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Talking to students every day about study abroad has caused me to reflect more on my semester abroad, even though it's been two years since I’ve been back! This has allowed me to better advise students based off of my experiences. It's important to be able to articulate my experiences, the good and bad, and use my prior knowledge to help students when they ask me about study abroad. As a result of these reflections, I've come up with a list of a few things I wish I did differently during my semester in Florence. This is by no means a post about all my regrets, because I truly did have the time of my life abroad, but a list of 4 things that I could have done a bit differently that would have enhanced my experience even more. Here they are:
1. Pushed myself to learn the language more
One of the things I strongly encourage anyone to do before they go abroad is to learn at least some of their host country’s language. Even if you can’t master it, it’s still important to learn certain phrases both out of respect for the country and locals, and for your own safety (if you’re caught in a difficult situation). I learned some basic words and phrases before going abroad, and I took Italian I while I was there, but I wish I would have forced myself to speak Italian more. Florence is full of tourists/students, making it easier for us to get by without learning much Italian, but I would have loved to leave Italy with more knowledge of the Italian language.
2. Stayed longer
This is something, looking back, I never really even considered doing. I was nervous to even spend three months away from home and I figured another few weeks would be way too long. However, part of me wishes I would have stayed in Europe a little bit longer to travel and explore without having the obligations of a student. It would have been nice to enjoy Florence for a little bit longer, or to cross a few more cities off my wanderlist! I guess this just gives me another reason to go back to Europe…
3. Stopped worrying so much about money
I’m a huge worrier to begin with, but before I went abroad one of my biggest concerns was money- as it is for most students. I was lucky enough to have some help from my parents, but I also had set aside plenty of my own money to spend on trips, food, souvenirs, etc. Though I got to experience a whole lot during my short time abroad, there were some places I didn’t go, food I didn’t eat, or things I didn’t do because I was worried about money. I had the whole summer ahead of me to work as much as I could and earn back the money I spent, and part of me wishes I realized that more while I was abroad. I know the experiences I could have had would have been worth a whole lot more than the money spent. I’m not saying that everybody should be reckless and spend their entire life savings while they’re abroad, but I could have definitely enjoyed myself a bit more without it harming my bank account too much!
4. Met more locals
I was lucky enough to have been paired with fantastic roommates who I meshed with quite well and we all ended up bonding with a lot of people who were in our program. I wouldn’t trade the friends that I made abroad for the world, but part of me feels that I got a bit too comfortable in my circle of friends/acquaintances and didn’t try as hard as I should have to meet locals from Florence, or other countries we visited. Now, as the wanderlust has set in for the past two years, I’m thinking it would be nice to have more connections overseas so I had an excuse to hop on a plane and travel!
As I said at the beginning of the post, I truly don’t feel regretful towards the way I approached my semester abroad- these are just a few minor things that, if I had done, my time in Florence may have been even better than it was. I hope that any future students can learn from this post so they leave their time abroad with absolutely no regrets!