Before Study Abroad

Fresh pasta with olive oil, cobblestone streets lined with rugged yellow walls, a sunset over the Piazzale Michelangelo…

These are the things I dream of as I haphazardly pack clothes and toiletries into my suitcase and carry-on bag, attempt to teach myself Italian through various iPhone apps, fill out credit card applications, navigate insurance forms.

It shouldn’t come as a shock that studying abroad requires a lot of preparation. Coming into it, I expected some of the difficulties: packing four months of clothes and supplies into a couple bags, renewing my passport, purchasing a flight, and choosing classes that fit with my major at UW-Madison. However, as the trip drew closer, I began to realize there was so much more to do.

First, I had to navigate one of the more confusing steps: the Italian Student Visa application. This form was due quickly after I found out I had been accepted into my program, but I needed to have my flight itinerary, social security card, and a number of other documents ready before I could complete the form.

Then, there were the things. With black Friday sales and Christmas approaching, I made lists of all the things I would need: medications, toiletries, a travel backpack, luggage locks, plug adapters, a new pair of walking shoes—it’s surprising how many little items you may want despite limited packing space.

Finally, there were all of the little details to figure out. These are the things that didn’t come to mind until I started really considering daily life in a foreign country. For example, I needed to apply for a new credit card to ensure I wouldn’t be charged a fee every time I made an international purchase. I also had to consider phone plans, exchanging currency, transportation from the airport, and more.

Of course, the months and weeks before studying abroad weren’t all forms and details. I spent my free time watching movies and videos or reading books about Italy. I made plans to spend spring break traveling Italy with my parents. I connected with my future roommate and met other SRISA students at an Italian restaurant in Madison. Honestly, the anticipation of arriving in sunny Italy was an exciting time on its own.

Now, with less than a week left before I fly out of Chicago, I am focusing on finishing my packing and spending my time with my friends and family. During the past week, I met with my boyfriend and my best friend, turned in the keys to my Madison apartment, visited my grandparents, and spent time at home with my family.

Despite all the preparation, I am sure there will be something I forgot to bring or failed to consider. I’m sure I will have plenty of mishaps, awkward conversations, and touristy moments—but that’s part of the fun.

When I write next, it will be from my apartment in Florence—or maybe from my Italian school, or a café somewhere in the city. Until then, the next couple weeks will be a blur of last-minute packing, goodbyes, and finally, boarding the plane to Italy.