My preparations for the upcoming semester are very different than most of my friends staying in the US and even my friends going abroad because I have an autoimmune disease called Primary Immunodeficiency Disease (PIDD). This means that on top of organizing my visa, picking classes, and applying for housing, I am also communicating with my doctors and the IES Abroad staff to develop a plan for my medical care and medications. At first, all of this felt very overwhelming and serious, but I soon learned that with the help of the IES Abroad staff, it was all very doable. Because this process was so easy, I had more time to get excited about the fun things I would get to do when I was in Italy instead of being nervous about my ability to stay healthy while abroad. And I have lots of time to shop for my new Italian wardrobe!
The main thing I have learned throughout this process has been not to get stuck on your original ideas and preconceived notions about studying abroad because it really can be whatever you want it to be. At first, I was kind of nervous I wouldn’t be able to find a program that truly excited me because I am a biology major. I felt stuck in that area of study and could only go to a handful of countries. Once I learned that it was okay to branch out and look at other subjects and countries, I found a program that fit who I was as a person and what I wanted to get out of this semester. My other source of hesitation was what it would look like for me to go abroad because of my autoimmune disorder. Part of me didn’t even think it would be possible but thanks to some careful planning and a lot of amazing support from my doctors, family, and the IES Abroad staff it is. Keeping an open mind and seeking out solutions to these worries has given me so many more opportunities that I didn’t even know existed. While I might have some extra things to prepare it doesn’t mean that I can’t have the same amazing experiences as other students and I am so thankful for that.
Now, after lots of preparations, lists, packing, and some tearful goodbyes, I’m finally leaving for a semester full of adventures. While it was sad saying goodbye to my family and friends (especially my dogs!), I have an overall feeling of contentment that I am choosing the right path. I know that this semester is going to include so many lifelong friends and memories and I truly cannot wait to get started. My first stop is Madrid where I am currently writing this post, poolside on a rooftop overlooking the city (hard to believe that this is my life, I know). So far I have explored the city, done some shopping, and eaten all of the tasty food Madrid has to offer. Next, I am heading to Milan with my dad and checking off a major bucket list item (the first of many this semester I’m sure): attending the Formula One Italian Grand Prix. Planning a few adventures on my journey to Siena has helped reduce the pre-semester anxiety that I was anticipating. It’s nice to be able to ease myself into life abroad this week, and have some time to adjust to time change because that has been rough!
To close out this first post I thought it would be nice to share the biggest thing I have learned during my preparations for study abroad:
Live in the moment!
It sounds cheesy I know but this motto has helped lessen my anxiety about moving to Italy. Anytime I catch myself falling down a rabbit hole of stressing about all of the unknowns that come with this experience I remind myself how amazing it is to have this opportunity. Stop, take a deep breath, and be thankful for what I am experiencing right now instead of what might happen in the future. I will say, this is a lot easier from Spain than it was in the US a few weeks ago!
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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!