Last winter I decided I was going to study abroad in Italy during summer 2011.
I'm majoring in Journalism with minors in Global Studies and Political Science. With that background I figured going to Italy and studying something to unrelated to my degree, like art, would be a fun adventure.
I saved as much money as I could and started preparing early.
I brought almost nothing with me. I knew I’d be in at least three different cities (Rome, Florence and Venice), walking over ancient cobblestone and running up stairs to our apartments and hotel rooms. I also imagined myself bringing back 30 pounds worth of Italian goods.
In my small suitcase I packed: one pair of jeans, three dresses, three T-shirts, face wash, deodorant, two pairs of shoes, copies of all my paperwork (zipped and hidden far, far away), two pairs of socks, a rain jacket and 15 pairs of underwear (okay so I went a bit overboard there but I wasn’t sure when laundry would get done) and lastly a medium-sized empty duffle bag for the trip home.
It’s safe to say even this was too much. Before leaving I ended up throwing away all three dresses, two T-shirts, all of my hygiene goods and my socks. Even after getting rid of those items – I still had to fill my duffle bag up to bring my new purchases back home. Even though while on the trip I had to double and triple wear outfits – it was very worth it (and if you’re with a group, you won’t be the only one doing this. Trust me).
I would suggest packing even less. And definitely don’t worry about body wash, shampoo or conditioner. Grocery stores have those available (as well as most hotels). And besides, whatever you buy over there will have Italian labels, so even shampoo bottles make for fun post-trip keeps.
Of course you need your passport. But there are some other things you might want to consider taking: a debit card, a separate credit card, international insurance card, and student ID. You don’t have to worry about taking your Starbucks gift card or library card, so please leave those at home.
Any type of identification or cards you bring over, you will want to make two copies of. Keep one copy of each hidden somewhere in you suitcase. This includes front and back copies of your credit and debit cards (if they get lost or stolen you’ll need both sides when reporting this to your bank). Give the other copies to a friend, family member or someone you trust to keep back home.
When you check into hotels or apartments they will most likely ask to hold your passport overnight. You shouldn’t have to worry about it being lost – but this is why you need to make a copy. The last thing you want is to end your trips with a giant heart attack as you’re fleeing around the country trying to get another copy sent to you.
I admit I didn’t touch an Italian translator book or app for one minute before I left. I highly recommend you don’t follow in my footsteps. Even though by the end of the trip I had a decent grasp on the basics - I wish I knew how to properly ask, “where’s the bathroom?” before I headed to the Vatican and got lost inside.
Brush up on the culture. This was one thing I’m proud of myself for doing. For example, if you go out to eat with a giant group you will have one giant check. Make sure you remember the prices of everything you ordered and get someone who is skilled in math to figure the check situation out. Also – when you’re shopping, you shouldn’t normally grab merchandise without asking permission. If you’re interested in something it’s polite to say “Posso?” (can I?) then wait for the okay.
Other Fun Preparations:
I would suggest going to your local bank at least a month before your trip and getting 50 Euros. It does take most banks a couple weeks to get your request processed and the money back, so do this as early as you can. Do this so when you land in Italy you can grab some food, a drink or your land transportation without having to find a Bankomat (ATM) first.
Call your credit and debit card companies at least a week before you leave and tell them where you’ll be and how long you’ll be there. Otherwise your account will quickly be frozen after your first trip to the Bankomats.
Make sure you keep in contact with your study abroad office or professor the semester before you leave. They will always give great tips and will tell you exactly what to expect school-wise when you’re over there. Your professors will also be able to help you decide how much money to bring with you. I brought $2,300 and still came home with $700. I ate at nice resturants and bought everything I wanted.
Do a LOT of research about your program before committing to it. I had three options for programs to Italy. One of them had 30 students going and another had their students in classrooms and living in dorms. I ultimately picked the program where I’d only be going with nine other students, living in apartments and hotels and never stepping inside a classroom. The freedom allowed me to learn more than any class would have.
Lastly, KEEP AN OPEN MIND! This is by far the most important. You will enjoy the trip so much more. Don’t keep comparing everything to America, try new things and remember you’re on an amazing trip in a beautiful country. Enjoy yourself to the fullest and drink lots of wine.
Coming up...feet touching Roman cobblestone.
Travel diary shared by Nichole Manna