Traveling with thirty female students wasn’t easy for me nor our university professor set on taking us to 6 different Veneto cities and towns over three weeks. We were there to learn about the Venetian Renaissance and the eventual rise and fall of the Empire as well our libidos. Additionally, my first time abroad to Italy would lead me to start my blog. Six years later I am only now writing these tips as I realize how fortunate I was to embark on this complicated journey. I was taught patience above all virtues and to cherish the uncommon instances of finding your tribe. Here are a few of my tips on how to survive and even thrive on a study abroad trip.
Find Your Tribe
This requires talking to everyone in your program, a frightening thought for an introverted student of twenty at the time. If you’re at all like me you may find it hard to be open and talkative in a group of five or more new people. But remember, all these people are most likely in the same position as you: unfamiliar and away from home. Take this opportunity to find those who want to experience similar things as you on the trip.
I was able to meet two of my lifelong friends on my trip to Italy. I am happy to say they are coming to my wedding this year!
But we met because we were the only students interested in looking at art over a glass of Aperol Spritz at an exclusive white party at the Peggy Guggenheim in Venice. While everyone else was dancing or looking for a tall, dark and handsome Italian man to sweep them off their feet, we were engaged in what made us tick – our love of art and culture. If I wasn’t being true to myself and trying to hang out with the majority I would have missed out on meeting these two lovely ladies. Our trip was filled with food, wine and amazing art throughout the Veneto.
Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged
There I was, surrounded by 30 twenty-something women, when I found myself in the middle of gossip warfare. It’s going to happen. You and other people aren’t going to like each other. It happens from time to time despite what your mom says. How you handle it can determine how your trip goes. It can be a test of patience but it can also be a call to stand up for yourself. Trying to choose the right moment to do each can be tricky and it is still a lesson I am learning at twenty-nine. It helps to try and see where the other person is coming from: anger, naivety, ignorance, inexperience or genuinely trying to help. Heck, some people just like stirring up emotions. Look inward before reaction. Let the small stuff go and be grounded before addressing the important stuff.
Talk to Family & Friends Back Home
Skype was my savior at the time. It helped me stay grounded when drama was intensifying my homesickness. I was able to talk about any problems I was having without worry that my concerns would be relayed to anyone else I was traveling with. I was able to vent and supported even if I was overreacting. Once you get it out of your system the drama then seemed like a waste of time. You can then begin to focus on the important things. In my case it was art and the places we were. I was able to refocus on why I was there in the first place without getting wrapped up in any more drama for the rest of the trip. Everyone’s emotions run high when away from home and alone in a new place. Talking to someone you trust who isn’t amongst the drama or homesickness can put it all back into perspective for you.
If you can’t reach family due to time change or malfunctioning WIFI keep a travel journal on your at all times.
I can’t tell you how much I wish I kept my stuff organized while staying with a roommate. I’m perhaps scarred for life. There’s an embarrassing story behind this tip…
While I was in the shower my roommate decided to use my hairdryer and straightener. She neglected to listen when I told her that certain devices need to be plugged in to certain adaptors. When it came time for me to use my straightener I plugged it into the right adaptor. I quickly gave a few separated locks of my hair the once over when suddenly I smelled something burning. I looked down and saw strands of my hair singed lying on my lap and around my feet. I was mortified. A cautionary tale I hope all of you follow. Label your adaptors and devices with masking tape and a pen. Keep your things to your side of the room if sharing a space and let any friends/roommates know crucial information like this. It could save your computer, camera charger or even your hair!
Get Your Alone Time
With 30 students always around you in crowded tourist spaces it can get overwhelming. Make sure you have moments alone whether it be at a café you escape to before class or a jog at sunset. Moments alone can provide the breathing room you need to take on the presentation before your entire class or the final exam. Building a routine in a chaotic travel schedule is equally important. Do what you would at home to settle yourself into your new location. After the burnt hair debacle I took some time to treat myself to a true Italian meal. I didn’t want anyone around me to be worrying about price or mention my fried tangled mop atop my head. So I wandered into a nearby restaurant with my hair tied and tucked under a hat. I ordered delicious fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with buffalo mozzarella, sage ravioli and perfectly made tiramisu. The half bottle of wine didn’t hurt either. I was recharged and even inspired by the food – which eventually led to the creation of my blog.
Looking back now the trip was one of the most important of my life and would set me on a course of travel and discovery. If it weren’t for my first trip abroad then my blog wouldn’t have been created and I wouldn’t be writing here to you today. If anything, I hope these tips can provide you with calm in a chaotic environment that sometimes comes with travel whether it be a trip for two or with thirty strangers.
Murissa currently resides in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada – the heart of Okanagan wine country. There she writes about the local food and wine scene in between her travels abroad on The Wanderful Traveler. She loves cheese and sparkling wine. Follow her on Snapchat WanderfullTrave.