I would also recommend bringing a suitcase with the wheels that can spin on the bottom. That would have been a lot easier to bring through an airport, especially without a handle!

A portable charger. This is such a crucial item to have; Ella had a portable charger with different cords to connect to different phones, and we always used it on long trips or if we had issues with the converters. 

Comfortable pair of shoes. We walked so much every day, sometimes upwards of 30,000 steps. Having a pair of shoes that were in good shape and comfortable was super important. I replaced my shoes right before I left and they’re already very worn from just one semester. 

Most importantly, stay present and enjoy it! This is such a beautiful experience and it is totally what you make of it. 

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Allison Derrick headshot

Allison Derrick

Hi, I'm Allison! I’m from Maine and a big fan of iced chai lattes, taking pictures with my 2011 digital camera, some good throwback music, and falling asleep on the beach. I'm in search of finding the very best pasta and gelato in Italy, so join me!

2024 Spring
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Lafayette College
Environmental Studies
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