Dealing with Challenges While Abroad

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Paige Giordano
November 15, 2023

Studying abroad and traveling can come with some unexpected challenges. I have learned so much so far during my time abroad and have had several experiences with unforeseen challenges. These challenges are probably not something you picture before you start your abroad experience. Instead, you imagine the aesthetic Instagramable version of an abroad experience when in reality pretty much everyone I know has had some crazy story where they were put in an unexpected challenging situation. Don’t let the possibility of challenges scare you but be aware that sometimes things don’t always go quite as planned. Here are some challenges I have faced so far while abroad:

Arrival: I unfortunately had a very challenging arrival to Milan because my flight from Boston got canceled. I arrived at the airport on time and had a smooth boarding. I sat on the plane while the crew tried to figure out a technical issue with the plane. After three hours of sitting there not moving, they determined it was unsafe to fly. I had to quickly figure out how to reschedule my flight so I could get to Milan. I noticed people around me were rescheduling on the airlines app so I was able to quickly reschedule on to the next possible flight. In situations like this I would recommend paying attention to the people around you and don’t be afraid to talk to those around you. It can be really helpful to ask a question to the person next to you to figure out what is going on. People are generally very willing to help you and because you are all in the same situation you can kind of bond over how annoying it is. I spoke to quite a few people who were on the first flight getting onto the new flight and I was able to meet some interesting people that way. I also was able to find another girl doing IES Abroad Milan so it was nice to meet someone in the same situation. 

Luggage Problems: Because my flights got all messed up. My luggage got left in Boston and was going to be flown to Milan the following day. The airline didn’t make it super clear that the luggage wouldn’t be there. They basically were saying it was possible but not likely. Luckily I put Airtags in my luggage which I would highly recommend. Upon landing in Milan, I had a strong feeling my luggage wasn’t going to be there and my Airtag seemed to suggest that even though it hadn’t been updated in several hours. I made the decision to just go straight to the support desk and file it as lost. It was so good I did this because practically everyone else on my flight waited for the conveyor belt of luggage to finish just to notice their luggage wasn’t there. The line was so slow and long by the time I had already been helped. Sometimes you just have to trust your intuition and make a decision and hope for the best. In this scenario, it worked in my favor. I would also highly recommend bringing enough clothes for about a week in a carry-on bag just in case your checked luggage gets lost. 

Getting Sick: You are pretty much bound to get sick while abroad and are extremely lucky if you avoid it. Thinking about a normal semester at university, typically many illnesses are being spread and it really isn’t too different while abroad. Also, if you are traveling a lot and maybe staying up late not getting enough sleep that doesn’t help. I got sick abroad during October. I had a fever and a cough. Luckily, I was only sick for three days. It was okay. IES  Abroad only gives so many excused absences. I would recommend that you are careful about using your absences in classes early on because you just don’t know if you are going to get sick or need to use them later in the semester. I would also recommend bringing some medicine with you. It will make it less stressful, if you suddenly wake up sick. Also, certain over the counter products that exist in the US may not be sold here. Luckily, something nice about living in a homestay was having my host mom bring me tea and not having to worry about dinner. If you live with roommates maybe see if they can help out with bringing you food. You also could use a food delivery service. 

Travel Problems: Running into a few challenges when you are traveling seems to be bound to happen. I think it is actually more likely to happen with study abroad students traveling just because you book trips pretty close to the travel dates and may have limited time to do a ton of research. Also, there can be cultural differences and language barriers that may cause some challenges to arise when traveling. 

One of the biggest challenges I have faced when traveling has been with transportation issues on trips. Some cities have really great public transportation and others do not. This is something I would highly suggest you look into especially when you are booking a place to stay in a city. If it isn’t going to be easy to get to, it may not be worth it. Especially because IES Abroad does not allow students to rent a car so you do have to rely on car services or public transportation. 

When I booked my trip to Venice, I found a 3 day public transportation pass that saved me a lot of money and made sure to book a hostel that was close to the train station so I could easily get to it. This trip my transportation was pretty seamless. I went to Lake Como and had a lot more issues because my friends and I had no idea how unreliable the public transportation was. I booked a Airbnb in Lezzeno which on the map looked fine because it was close to Bellagio and had a nearby bus station and ferry station. It was not great though. The main road was not pedestrian friendly at all so walking around the area was not very safe. There were very limited restaurants nearby and because the road wasn’t very walkable it made the restaurants not super walkable. The ferry mainly dropped passengers off and ran on a very limited basis. The bus was terrible. It only came every hour and on Sundays it came every 2 hours. We had the bus pass us while we waited at the stop multiple times. When we were trying to get back to Milan on Sunday we had a terrible experience where the bus passed us twice because it was too full. We could not get any sort of taxi because when I called they either wouldn’t be able to come to that part of the lake or were in too high demand. My friends were about to miss their flights if we didn’t soon but luckily we were able to get a taxi to pull over that happened to be driving by. I just wish I had known that you cannot just call an Uber or taxi in this location and I would have booked a car service for getting back to the train station in advance. 

In London, transportation was easy to navigate but the cost added up quickly. In Bari, the airport was not in walking distance from the train station and I quickly realized we should have taken a car service instead. I had a situation in Paris where I ended up sleeping in the airport because we had an early morning flight and our airbnb was only 10 minutes away from the airport, but I couldn’t get an Uber/taxi under 50 euros so we just decided it wasn’t worth the possibility of the scheduled Uber canceling on us at 4 a.m. 

Anyways, just research transportation wherever you are going and I would recommend always having a budget that can be flexible in the scenario you run into challenges with transportation because sometimes you unexpectedly may need an expensive taxi, to rebook a train/flight you missed, or just the public transportation costs may be more expensive than you anticipated. Traveling is so fun so don’t let the possibility of problems scare you but I would suggest you prepare for the unexpected to happen and trust that you will always figure out some sort of solution when you face a problem. 

Phone Problems: Okay, so this one could totally be a me thing, but I would say just do a lot of research on your phone plan before you arrive. I did not. I knew I was going to do an Italian SIM because it is way cheaper than an international plan. I am happy I chose this option but I wish I did a little more research. My first issue was with arrival. I was planning on buying an Italian SIM card at the airport. I was able to do this just fine although I did literally no research into the different companies beforehand. I purchased a Vodafone SIM. The problem was I was told the SIM wouldn’t be able to be activated until 3 hours later. I had thought that I would be able to pay $10 a day for service the first day because that was the impression the Verizon guys had given me, however my phone wouldn’t let me do this. So basically, I had no phone service while trying to find my place in Milan which was kinda scary but I survived and made it there just fine. So if I were to go back I would just really make sure you will have access to some type of service when you arrive and I also would potentially look into an ESIM instead of the physical SIM. 

Another issue I had with my phone was that I did not realize the SIM cards have a pin. You should shut off the pin in your settings. I discovered this when I was out getting drinks with friends one night and I decided to power down my phone to save the battery and when I turned it back on I had no service and my phone was prompting me to enter the pin that I did not know. When I got back to my place I was able to find the card with the pin number and fix it, but I did not have service the rest of the night. The easiest solution to this is just to shut the pin off and then you won’t have this problem when you power down the phone or take the SIM card out. 

Overall, I do think doing some sort of Italian SIM works well and is definitely cheaper. My plan is $15 a month when an international plan would have been $100 per month. I have so much data with my plan. I know I am not going to run out and can easily use the hotspot on my phone which is great. You need to make sure your phone is unlocked to get a SIM card though. One of my friends studying in Paris made the mistake of not checking and it took him a while to sort out his phone and he ended up just needing to pay for an international plan. I also have found it helpful having an Italian number because I have needed to call taxi companies and get in touch with different Airbnb owners which I think is easier with an Italian number because some of my friends that kept their US number seemed to struggle with this occasionally. 


Feeling Homesick: I would say I am not someone who really gets homesick much. I moved across the country for university so I am used to being away from my family and hometown friends, but I will say moving abroad has felt slightly different. I absolutely love Milan and have been having so much fun here but I realized I miss my friends at school a lot. Being here has definitely made me realize how much I love my university and my friends from school, so I think I will definitely cherish my last couple of quarters when I return. Being abroad feels like such a bitter sweet thing because I am having sooooo much fun in Milan, I am experiencing so many new things, and having so many cool experiences. But, I am missing my friends and my university a bit however I know for a fact if I stayed home I would have just been wishing I went abroad and that I am having way cooler and more unique experiences than I would be at school doing the same things I have done the past two years. So I would say if you are feeling a little homesick 

1. Remind yourself why you came and how excited you were to study abroad 

2. Focus on all the cool experiences and places you have seen while abroad and just sit with that excitement 

3. Call friends/family from home or if you have other friends abroad try to go visit them (talking to friends and family always makes me feel soooo much better)

4. You also could try to find food/drinks that remind you of home

Being Independent:

One of the craziest differences about being abroad for me was how independent I have had to be here. I am so used to being around all my friends at school all the time. I lived with my best friends, would always be running into people I knew on campus, and would always have set plans every weekend with my friends. Initially, it was strange being technically back in school but not having the same social scene (although there are so many fun things I do here!!). I definitely have had other situations where I have been very independent. I mean I was living completely by myself in California all summer and was interning out there. The environment for study abroad was just a little different than what I was expecting and to be honest I think it may be a little bit more similar to what life will be like post-grad. I think if you attend a really large university or a city school you will find the experience here to be more similar to your experience at home, but coming from a smaller university with a very strong community feel, I felt it was quite different. 

Since IES Abroad Milan is just a building and we don’t have a real campus to hang out on, I have found that I run into classmates a lot less and need to make more of an effort to make plans with friends rather than just relying on spontaneous plans. It feels a lot more like you are just an adult living in the city who has to attend a few classes a day and then you just spend the rest of the day doing whatever you want. I am very involved at my university and am normally busy with clubs, working, hanging out with my friends, going to the gym, etc. Here I have less of that structure and am not naturally around all my friends all the time. I think just learning to be okay being by yourself and not letting that hold you back from what you want to do is important while abroad. You can go to a restaurant, a museum, a workout class, or even on a whole trip by yourself. Do not wait for other people or rely on others to join you. I think if there is something you really want to do or some place you really want to go you should just do it and if you find someone else who wants to join you then great. If not that is totally okay too. 


  • Expect the unexpected
  • If things start to go wrong try your best to remain calm and trust that you are very capable and will eventually figure it out 
  • Have a money “cushion” so that in the scenario things start to go wrong you are okay spending a bit more to get yourself out of the situation (ex. Needing to call a taxi because the public transportation you expected to take stopped running)
  • Reach out to IES Abroad for extra support if needed
  • Know you will probably get sick at some point while abroad. Bring medications with you from home. 
  • Arrival tip: Bring a carry-on bag with necessities and enough clothes to last a few days in the scenario your luggage gets lost
  • Try to have a rough plan when traveling (having a plan is particularly important with transportation, especially if you are trying to make a flight or train!)
  • When traveling, try to give yourself enough buffer time just in case something goes wrong
  • Research phone plans/SIM card options before you come
  • Be okay with doing things by yourself

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Paige Giordano

Hi! I'm Paige Giordano. I am a junior marketing major at Santa Clara University. I am originally from the Boston area. I am studying abroad in Milan, Italy fall semester of 2023. In my free time, I enjoy working out, reading, cooking, and fashion.

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