Last May, I made my journey back from Italy to the United States the evening before graduation. I arrived just in time as my cap and gown were already at home waiting for me courtesy of my mother. I returned to campus, still jetlagged and bewildered over what had transpired during the last six months. I had been all over the world, made new friends, and made memories that would last a lifetime. I had stepped out of my comfort zone and done things I didn't believe I was capable of. I took classes at Italian University and traveled to places like Dubai and Ibiza. I had grown. Tremendously.
So, as I confidently walked across the stage and received my business degree, a wave of disbelief washed over me. So many thoughts and emotions swirling together all at once. To me, this had been the ideal climax for my undergraduate journey. This is the conclusion I sought for my college career, and if I had the chance, I would do it all over again in an instant.
As I reflect on my experience since, I was able to realize my appreciation for the world. Studying abroad was the best decision I ever made. My time abroad unlocked experiences, memories, and relationships that I never would have realized otherwise. Like most things, yes, studying abroad requires a leap of faith. However, I can promise you this: If you dare to take that chance and step out of your comfort zone, the memories will be worth it for years to come. In this article, I'll aim to share some of the greatest lessons I learned during my time abroad in Milan, Italy.
1. Talk to Everyone
As basic as it may sound, literally yes, talk to everyone. From the cashier at the grocery store to the lady next to you on the metro, build as many possible connections as you can! Verbatim, however, make a conscious effort to speak with everyone regardless of the situation or circumstance. I can attest that the more connections you have in the country the more comfortable you’ll be. Living in a foreign country is challenging for everyone regardless of the duration. Naturally, I've been more of an introverted person historically and was anxious in Italy initially. However, what I learned over time is that it's truly beneficial to speak to everyone. You never know the potential connection that could come out of that conversation and the relationship you could forge.
2. Stay True to Yourself
There is a lot of pressure being abroad. Being my first time outside the country, one of the biggest challenges I faced was cultural assimilation. Yes, you should gradually assimilate into whatever country you’re in. The mistake I made, however, was forgetting who I was. For some time I was lost. Always remember your roots and where you came from. Stay in touch with family and friends back home and reconnect with yourself by doing activities that you enjoy. Remember to never compromise, and never forgot your true self.
3. Structure Each Day
Our time abroad is very limited, therefore you have to make the absolute most of each day. Time management skills are critical, even more so abroad. You still have to manage responsibilities like going to class, studying, or interning. In a new environment with so much freedom, maintaining focus can be difficult, to say the least. As they say, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. While in Milan I would plan out my day the night before I went to bed. This helped ensure that I accomplished everything I needed to and help set me up for success the next day.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Venture Alone
At the end of the day, you’re going to have to take some calculated risks. If you want to do something and can’t find a friend to participate, save yourself the mental gymnastics and just do it.
Inaction is the killer of joy. Don’t allow yourself to be held back from something outside of your control. If you want to visit Capri and no one is available, go forth. If you want to see Greece but all your friends are in Portugal, go anyway. Being abroad is a golden time to indulge in the activities you've always dreamed of and discover the places you've longed to see. The worst feeling in the world is regret. There's no need to place limitations on yourself because of what other people are doing. Treat your time abroad like it's precious. Do not be afraid to venture into new experiences alone, and don't hesitate to embrace solo adventures.
5. Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst
It’s inevitable; nothing ever goes as planned in this world. It’s almost a guarantee, actually, that something will go awry doing your time abroad. I experienced my fair share of mishaps. From spending the night in a train station in Rome to being lost in Budapest, there were a plethora of impromptu situations, to say the least. The biggest piece of advice I can offer is to always hope for the best and prepare for the worst. I learned over time that the mindset of being prepared can aid you tremendously when it comes to learning to circumvent situations. Hoping for the best while preparing for the worst is a philosophy you need mental experience with before arriving overseas.
Marcus Aurelius once stated, “It is not death a man should fear, instead he should fear never beginning to live.” Quoted from Meditations, a series of personal writings teaching Stoic philosophy, Marcus urged the Roman public to live and experience life. Now I kindly invite you to answer the same question. Have you begun to live? Now, after studying abroad in Italy; I can now confidently say I have indeed.
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Hello! My name is Leonardo Hall, I'm a senior studying International Business and Economics at the University of Puget Sound. I'm studying abroad in Milan to study business and explore Italian culture. I love running, music, and traveling. This spring, I hope to have tons of new and exciting experiences in Italy, and that sharing them with you helps you get the most out of your time abroad!