By: Stephanie Bowar, a rising junior at Oglethorpe University
I did a lot of research before coming to Rome, from the weather to sightseeing to cultural oddities to prepare for. I knew I would have to pay for water and specify I want it to be still and not sparkling. But there are certain things that no friend, travel article, or YouTube video really told me in full.
1. It will be hard. There are many, many reasons that studying abroad is absolutely worth it, don’t get me wrong. Everyone is going to tell you that it’s going to be the best time of your life and absolutely magical, and it can make you feel like the minute you arrive in Rome, you’re going to be dropped into the Lizzie McGuire Movie. That’s a lot of pressure. Your first couple of weeks here—sometimes even longer—can be like being on an emotional treadmill. There were times I found myself crying, barely knowing why, and wanting to go home more than anything. I felt crushingly guilty and ungrateful for not having the time of my life, while also feeling like every other person on the trip was constantly having a blast and making friends. It felt as if I were the only one ever feeling lonely or displaced here, and it took me two weeks to find out that almost every other person I talked to was feeling the same way to some degree. When people tell you it’s going to be a wonderful experience, they’re right—but anytime it starts feeling less than wonderful, even if that feeling is frequent, remember you’re not alone. Give yourself a break and try to reach out; it will get better.
2. Overestimate what you will need for your budget. When you’re at the Amalfi Coast, standing in the middle of the island of Capri, and you’re starting to realize that the juice pouches you grew up with were a vicious lie because the REAL Capri sun is a ball of fire and not at all refreshing, you will drop as many euros as you have to for cold drinks throughout the day (and Italian vendors know it). It’s easier to drain your bank account than you think here, even without considering shopping and splurges and souvenirs—but at times it is also unavoidable. When planning and saving for your finances here, research thoroughly, plan carefully, ask for budgeting advice from people who came before you, and then add some cushion on top of it all. It is massively daunting, but you will be glad you did.
3. Beauty is something you look for, not something that finds you. Probably the one thing you’ve heard most about Rome is that it’s beautiful, and it is—but sometimes beauty is an active choice. When you step outside into the third week straight of 97-degree heat, your first thought might not be, “What a beautiful day!” even if it’s a beautiful day. I spent a long time on this trip waiting for some beauty to come along and steal my breath away, no matter what I was doing or how I was feeling. It took me a while to realize that even the most beautiful things require the choice, on your part, to be looking for their beauty in that moment. Don’t spend the whole time waiting for beautiful experiences to hit you in the face; go dig them up yourself!
4. You need sleep, rest, and down days—even in Rome. This program and this city are full of opportunities to be going somewhere and doing something with some number of people at all times, whether it’s sightseeing, going to class, going out for a meal, or going to a bar or club. Take advantage of those things! But remember that just because you’re in Rome doesn’t mean you don’t need to take care of yourself. When you’re here for over a month, a day or two spent nothing but watching movies every so often is okay, and sometimes it’s exactly what you need. Even in Rome.
5. YOU are the best person you can get to know during your trip. Yes, you will get to know many, many people on this trip—and yes, many of them will be amazing people. But the most important thing you brought on this trip is you. Don’t be afraid to go it alone some days. Take yourself out to dinner, on a date, on a walk; get lost in Rome with yourself. Spend time with yourself out in the city, even (especially) if that sounds uncomfortable. This is when you’ll learn the most about the place you’ve come to, and it’s when that place will teach you the most about yourself, even when you don’t realize it. In the end, you came here for a lot of things, be the education, photography, food, history, or just some life experience—but more than anything, you came here for you.
Study abroad programs—even one as inclusive, comprehensive, and unique as this one—are about 10% what the program gives you, and at least 90% what you give to it. Spending five weeks studying abroad in Rome doesn’t become life-changing just because you’re standing on a sidewalk in Italy instead of America! As with all the best things in life, great experiences won’t always fall into your lap. Go out and make them happen!