The longest amount of time I’ve spent in Italy is 15 minutes. It was a gas station pit stop in Acceglio (or maybe Canosio?) the summer after my first year of college while I was touring France with a choir from my hometown. Now, I’m starting my last year of college studying abroad in Milan for 16 weeks— pursuing my dual-degree in Creative Writing and Opera & Voice Performance.
One of the first questions I get when I tell people where I’m studying abroad is: “Why Milan?”
I’ve always dreamed of studying abroad (even before I was enrolled in college). Growing up in southern California, I’ve always been fascinated by the sheer oldness of other countries. 1900 feels ancient where I’m from, so the concept of buildings dating back to 1300 is almost incomprehensible. Living in another country is an ideal way for me to experience the stories and paintings I spent years learning about in school. Outside of my academic specializations, I’m an avid museum-goer, shopaholic, architecture enthusiast, and a mindful foodie. Milan is the perfect jack of all trades AND a master of all: legendary poets, musical prodigies, fashion pioneers, culinary innovators, and the list goes on and on.
But between pursuing two bachelor’s degrees and managing multiple mental illnesses, I never thought I would get the chance to live in another country. I told myself that study abroad was something only “healthy” students got to experience. The last (and only time) I was in Italy, I was just beginning my recovery from disordered eating. And now, after five years into recovery, my chance to study abroad has arrived. In less than a day, I’ll be traveling for over 24-hours and half way across the world. I’ve spent months preparing, but there are still a lot of little things that I’m nervous about.
Should I practice my Italian just a little bit more?
Did I exchange enough currency? Did I exchange too much currency?
My introductory interview with the Collegio di Milano (where I’ll be living for the next semester) calmed my little fears and bigger fears.
- Should I bring my prescription drugs with me? - Yes! In Milan (and other places around the world), many prescription drugs in the US are not available. Call your healthcare provider before you leave to make sure you have enough to last for your entire trip. Be sure to store them in your carry-on bag just in case your checked bag gets lost!
- Will I have support? - Yes! Having professional support at your study abroad destination is essential, especially for students with mental illnesses. You can connect with your IES Abroad Center’s counselors or Psychological Consultant! As well, you will have allies at your living situation - whether that’s your homestay family, floormates, or roommates.
I’m slowly learning that being “perfect” isn’t required to be “prepared.” In fact, preparation for study abroad requires imperfection and, more specifically, being okay when things don’t go perfectly. I’m not saying everything should be tossed to the wind (read: I’ve checked my passport at least 2 dozen times to make sure that my name is spelled correctly)! But I think imperfection, flexibility, and improvisation should be packed in everyone’s luggage.
The last question I asked the staff members of the Collegio di Milano was, “What is the biggest challenge American students face while studying in Milan?” At first, the two staff members looked at each other and chuckled. To my relief, they delved into how easy it is for students to find a community in Milano--whether it be through academic courses, housing activities, or striking up a conversation with someone at a restaurant.
“But,” they warned, “Milan is not like other Italian cities. The beauty of Milan must be discovered.”
So as my time in the States dwindles, I’m most eager to discover—myself and Milan. It’s food. It’s history. It’s culture. It’s imperfections. And, ultimately, all of the things that make Milan beautiful.
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Kandise Le Blanc
<p>Born and raised in Long Beach, California (Home of the Almighty Snoop Dogg), Kandise attends Northwestern University—studying Creative Writing and Opera & Voice Performance. She is a fitness junkie, avid tea drinker, and local activist. When she’s not writing or singing, you can find her obsessing over avocados, miniature models, and all things Ella Fitzgerald.</p>