Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me

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By Elizabeth Huber

There are so many aspects of my time in Rome with CIEE, or my CIEE open campus semester in general that I could choose to write about, and honestly it was hard trying to choose one thing. So instead, I will not limit it to one topic.

I thought to myself, what did I want to read and know about before coming on this program? I wrote down some of my thoughts, so maybe these things can be helpful to you.

I remember trying to prepare myself for my semester abroad, researching the CIEE open campus semester, and trying to imagine what it would even be like to experience such different cultures in a short amount of time. I have travelled a lot in my life, and seen many different places, so the travel part would not be new to me. The part I was curious about was going to different places every 6 weeks, restarting my life in each one, making new friends every time: that is the part I wanted to know more about what to expect. I quickly learned that each of my blocks would be totally different, and there would be different things that I would love in each place and miss about each place. I was in Buenos Aires, Argentina for block one and it was INCREDIBLE. I lived in a homestay with an amazing host mom. The CIEE program was small, but it was in a city of 15 million people, and I really got to learn about the Argentine culture. This block, I am in Rome, with a really big program, in one of the most famous cities in the world, and live with other students! It’s a totally different experience. My third block, I will be in Copenhagen, a city of less than a million people, living in a dorm with my best friend, and learning about a culture I do not know much about. I think that is an aspect of this program that is so special and unique, because you get to have such different experiences all in one semester.

- Do the research before! I’m not saying go in as an expert on each country, but I even wish I had learned more about each country and asked previous students before randomly choosing them based on where sounded fun. It never hurts to know more about the place you’re going and already have some ideas about restaurants and sites you want to see.

- Keep an open mind and look for the positive. It sounds pretty simple right? But I don’t mean it in the way you might expect. Obviously, keeping an open mind about other countries is essential, but I think we should all know that by now. Keep an open mind about the program, about classes, about the parts of the culture you might not expect. In every situation, you can choose to see the good or bad, and I think a big part of making the most of this experience is going to be based on how well you can see the good. For example, I got a housing option that I did not expect here in Rome. To be completely honest, it’s small, does not have a kitchen, and is a pretty far walk from things. On paper, it may sound not ideal, but it does exactly what I needed: provide a place to rest and sleep! I could let that control my outlook on this block, but there is so much more to be grateful for than that. Sure, it was not what I expected, but it’s 6 weeks of my life. You can do anything for 6 weeks! I may not be able to cook my own meals, but I am literally in one of the food capitals of the world, so I have been able to try so many more restaurants this way! I may have to walk more than I am used to, but it allows me to see so much more of the city, be more active, and there is a bus that goes really close to the hotel if not! I would encourage anyone studying abroad or doing something similar to just look for the positive or good in every situation, because dwelling in the negative only makes things worse for you and causes you to miss out on the incredible opportunity in front of you. Don’t let something as small as housing or not having a kitchen impact some of the coolest months of your life.

- Use the CIEE staff as a resource! They are all so kind and willing to help, and I have asked so many of the people who work at CIEE for food recommendations, music suggestions, and more, and have learned way more about Italian culture by just sitting and learning from them!

- Give yourself grace. This was something I had to really learn the first few weeks abroad. It can be easy to treat it like a vacation and feel the need to pack everything in every single day to see and do the most you can. But this is not a vacation. This is your life for a little over 4 months! Trust me, it can be really hard to actually learn that, but it’s okay to have a day to yourself and just allow yourself to rest. If you would let yourself do that at home, you should allow yourself to do it here too. I’m not suggesting lying in bed every day and not doing anything, but it’s essential to let yourself recharge and rest since you can’t just go home next week and sleep it off.

- You will have time to explore and go on weekend trips. I remember this being one of the biggest things I wondered about before coming here, but it’s super easy. You can travel every weekend, or none of the weekends. I think it’s really fun to get to experience other countries on the weekends, but I would really encourage you to also get to know your host country! It is so fun and exciting to travel every weekend but take a couple weekends to just explore Rome (or whatever city you’re in!) Make a list of the things you want to be sure and do, plan a nice dinner, go to the park, etc. Don’t get too caught up in checking more countries off your list and totally miss the place that’s right in front of you.

Another aspect of this semester that I think everyone should expect is that it may not be sunshine and rainbows all the time. All you see on the internet about people going abroad is how it was the best months of their life, they saw all the coolest things, and met the best people, etc. There is definitely truth to this, and there will probably be days you find all of that true, but just know that there will be days that are harder too. Some days, I really miss my family and I am hit with realization that life does not stop for them just because I’m here. And that is okay. Nothing here is permanent. Give yourself grace when you have those harder moments, because they will happen at some point. Take some time, write down how you are feeling, call someone you love, listen to your favorite playlist, read a book- whatever it is that brings you joy- do that thing. No one should expect you to have a perfect day every day you’re abroad, because that is not realistic anywhere.

Overall, I am just so grateful to be abroad this semester. It’s truly such a special experience to be able to live in 3 different countries as a college student, and I am so grateful to have had this opportunity. Ask questions you’re curious about for the program, look for the positive side in it all, and SOAK IT ALL IN!!!