I am so stoked to study abroad in Rome, Italy next year. Of course I called my grandmother after I found out I had been accepted into the program, and her first reaction started supportive, with an “I’m so happy for you!” and then moved on to be a little more cautious with, “You have to watch out for those Italian men.” Then she put my grandfather on the phone and told him I have been accepted to Rome and he asked me “Have you already started packing?”
Amongst all the hullabaloo, I forgot the list I am making in my head is material rather than mental, therefore I am not mentally preparing myself for the fact that a year from now I will be attending John Cabot University in Rome.
I jokingly responded to him with “Of course I have!” However, for some reason this question set off an alarm in my head and I could see red lights flashing. I had been extremely excited, making a mental packing list of everything I am going to pack, noting everything I am going to leave behind.
And so, before the packing checklist can manifest itself, the mentality checklist must be created first:
1. You need to choose the classes you’re going to take. I mean, this is important. Do you want an easier, medium, or heavier course load? It might help to ask someone who has done the program to see what their experience was like.
2. Your phone is another thing to consider. You need to get an international data plan, or maybe download WhatsApp so you can text your friends and family. Keep in mind your phone could also get stolen if you are not careful, so always make sure to keep whatever purse or shoulder bag close to you and draped across your body.
3. This experience is not just for your traveling pleasure but for your education as well. This is a kind of “well, of course” statement, but keep in mind that cities like Rome are a travel hub. Just a mindset to get into before hopping on the plane over there! But then again, go to a new place every few weekends with the new friends you’ve made (maybe make a well-set plan first). Have fun, but not too much fun right?
4. There will be a chance to impulse buy something, and you will just have to be prepared for this. You know you will want to buy the first beautiful dress you see the second you get there. Or maybe it will be your favorite book written in the language of the country you are visiting. (And take it from someone who collects older books, I know I will be sneaking a smaller bag into my suitcase for that second reason for sure.)
5. Get into the mindset of knowing there are going to be a lot of other students studying abroad who are going through the same transitional period as you (so make friends with them! What do any of you have to lose?).
6. Now, repeat after me: You are only going to be abroad for four months, you are only going to be abroad for 4 months, you are only going to be gone for 4 months. Okay so maybe a little longer, but you get the gist. You know you’re going to get über homesick and wish you’d never left home but guess what… FACETIME! Yes, you heard it here first folks. FaceTime will give you the face-to-face contact with friends and family that you need whenever you need it (Make sure to double check the time difference though so that you are not waking up your cranky mother at 3 in the morning.)
7. To go off number six, get used to the idea that you will be homesick. I know, I know there will be this crazy new place to explore with new people to meet and you will think “I am so glad I am doing this on my own.” But when you encounter these beautiful places, you might also wish your best friend from home or your parents are there with you — just like when you got homesick at sleepaway camp. There are a bunch of little things that might trigger this feeling, and you cannot truly be prepared for it. But understanding that it is bound to happen might make the experience a little easier.
8. Lastly, and hopefully on a happier note, understand this experience is going to change your life forever because you can say that you have studied abroad in one of the most exciting cities, or countries. This adventure is unique to who you are shaping yourself into, and nothing can strip you of the feeling of content you feel when you take off for your new adventure and when the wheels hit the ground coming home.
So there you have it, my mentality checklist (prior to my material packing list) to prepare myself for Rome, Italy. Hopefully it will help me remember that not every dress is necessary and keep me from accidentally waking up my mother in the middle of the night calling her to tell her I miss her. Not everything on this list will apply to everyone planning on studying abroad, but hopefully it is enough to remind us we are going to get an amazing education while having one of the greatest adventures of our lives.
Sarah Varney is a photographer for The Beacon. She can be reached at email@example.com.