As a study abroad student going abroad – perhaps for the first time – it’s hard to know what to expect. You can read articles about the culture and look at photos of Rome all day, but what are the practical things you need to do to prepare? And what should you make sure to not miss out on while you are here? John Cabot University offers a great orientation program at the beginning of each semester and summer session, which will help you get acclimated. But in the interest of planning in advance, and based on my personal experience, here are the top 10 things you should know before you go:
- Bring some cash, and don’t exchange it at the airport! Changing money at the airport is a complete scam; airport exchange rates are really overpriced. It’s essential to have cash on hand, because during your first few days in Rome, you’re going to want to wander and get acquainted with your surroundings. John Cabot University’s student accounts office can exchange your money for a small fee, which is convenient.
- Pack appropriately. I studied during Summer session I, so it was always hot out. Remember that the norms for dressing can be a little different than in the U.S. For example, I noticed that Italians don’t tend to wear shorts too often, at least around the city, so I decided to wear long pants most of the time. And remember: don’t overpack. You’ll need some room in your suitcase for souvenirs for when you return!
- Talk to your phone carrier and credit card companies before studying abroad. Sometimes it’s easier if your phone SIM card is already unlocked before you go abroad and you use an international SIM. Make sure you go to your nearest phone store and ask someone who knows. Also, don’t forget to alert your credit card company that you’ll be studying abroad so they don’t deny any charges. They can also give you an idea what the exchange rate fee will be, so you’ll know which card to use.
- Bring comfortable shoes. This may seem obvious, but 99.9% of the time you’re in Rome, you’ll be walking. Some days, I walked well over 15 miles; my feet would have been killing me if I didn’t have the right shoes on. As important as it is to have nice “going out” shoes, you will also want a pair that your feet will thank you for later.
- Explore at all times of day. Rome is going to look different depending on the time of day; that’s a fact. But it also comes alive differently depending on what’s going on. There is a lot to be said for watching a sunrise alone over the Tiber River, or being one of only a half dozen people at the Spanish Steps at 7:30 in the morning. But that also holds true for the nightlife, and every time in between. Don’t be afraid to get out and explore, no matter what the time is!
- Browse the supermarket. This one may sound a bit weird, but hear me out. You’re guaranteed to find lots of items that you can’t get at home, and even the stuff that’s the same will taste a little different. Part of studying abroad is to experience the culture, and food is a huge part of that! So make sure that you find a supermarket nearby and grab some local food, whether it’s ingredients for a meal you cook yourself or just some pastries to snack on. (I found out that there are pistachio and hazelnut Magnum ice cream bars in Italy, something that I can’t find back home in the U.S.)
- Be a tourist. Don’t be that annoying person with a selfie stick at the Colosseum, but make sure that you give yourself enough time to explore the beauty and culture of Rome! Visit the Colosseum, Vatican City, Pantheon, Spanish Steps, and Trevi Fountain. Also, just wander around and see what you can find. Sometimes it’s the small, out-of-the-way places that end up being some of the best spots.
- Talk to the locals, even if you haven’t learned much of the language yet. A lot of people know English, so test your luck! While some may not understand you, a good number will. Talk to the person at the coffee place down the block, or strike up a conversation with one of the nuns at the Vatican. You never know what you’ll talk about or learn. (I ended up having an hour-long conversation with the guy at the coffee place I went to every morning… and while we talked, we munched on raw coffee beans!)
- Talk to people on campus; they’re all there to help you. Whether it’s your RA, JCU staff from different offices, faculty, or just a new friendly face, don’t be afraid. Say hi, ask them for directions, or their opinion on a good pizza place. These people know Rome better than you do, and while their recommendations might not always line up with your tastes, it’s always worth a shot to talk to someone who knows a thing or two.
- Have fun. While this may seem obvious, make it a top priority. For some people, studying abroad can be daunting or make them homesick. Don’t stay in your room all day; go out and explore! This is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity, so you owe it to yourself to make the most of it.
English-Creative Writing and History double major
Bucknell University – Study Abroad, Summer 2017
Hometown: Bayville, New York