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Reflections on Mental Preparation and Going Abroad

By Lucey Walton, Lebanon Valley College, Umbra Rep student

Being in Italy for nearly 4 months sounds like a dream come true to some and a daunting task for others. Going abroad for a full semester is seen in both an overly romanticized and an overly intimidating point of view, making it hard for students to know what to expect. Studying abroad was something that I  knew I wanted to do in college for a long time, and it was something that impacted my decisions when applying for colleges. I’m very lucky to come from a family where travelling is very important, having lived in the US and the UK. Growing up, my brothers and I were always told that travelling gives you more of an education than a school ever can.

Although I had a lot of experience in travelling, this was my first trip abroad by myself, without my parents’ help to guide me. I was very nervous about navigating through the airport the most, worrying about the many things that could possibly go wrong. In the end, the airports were not as big of an obstacle, but I was sadly mistaken to think that I was much more prepared for living abroad than I really was. 

Students studying abroad are told how this is going to be the best semester that they have in their college careers, and when you first arrive here, it certainly feels that way. At first, it feels like a vacation,  wandering about the town, amazed at every sight, with the new experience of living in an apartment for the first time to come back to. But after about 2 weeks everything starts to become real.

Similarly to the few weeks of college during freshman year, it is very easy for anxiousness and overthinking to build up. It can feel much worse than how you might have felt at the beginning of freshman year since you are thousands of miles away from home, with a 6-hour time difference that limits your ability to talk with close friends and family, in a brand-new city that speaks a completely different language with a group of people who you have only met a few weeks prior.

It can be very overwhelming to be worrying about grades, budgeting, navigating a new city, planning new trips, and a million other responsibilities while having fears of missing out on top of it all. With so many emotions building up with limited time to talk with those who you go to first for help, you can feel very alone, even though so many students will be going through the same exact challenges. But just like in the first semester of college, it just takes small steps and time (and a few calls home) to get adjusted to your new life for the next several months. 

Writing a blog about this isn’t meant to scare people away from studying abroad. I am still so happy to be abroad this semester and am very thankful to have this experience. Studying abroad is a great step in the direction of independence past college, especially for people who want to travel more or live abroad in the future. Rather, this is to try and paint a more realistic picture of what to expect when being far away from home for months at a time. When preparing to go abroad, it is just as important to prepare your mind and well-being as it is to double-check check you have packed your bag correctly. Realistically, no, not every single day you spend abroad is going to be the greatest time of your life, but every day is not going to be terrible either. The best advice for future students that I can give from my experience so far is to get involved. Just like in college back in the US, I found that being involved outside of just academics, such as attending school-sponsored activities, being an English tutor at a local high school, and being involved in the Umbra Reps program, helped me tremendously to get accustomed to life in Perugia. Find something to keep yourself busy outside of studying for classes and take the opportunities given to you, but know that it’s okay to spend time for just yourself instead of unrealistically trying to make the entire semester feel the same as those first two weeks. 

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