2 Weeks Into Study Abroad: Things I Have Learned So Far

Willa Thomas headshot
Willa Thomas
September 19, 2023
Photo of Willa in the streets of Milan

Things I’ve Learned 2 Weeks into Study Abroad:

  1. Nothing ever goes perfectly to plan, and that’s okay!

It sounds cheesy I know but going into this experience I was (still am!) a major planner. I really didn’t do well when something didn’t go exactly as I had imagined it. So far, that has been my biggest lesson. Not everything that you plan or do is going to be exactly as you had imagined. In fact, it’s probably good that it doesn’t go perfectly.

One experience from the past two weeks is a perfect example of this, I booked a spontaneous trip to the South of France last week to visit a friend. When the day came to travel, I arrived at my first bus full of nerves and excitement. Everything was going great, and I was really starting to feel like I could do this whole study abroad travel thing. When the time came to transfer busses, I had heard that transport could be a little bit iffy so I was prepared for my next bus to be a little later than scheduled. However, I was not prepared for the bus to be almost an hour late. The main stressor in this situation was having the ability to communicate with anyone about where it was because I didn’t speak the language. This is when the panic started to build. I was alone at a bus station and, at that point, did not think I would make it to Nice. The only thing to do was sit and wait. The best reminder for me in this situation was that I would be okay no matter what. I could always catch a bus back home if needed. Luckily, I met a woman from my last bus who kindly guided me through the whole process. Apparently, this happens a lot, good to know when planning! But everything was fine, the bus arrived, and I made it safely to my destination.

While this was a small bump in the road in the grand scheme of things, I think it was an important lesson to experience early on. And to have the reassurance that things can go wrong and still be great! I’m really hoping these experiences this semester will help me grow and be able to roll with the punches a little easier.

  1. Say yes to everything you can!

I’m naturally a more quiet person when getting to know new people. Coming into study abroad I was worried I would have trouble connecting with the people in my program because of this. I chose a smaller program on purpose to take some of the pressure off, but I also knew I was going have to commit to getting to know people to make the connections I was looking for, no matter how nervous it made me. The best thing for this, I found, was saying yes to everything you possibly can, especially in the first few days/ weeks. This sounds obvious but it's imperative to making good connections with other students. Even something as simple as sitting at a café with a few other people or taking an aimless walk around your new city leads to some of the most interesting conversations and connections. Don’t let nerves or anxiety keep you from meeting your new best friends. It ended up being easier than I thought it would be. While the people around you come from so many different walks of life, you all have one major thing in common, studying in a completely new city! Let that help you bond with the other people around you.

  1. Don't get too overwhelmed, enjoy the little things!

My first day in Siena was magical! We spent the entire day walking around in awe of the city we get to live in. Everything felt perfect, my apartment was beautiful, the city had a great vibe, and the people were so nice. Naturally, one of the first topics to come up in conversation was everyone’s travel plans. I had only planned one trip before arriving in Siena. The extent of the rest of my planning was a mental list of places in Europe that I thought looked cool.

It didn’t take long for me to get completely overwhelmed. I felt so much pressure to do a bucket list trip every weekend and I couldn’t even figure out the layout of my small city yet, let alone all the buses, trains, and planes it would take to travel. This is when I learned the most valuable lesson yet. Take things one at a time. Focus on your plans for tomorrow and the upcoming weekend. I recommend not jumping into big trips right away and spending a weekend in the city you are studying in first so that you can really see it in all its glory. Then you can start planning your trips. The biggest thing that has helped me in planning was to buy a monthly calendar so that I could lay out the entire 3.5 months. Then, I’ve started slowly filling the weekends in with places to go being careful not to let myself get too stressed or overwhelmed with the planning. Anytime I felt like it got too much I would take a break and go for a walk in my new city to remind myself how lucky I am to even be in Siena. Even if that was the only city I saw for the entire semester it would still be a life-changing experience.

They might be cheesy but those are the three biggest things I’ve learned in my two weeks of being in Siena.  While I know there will be plenty more learning and life experiences ahead of me I hope these three tips can help with adjusting to a new culture and environment. 

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Willa Thomas headshot

Willa Thomas

My name is Willa Thomas and I am originally from San Diego, CA. I am a biology major on the pre-nursing track but chose to study business and economics while abroad to learn something new and broaden my horizons!

2023 Fall
Home University:
Wofford College
Biological Sciences
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