Monday, March 31, 2014

Study Abroad | Lifestyle

HI BABES! Hoping today finds you well :) I've really been thinking about the next year of my life and the things I want to do. My GEMINI really comes out when I start thinking about what I want. I get so thrown off by two completely different sides that I have no clue what I want. I'm sure you other GEMS understand, everyone else - sorry, you're out of luck. ANYWHOO back to what this real post is about. I have always wanted to study abroad. The people I know that have done it tell me stories that sound so freaking incredible. I have never been able to get it out of my head but the more and more that I think about it I realize how much my soul would just die if I did it. So I started browsing to get some ideas and overall info about it so I can at least have an idea of what to tell my family. I came across this post from one of my favorite blogs and it was exactly what I needed to hear... well read. I wanted to share it with all of you in case there is even one of you that's thinking about it! READ UP DOLLS >>

Here’s Taylor at the top of the Duomo in nearby Florence.

Tell us about your experience. I traveled to Rome, Italy for 3 months. I studied abroad and it was the best 3 months of my life. I studied at the American University of Rome, and although it was an American university, there were definitely some cultural differences and challenges.
What made you decide to go? I had previously been to Rome during my junior year of high school and fell in love with the city. I dreamed of going back, and told myself that if the opportunity ever presented itself, I would take it. So there I was, 3 years later, booking a flight that would change my life.  
Did you encounter any resistance to your idea of going abroad alone? How did you respond to this? My parents were nervous wrecks. My dad was in denial that I was even going until I was going through the security line at the airport. I was a little nervous to travel by myself. However, since I had previously been to the city, that helped ease my nerves a little bit. The most nerve-racking part of the whole experience leading up to my trip was that I didn’t know anyone going. I’m an outgoing person, but I’m also a very blunt and honest person. So I didn’t know how well I was going to get along with people, but I ended up meeting 3 of my best friends on this trip.
What was the most rewarding part about your solo travel experience? Realizing that I CAN do challenging things on my own. For example, navigating through the public transportation on my own. The signs were in a language I barely knew, so that was quite the challenge. But arriving on time to all of my onsite classes, navigating the city by myself, is one of the best feelings in the world. I didn’t feel like a tourist, I felt like I belonged there.
What was the most challenging part? The loneliness. Don’t get me wrong, I met amazing people abroad, and we still keep in touch today. But for the first couple of weeks, while we were all adjusting and still getting to know each other, homesickness was a common theme throughout the entire group.
Did the experience of going abroad by yourself meet your expectations? Did it surprise you? In what way? My experience exceeded any expectations I had. I knew it would be a trip of a lifetime, but I didn’t expect it to change my life. I thought that I would be lonely, but after a few weeks, I hardly thought of home. Of course, I missed my family, friends, and pups; but the friends that I made abroad had become my family while I was there. In fact, we’re having a Rome reunion in a few weeks and I could not be more excited to see them!
Anything you wish you’d have done differently before the trip to prepare? I wish I’d spent more time with the locals. Other than interacting with them at shops or restaurants, I mainly stuck with my American friends. It was mostly because of the language barrier, so I wish I would have taken some Italian classes before I went. I took language classes while there, but they only teach you common phrases for restaurants and shops. It would have been nice to be able to hold an actual conversation rather than just asking the price of an item.
Anything you wish you’d done differently during the trip, to get the most out of the experience or prevent headaches? I wish I’d traveled more. During my 3 months there, I went to Florence (where the above photo was taken), Capri, Sorrento (all in Italy), Vienna (Austria), and Prague (Czech Republic). However, I still had that desire to see more. So I guess the only thing I wish I’d done differently was change the date I went home and extended my trip.
How did people you met along the way react to learning that you were on the trip by yourself? They were extremely surprised. One of my roommates traveled with her mom for 10 days prior to our arrival date, so she was devastated when her mom left. Two of my other friends (both male) were actually college roommates and were pretty shocked that a GIRL had the guts to travel thousands of miles by herself. I kind of loved the reaction though. It gave me some encouragement.
Did you experience loneliness? How did you cope with it? I think everyone experiences loneliness at first, but it’s how you deal with it that makes the difference. Instead of relishing in my loneliness, I decided to do something about it. My coping mechanism was to talk to my parents via Facebook messages or FaceTime on my iPhone at least every couple of days, but fill my time with people who were around me at the time. Whether it be my roommates or our American neighbors who were also study abroad students.
Do you think you’re a different person now? In what way did this experience change you? I definitely think I am a changed person after traveling abroad. Things that seemed like challenges don’t quite seem that difficult anymore. Now that I know I can conquer things on my own, it’s made me a stronger person and less dependent on others.
Did you feel truly unsafe at any point? Do you think a man would have felt unsafe in the same situation, or was it gender-based? How did you manage your own personal safety during your trip? There was one experience in particular that I would never want to relive. While traveling through Vienna one afternoon, I was punched in the face by a man. He either had to be drunk or mentally unstable because he did not seem “all there,” if you know what I’m saying. At this point, I wasn’t even by myself. I spent a week traveling with one of my friends that I had met at school, and she was 2 steps in front of me while the whole incident happened. At first, I was pretty shocked and scared. However after I filed the police report and went to the hospital, which is another experience on its own, I calmed down and realized that it could have happened to anyone. My parents really, REALLY wanted me to come home, but I decided to stay and even rocked out at the Paul McCartney concert later that same night.
Any advice you’d like to share with other women who are considering a solo trip? Don’t let the fear of loneliness keep you from going experiencing the gratification of travel. Plan smart and make friends. Simple.

Read more about traveling abroad from Megan here: THE INDEPENDENT LADIES GUIDE TO SOLO TRAVEL. Until next time loves!
                                                      xo, Erica

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