Today I am thrilled to welcome a friend of mine from high school who had an amazing experience while studying abroad in Florence, Italy for the summer. She is sharing her top tips for making the most of your summer study abroad! Without further ado, I present Ali from Sustainable Psyche.
If you’re interested in traveling and studying abroad but you’re not ready to commit to an entire year or even a semester program, a summer abroad might be the perfect opportunity for you. Considering that summer flies by in the blink of an eye, it takes a little bit of planning in order to create the best possible experience abroad.
In the summer of 2013 I did a study abroad program in Florence, Italy. It was one of the best decisions I ever made and it truly impacted my life in so many positive ways. Here’s some of my advice on how to make the most of a summer program.
Take advantage of the weekends
Use the weekends to travel. During the week dedicate yourself to your studies and to getting to know the city that you’re living in. Go out to dinner, take evening walks and just wander during your free time in the week. On the weekends, on the other hand, travel elsewhere. Plan weekend trips within the country where you’re studying or check out cheap flights or trains to travel more economically to other nearby places. You really can do a lot. I jam packed my five available weekends by visiting more than fifteen other Italian cities including Milano, the island of Capri, Naples, Cinque Terre and Pisa.
Explore to the max. Wandering and finding random hidden gems can be the most rewarding. If you have the opportunity to visit museums or take short field trips through your study abroad program, don’t ever say no. Take all the chances to experience the new culture, sights, and food. Take the time to enjoy and mindfully take in what you are doing.
Don’t be afraid to do the touristy things
Embrace the fact that you are indeed a tourist and that it is ok to be one every once and a while. Visit all of your cities touristy places at least once.
Make new friends
Some of the most wonderful friendships can be created even in a short time. Get to know your fellow classmates right away so that you have friends to travel with on the weekends. If your school is an international school, try making friends with people from different cultures or from the country where you are residing. It’s truly a beautiful thing to maintain international friendships long after you return home.
Learn the language
A summer is way too short to become fluent in any language but knowing the basics and maybe taking a course before arriving will give you a boost. You will feel so much less like a foreigner and you will find that it’s very handy to know how to ask for directions or to read a menu. This is great way to immerse yourself into the culture and add another dimension to your experience.
Go where the locals go
Even though it is all good to go and see the tourist destinations and monuments: don’t stop there. Make a point to seek out the local places. When there are no tourists in sight and all you hear is the local language you are well on the right track. Some of the best restaurants, cafes, bars, etc. are the ones off the beaten path. It will also give you another chance to interact with the locals and see the way they live everyday life.
Of course pack your essentials, but don’t make the mistake of stuffing your bag full. Leave lots of room for souvenirs, new clothes and artisan items from local markets. You can always buy things once you’ve arrived.
Take a class you normally wouldn’t
If you have the chance to take a class that doesn’t really have anything to do with your major but will count as credits, do it! There is no better time to try something new. Take a language or history class about the culture you’re living in. I was a Psychology/Italian major at UW-Madison but in Florence I took a ceramics class with an amazing Italian artist for a teacher. It truly gave me an opportunity to broaden my interests and dabble in new things.
Do things alone
No, I don’t mean be antisocial. However, time abroad can be a great space for soul searching and getting to know yourself better. Take walks and go out to take pictures alone every once and a while. You’ll see things from a different angle.
Keep a diary
In your own format, whether that be handwritten or electronic, you’ll be so glad later to have what you were feeling and experiencing in writing. Add as much detail as possible…even what you ate. Trust me, I’m so glad when I look back and can say “oh yeah, that pici pasta with cacio and pepe in Siena WAS so amazing.” It’s also a great way to reflect later on and see how you evolved throughout the time away.
Plan an extra side trip once your studies have concluded. I stayed in Europe 5 additional weeks to visit many different places (Palma de Majorca, Cologne, Amsterdam, Paris, Milan again and Rome). My parents even made the most of my study abroad, meeting me in Rome.
Five years ago to the day I was still gallivanting around Europe, yet the memories are crystal clear. Time away from home, your friends, and your family in a new culture can help you to discover who you are, giving you a new sense of freedom, fresh viewpoints, international friendships & most importantly: memories to last a lifetime. Following some of this advice, you will surely thrive and create your own personal and unique voyage. Buon viaggio!