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Tara’s Study Abroad Journey from Start to Finish

by AIFS Abroad
Tara's Study Abroad Journey from Start to Finish | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS in Florence, Italy | Student Vlogger

Last Updated on June 28, 2023 by AIFS Abroad

After returning home to the United States after a semester abroad, Student Vlogger, Tara (AIFS in Florence, Italy; University of San Francisco), reflects on her experience overseas.

Part 1: Where Do I Start?

“So, this marks the end of my trip abroad and now there are three things I want to talk about before I conclude this chapter. First, I want to talk about how I got started and that’s basically what this video is gonna be about. I’m gonna break this series into three. My second video is gonna just talk about my friendships and bonds and my time abroad, and then my last video is gonna be a closing piece with a reflection. So ,stay tuned for all three of those! But first let’s get started on how I got here, or how I got abroad and now I’m back home.

I’m not tearing up because I’m sad. It’s my contacts. Hold on. I just miss Europe. Just kidding, it’s fine. I’m fine. It’s all good.

So, how did I get started? Basically, the most important thing to do for studying abroad is research. Just go crazy on Pinterest. Go crazy online. Go crazy with your academic advisors on programs that your school has to offer. Ask anyone you know who studied abroad what they’ve done, tips, what program they did, how they got there. I was on Pinterest with folders saving all the places I ever wanted to go, even before I knew I was gonna go abroad. I just had these lists of places and things to do in each of those places, where to stay.

Basically, the biggest thing is to just sit down and your family and figure out what you can afford, how much money you can set aside for this… I started working a year in advance saving up money and that’s not enough. Basically, you just have to put money together and figure out how much you want to spend on traveling, on food, on where you are staying, on clothes, on just any little aspect. So, you just want to figure out how much money you need, how much money you can have realistically, and how much the program costs. And so then from there, figure out how much you are paying at the school you are at right now and then compare it to how much your program is. See if maybe your financial aid office can even transfer your financial aid over to your study abroad, which is what my program was able to do.

Another important piece of advice is make sure you coordinate with your study abroad office and your academic advisor to make sure that your credits can transfer, and see whether or not your program has pass or fail, or if it’s actual grades.  Before you know it you’re on your way abroad — you fill out some applications, you write a little piece about why you want to go abroad, and soon enough you’ll find yourself packing. You’ll be off in Paris, Italy, Spain, who knows where.

Make sure you do all of your research. You gather and make a list of the places you want to go and how much you think you’re going to spend in each place — that was really important for me and my friends. We made sure we knew what we wanted to do during our breaks. And even when you’re abroad, you’ll find that there are so many organizations that can help you coordinate little day trips, weekend trips, or even like week-long trips to different places in Europe. It’ll just be the best time of your life and make sure you take advantage of it.

So that’s my little two cents on how to get started. Next, I’ll talk about my actual time abroad.”

Part 2: Lasting Friendships and Bonds

“In this part I’m going to talk about friendships and bonds made abroad. Being abroad, you definitely do change as a person in the way you speak and create friendships and bonds.

When you’re in the states, I guess at least for my experience, I go to the restaurants, for example, people who are working they will serve me if they are a waitress or waiter but that’s about it. That’s the bare minimum. They serve you, you give them a tip at the end of the night, you say good night, thank you and you leave… you’re on your way… you never see them again… you never think about them again. But in Italy, I had such a different experience from that. Every restaurant my roommates and I went to, we became friends with the wait staff. We would even go out with them at night. We became very close friends with them and we keep in touch with them. We know their whole life story. They inquired about our life story. They were always so friendly and so kind.

As for our classmates, they were awesome. In the beginning, I guess, it can be hard to feel comfortable enough to break the ice and to talk to people who you don’t know. But just like it is when you’re going to college, you just eventually break that ice. Little jokes in the classroom turn into inside jokes… turn into let’s hang out later which turn into just lifelong friendships.

I had a great time with my roommates. We ended up bonding and we’re going to become roommates in the future, getting an apartment together here is San Francisco. I loved living with my girls. It felt more like a dream. We were just living the life that we’ve always dreamed of.

I definitely feel like I had a good support system in Italy. The ladies of AIFS are so kind. They make sure that you feel comfortable. Whenever you have a situation, they will go out of their way to make sure you are okay.

Thank you, AIFS, and thank you to all my lovely friends for making this experience out of this world.”

Part 3: Tara Reflects on her Semester Abroad

“Oh, hey there. I was just reflecting on my time abroad. This is the third video about my reflection piece on being abroad.

So, how has being abroad changed me? Well, I would definitely say that it has changed the way I interact with people and make new friends. But when you’re abroad, I didn’t realize I would be making friends with people who were older than me. On my class trip for my Italian language class I went to an old people home and got to interact with retired elderly Italian men and women. It was very interesting. They were very good at English too but we tried to speak in Italian with them. But just that type of interaction with older generations was very cool, especially with a generation that was from another country.

I also loved that I was meeting people in hostels all the time. Everyone was from so many different places. Also, I really liked meeting all the wait staff at restaurants. They always took the time to talk to you and get to know you, which is not something I’m accustomed to here.

It made me more aware of different cultures and just, you know, the way that they do things. For example, in Italy, you can’t have a cappuccino after 12. It’s such a little thing, not that big of a deal, but it’s a difference. Or just going out of the house, you know, in America typically we always wear leggings, sweatpants, going to store really quick. You will not be caught dead in clothes that is not your best. And it’s something I want to incorporate here. Why should I wear leggings? Every day is a good day to dress up.

Something else, also — just becoming more aware of my privilege and how lucky I was to be where I was. I made a lot of nice Italian friends and they would always ask, how can you afford to be here? And honestly, it’s because I’m very, very lucky and I’m so thankful to my parents for that. It was good to be aware of where I was coming from and how lucky I am to be where I was. It made me really appreciate all the more.

So, what is something I wish I knew before going? I definitely wish I knew how to control my money. I knew I should save money before I left, but something to keep in mind is that while you’re there don’t keep all your money in one place. Something I learned quickly was that you don’t keep all your money in one place. Keep it in a sock, in your suitcase, some in your makeup bag, some in your glasses case… wherever. Just don’t keep it all in one place.

But it’s okay because I did have a credit card. So, what is important is before you go abroad make sure you get a credit card because it is very helpful. You can take money out that way. Try to see if your bank is also abroad, because that will save you with the fees. Bring some American dollars you can exchange it for a high fee. But what was really nice was that in Florence, for example, where I was, they had this nice man who was called Carlos Exchange and he would exchange the money without a fee. You would just get what you needed. It was a more affordable option and a lot of my friends did end up doing that.

Another tip, do not bring too much clothes. I can’t stress this enough! I brought so much clothes with me. This is me, because I was very lucky… I went with one suitcase and came back with two. So that just goes to show you, don’t bring that much stuff. You can get whatever you need there, if you’re fortunate enough to be able to afford that.

Another thing to keep in mind is FaceTime your parents. FaceTime your loved ones and your friends. My parents made it possible for me to go abroad. They care and love for me, they allowed me to do this, so it’s good to call them and show them that you miss them. Keep in touch with them and see how they are doing.

On another note, keep track of your memories. I’m so thankful that I took videos because now it’s been two months that I’m back and look at all my old pictures and all my videos, and it just makes me really happy that I was able to capture all those moments. One of my friends, she kept a travel diary and it’s beautiful. She did such a good job with it. Each page has a different story of a place we’ve been to or like a little keepsake.

Ciao, Italy. It won’t be long. I’ll see you soon.”

Check out some of Tara’s adventures in Florence on the AIFS Study Abroad YouTube channel

Want to spend a semester, summer, academic year, or January-term in Florence? Be sure to take a look at our study abroad, intern abroad, and volunteer abroad opportunities.

Tara's Study Abroad Journey from Start to Finish | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS in Florence, Italy | Student Vlogger

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