It’s not even been a week yet and I already have a ton to say. That’s been study abroad for me so far; full. I’m hoping you’ll join me on this journey. Usually when I ask people to journey with me through my speech or writing, I have a destination in mind, but this time I’m on the journey too, and I have no idea where it leads. The purpose of my blog is to let you see study abroad through my eyes.
A good place to start is who I am. You might’ve read from my bio that I’m an international student, and so you may notice that this multicultural background defines the lens through which I experience study abroad. I’m ethnically Ugandan, but I was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. Being the youngest of three, I’ve always looked up to my siblings; this is one of only a few things I’ve ever done in my life that neither of my siblings had pursued.
Study Abroad 101 is a series of four tips, explained through stories, statements and pictures that have characterized my first week in Rome.
IES Rome, my study abroad program, started in February, thus I had an extended January break. Without an internship, January was probably the most relaxing month I have ever had, or will ever have. By the end I was accustomed to an ease that real life just doesn’t afford me, and that was probably the only reason that I could possibly justify leaving America with just a credit and debit card, rather than a good amount of Euros. My bank was keen to offer me more credit cards, and even tell me of its partner banks in Europe, but never of the difficulty I would encounter finding ATMs belonging to their Italian partner bank. Not only did I have trouble finding an ATM or the bank itself, but also once I did I could not withdraw any money!
Tip #1: Liquidity is good. All of this is to say, please carry enough money with you in the local currency for at least the first week, possibly even longer. Keep that money safely in your room, and move around with a little for each day.
My flight arrived too late on Monday night for me to move into my apartment the day I arrived, which was the day before orientation started. So when I arrived at the IES Center on Tuesday morning, I was welcomed with sessions on safety, rules, housing and academics.
I’ve moved around a lot, between vacations in Uganda, my gap year in South Africa, and college in America, I’ve had to really think about my definition of home. I recently came to the conclusion that home must be where I can unpack. By that definition, my home was most recently Houston, Texas, where I spent my winter break with my aunt and her family. And it was with this in mind that I looked forward to the end of Tuesday, when I could get my key and move into my apartment. And that’s exactly what I did. However, I went to bed feeling like a stranger. I had failed to make Rome my home. By the weekend, I could safely say that this feeling passed.
Tip #2: It may take longer to feel at home than it does to unpack. My definition of home is yet to change, but I have learned that there can be a lag.
One of our orientation evenings ended with a happy hour. On my way to the event, accompanied by two Italian Student Companions (ISCs – basically the IES version of RCs), I stopped by one of the other IES apartments, having heard that one of the students was left there alone and would not know her way around. When we got there, she took a while to respond to our knock, and didn’t seem very enthusiastic. However, within seconds she was in tears telling us how she’d lost her phone and been left by her flat mates. She was surprised by her own reaction because normally she would not have fallen apart at being left behind or losing her phone in her apartment. While I was hugging her, I told her, “this is a lot, you should be overwhelmed.”
Tip #3: Overwhelmed is a totally acceptable reaction to study abroad. This is especially important if someone has never been far from home. Change is overwhelming.
My orientation concluded on Saturday morning with short city tours in groups. This was obviously my favorite part of orientation because I love being a tourist. I’ve heard lots of people say, “I don’t want to be a tourist, I want to experience life as a local”, and I totally understand that, but disagree. I’m the opposite. My aim is to learn to be a tourist even in places I may call home. Tourists explore and naturally soak up experiences like a sponge, locals (like me in Nairobi) are too used to the place to enjoy its beauty. Probably because I’ve spent a lot of time in different places, I tend to put on the local’s cap pretty early on, so I am purposefully extending the time that I am a natural tourist. It helps that IES is designed to help its students tour in addition to learn.
Tip #4: Take advantage of being an initial tourist
I hope you’ll continue on this thrilling journey with me as classes start and I settle into what will be my home for the next three and a half months. Until next time, Arrivederci!