Pro Tip #3: Realize that things will go wrong. Probably more so than expected.
Everyone raves that your study abroad experience is going to be one the best experiences of your life. And they’re not wrong; halfway through my program in Angers, I can absolutely confirm that I have seen and done some of the most incredible things that I would not have been able to be a part of otherwise. But that doesn’t mean that everything is going to be sunshine and daisies for the duration of your time in another country. Not only will adjusting to another culture be challenging, but there will also probably be some moments while you’re studying abroad that will leave you wishing, however briefly, that you had never left your home under the dome. It’s hard being away from family and friends at these times. On the other hand, some experiences that seemingly start out all wrong will lead to some of the most interesting situations you’ve ever been in.
For Easter weekend I packed up my bags and traveled to Rome to meet up with friends and go to Easter mass at the Vatican. I had no idea how I was going to meet up with everyone, as my phone plan didn’t cover international travel outside of France, but I was relying on using as much spotty WiFi as I could possibly find. It should then come as little surprise that when I finally got off the Metro in the center of Rome, my friends were not there to meet me and I had no idea how to contact them, as the WiFi was unfortunately nonexistent at that point. I admit that I started to panic a bit, and after a day of travel that left me exhausted and hungry, I was basically on the point of tears on a random street in a country where I spoke approximately three words of the language. After about twenty minutes of increasing anxiety and trying and failing to use an Italian payphone (apparently payphones send emails now?), I finally went into a restaurant across from the Metro stop, seeing that there was a sticker on the door advertising WiFi.
I was a mess. Like a tears in my eyes and promising to buy something off the menu if I can just use the WiFi kind of mess.
I think the people working in the restaurant took pity on me in completely frazzled state; they were incredibly kind to me. One of the guys behind the counter started to talk to me to try and cheer me up, and when we got to talking, his name turned out to be (drum roll please) Paolo. As in the “Sing to me, Paolo” type Paolo. Yes, I had to swallow back a laugh and contain my excitement. Yes, we are friends on Facebook now.
Pro Tip #4: Remember that things can and will also go strangely right. It will be these random interactions with strangers in foreign countries that make up some of the most memorable experiences while abroad.
And that’s the story of how I (kind of) became Lizzie McGuire (for a few minutes). If my friend had been waiting for me at the Metro station, I never would have had the surreal experience of crying in an Italian restaurant and meeting a Paolo after being in Rome for roughly two hours. My phone also then got stolen a few hours later, so I’ll just leave you with this last tip.
Pro Tip #5: Do not carry cake trays onto the Metro in Rome with your phone in your pocket. Buttons on said pockets will not deter pickpockets.