Experience Your “Real” Self While Studying Abroad | PART THREE

By Isabel Anderson
University of Maryland – ISI Florence Fall 2022

Physically feeling your surroundings and pushing yourself to experience all parts of living abroad are both really important steps to ground yourself in reality. Another crucial part is to make sure you give yourself the power in framing your study abroad experience. This leads us to the last two parts of the “granting yourself reality in Florenceaction plan.

This one has been such a big help to me. I was fortunate enough to have lots of friends in the same program as me, so I always had people to explore the city with during that first week. Having people with whom I was comfortable definitely made the adjustment period easier and made it less stressful to go out and do things… at first. But at some point, I came to realize that I hadn’t really done anything for myself; I was always around others, and thus my experience of places was partially painted by those I was with. It can be really scary to do things on your own (and sometimes for good reason… please be safe and cautious when you’re by yourself), but it can also be so rewarding. Start small, like a trip to a cafe or to school, and challenge yourself to love your own company! Making friends and branching out is certainly also an important part of feeling secure and happy during your time abroad, but I at least have felt so much more grounded in my reality by forcing myself to go places on my own at least every other day. Even if it’s just the walk to class or a run to the grocery store down the street, being on your own means you have to be aware of your context and stay simulated. You get to form your own opinions and experiences; you decide what you want to do or not do! This is your study abroad experience after all!

Lastly, being here in Florence is an amazing experience, but you’re certainly allowed to feel conflicted, sad, or homesick while you’re here. My advice is to let yourself feel it if it comes- don’t bottle it up! This experience isn’t meant to be easy or simple and letting yourself feel your emotions is an important part of embracing it all. The other tips in this plan are easy to read and contemplate, but really pushing yourself to enact them is another hard step. Going places by yourself can feel scary and anxiety-inducing; using an Italian phrase with the knowledge that you probably won’t understand whatever comes next can feel like playing with fire; even touching the stone as you walk can feel silly. You’re allowed to feel those things, but what is important to remember is that you will grow from both the highs and lows of your experience here. Life, as many of us know, is not simple or straightforward, so the process or result of trying to ground yourself certainly isn’t either. But maybe that’s how you know it’s real!

I’ve only been here in Florence for a few weeks thus far, but it has already been so transformative and enlightening! I hope this action plan and this series of posts help you as much as they helped me. Studying abroad is the kind of experience that makes you really reflect and learn about yourself, and it’s helpful to know that you’re putting your best foot forward in the pursuit of growth

So go out there and do whatever you need to do to get the most out of your experience, however uncomfortable, difficult, or scary it may seem!