Top 5 Tips To Suceed During Studying Abroad in Europe

Studying abroad was hands down the best decision of my entire life.  Why?  Well, because it changed my entire future of course!  I never really had a strong passion for international travel or seeing the world, but after spending 4 months in Rome, Italy — I knew that my life would never be the same.  I was able to travel to some of the most beautiful places in Europe, and meet some incredible people from different parts of the world.

My experiences during my semester abroad changed my life, and I want to inspire people to do the same!

 1)  Take an easy-work load

One of my biggest mistakes when I studied abroad was taking a very heavy class load during the semester.  I was taking 16 units, and it was so hard to keep up with all the homework.  The program I went there actually required everyone to take that many units, so I guess I didn’t really have a choice.  So if you have the option, try to take electives / easier classes, and don’t overdo it.  Studying abroad is more about your TIME abroad, and less about the studying aspect, haha.  If things ever get bad though, you can always pay for an academic writing service, which isn’t too bad of an idea.

2)  Maximize Absences

In each study abroad program, the classes will most likely only give you a certain amount allowed days to miss class.  At my school, you could ONLY miss three, and then you would drop a letter grade / immediate fail for anything more than that.  Take advantage of those, because you’ll need those Mondays & Thursday off to possibly book cheaper flights on RyanAir & EasyJet.

I would also strongly suggest not taking any classes on Fridays!  That is very important.

3)  Travel As Much as Possible

Europe is one of the easiest and best continents to travel through, and I think traveling while your young is one of the most important things in the world.  Studying abroad is all about the places you go, the people you meet, and all the new experiences you have.  Trust me — take this advice, and travel as many weekends as you possibly can.  When it comes to your spring / fall break, don’t just go to one country and lay on a beach.  Try to explore a few different countries, stay in hostels, and go party it up with some locals!  Which perfectly brings me to my next point…

4)  Make Local Friends

I can’t stress this enough — you’re living abroad, and you absolutely must make some local friends!  I’ve worked in the study abroad industry for a couple years now, and it always makes me sad when I see groups of American students only spend time and travel with fellow Americans.  While you can make some amazing friendships with your study abroad crew, don’t miss the opportunity to forge some international friendships as well.

5 )  Take Pictures

This one is probably obvious, but I honestly wish I had taken more pictures during my study abroad semester.  I do have quite a bit, but they are all terrible quality and I’m left with very few souvenirs from my semester abroad.  Bring a decent camera or even a high-quality smart phone, and document your travels.  Maybe even start a blog (something I wish I had done during my semester in Rome).  So travel, take pictures, and explore the world!


There you have it!  While this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to studying abroad, these are my top 5 tips for making the most of your semester in Europe.

Heading on a study abroad soon?  Feel free to comment below or shoot me an email with any questions!!

5 Years Ago…My Life Changed Forever….

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I got off the plane, went through customs, picked up my bags, and waited until I saw my parents car roll up in the international arrival pick-up point at LAX.  How could the past months have gone by so fast?  I was not ready to go home, not one damn bit.  But as the saying goes; all good things must come to an end.  Five years ago today, I returned home from the most life-altering experience; my study abroad semester in Rome, Italy.  

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Just while writing this, I can’t believe it’s been FIVE WHOLE YEARS!  I think it might be a little hard for some people to pinpoint one decision that changed their entire life (or wait, maybe a lot of people can)….but I can honestly say that studying abroad was the best decision I’ve ever made.  Not only was it my favorite semester during my 4 years in college, but it greatly impacted my future.  Let me explain.

My semester in Rome is definitely what triggered this massive addiction to travel I currently live with.  

What’s actually funny, is that I was supposed to study abroad in Australia, but after talking to a good friend who was planning on studying in Rome, I had a huge change of heart.  Italy was calling my name.  I immediately emailed the director of her program, and asked what I needed to do to apply.  ( I was 1.5 months pas the application deadline).  Luckily for me, they said it was possible.  I scheduled an appointment at the consulate, managed to obtain a student visa the day before my flight, and before I knew it…I was off to the eternal city, ROME.

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ANDIAMO!

And no matter where I go in the world, Rome will always be the first city where I lived abroad.  I had done some traveling in Europe before, but never had an apartment abroad; a place to call home.  It was such an amazing feeling.

To write about the entire study abroad experience would simply take forever, so I’m just going to write about a few of my highlights.

1.  L’Accademia Italiana Arcadia Crew

Compared to the bigger programs like John Cabot, our program was pretty small with only around 50 students.  And I’m happy to say that our program was full of kick-ass people (for the most part).  I made tons of new friends from all over the states.  The people you meet during your semester abroad will always be special.  It’s kind of sad, I don’t keep in touch with a lot of them as much I would like to, but they’re all off doing amazing things.  Shoutout to the Arcadia crew, and for making the study abroad experience amazing!

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2.  Getting the “internship” at Euroadventures

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This is the “internship” that changed my life.  I put it in parentheses, because it really didn’t require much work.  My job was basically just to spread the word about Euroadventures trips, which I did okay at.  The best part about doing that, was meeting my “bosses” Ian & Cooper.  They were the managers of Rome, and I spent a good amount of time hanging out with them.  It made a huge impact on my abroad experience, as well as got my a great “foot in the door” when it came to the travel industry.

3.  Weekend Trips All The Time

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I never had classes on Friday, and with cheap airlines like RyanAir and EasyJet, I was going all over Europe.  This was the start of really learning how to plan my own travels, look for flights, cheap hostels, etc.  From Barcelona, Madrid, London, Belgium, etc.  I was hopping all over the place.

4.  Learning Italian

To this day, I can still speak pretty decent Italian (even better if I’ve had a beer or two).  Yes, I took a year of it back home in California, but it was the intensive 8 hours of Italian per week in Rome where I learned so much.  Grazie Maricla!

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5.  My 21st Birthday at the Venice Carnival

You only turn 21 once right?  I’m not going to go into details, but for my friends who were there, thank you.

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6.  Snowboarding the Swiss Alps

Interlaken was my first weekend trip away from Rome, and was incredible.  The Swiss Alps are stunning, and easily the best snowboarding I’ve ever done.

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7.  Weekend trip to the Amalfi Coast

This trip was the last weekend trip of my semester abroad, and really proved to me how close I had gotten with my friends I had met.  The moto ride from Sorrento – Positano, the booze cruise around Capri, and the nightlife — what an amazing weekend.  It was easily my favorite trip during my semester abroad.

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8.  FORZA ROMA

Going to the A.S Roma game was incredible.  Especially since I kinda looked like one of the red head players, John Riise, and Italian fans kept coming up to me and taking pictures.

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9.  Rome as a Home

Learning the streets, knowing favorite places to go, eat, party.  It was my CITY.  Yes, just for four months, but I loved having friends visit, and playing tour guide.

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I honestly could go on and on about my abroad experience.  Just while writing this little blog post, I couldn’t help but smile the entire time thinking about how amazing it truly was.  I honestly don’t know where I would be, or what I would be doing if I hadn’t taken that leap and spent that semester in Rome.

The two main reasons studying abroad changed my life:  

1.  It was the longest I had been away from home, and gave me the opportunity to meet amazing people, travel to beautiful destinations in Europe, and was the perfect introduction into the traveling lifestyle.  When I got back home, I couldn’t stop talking about it, and I couldn’t wait to get back.

2.  The internship led me to getting a full-time job with Euroadventures after I graduated.  I worked for that company for two years living and working in Rome, Florence, and Barcelona.  Those were some of the craziest and most fun of my life, and met some of my best friends while working for the company.  If I hadn’t gotten that job, I probably would have gotten some boring 9-5 job somewhere…which makes me cringe.  [divider]

Studying abroad is definitely one of the most rewarding and life-changing experience a college student can have.  It opens you up to new experiences, gives you this incredible sense of adventure, and for some, can spark an uncontrollable urge to want to see the entire world.  This is what happened to me.

Five years ago today, my parents picked me up from the airport…but because of how incredible my study abroad experience was; I knew they’d be dropping me off at LAX a lot more often.  

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5 Must-Try Places to Eat In Florence, Italy

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I was fortunate enough to live in Florence for over a year and a half, and it is hands down one of my favorite cities for food.  I’m admittedly a very gluttonous person, and must have gained at least 20 pounds while living in Italy.  For anyone making their way to one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, make sure to cross off these 5 best places to eat in Florence.

1.  Salumeria Verdi – Pino’s Sandwiches 

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Who makes the best panino in Florence?  Well, this is a widely debated topic, but to me is this is a no-brainer; the answer is Pino.  Not only is he one of the friendliest Italian men I met during my time in Florence, but makes one of the most mouthwatering sandwiches you’ll ever try.  He cuts all the meat right in front of you, and all the ingredients are incredibly fresh.  Located just a few minutes down the road from Santa Croce, you definitely need to stop by this place to try it for yourself.

2.  Gusta Pizza / Gusta Panino

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Located across the river around Piazza Santo Spirito are two amazing places to get either a pizza or a panino.  These establishments are favorites among the locals and the study abroad crowd, and are guaranteed to love every single bite.  They are also budget friendly, and won’t cost you much to enjoy an authentic Italian pizza or panino.

3.  I Due Fratellini

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When walking around the city center exploring the many beautiful piazza’s, monuments and museums that Florence has to offer, it’s likely that you’ll walk right past this place without knowing you did.  This is a “hole-in-the-wall” place run by two brothers (which is what the name means).  They have a wide selection of panino’s which are small, affordable, and delicious.  Located just minutes away from Piazza dell Signoria, it’s a perfect mid-day snack to keep your energy levels to up while you explore Florence.

4.  Ristorante La Spada

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I lived right down from the road from this restaraunt, and it remains, to this day, one of my favorite places to eat (and drink) in the entire world.  When you come here, you can order from the wide variety of Italian specialties from the menu, but the secret to going to La Spada is ordering the “Bruno Special”.  This is basically a family style feast that comes with hefty servings of three different types of pasta, and then a massive plate with a mix of delicious meats, and perfectly seasoned potatoes.  The best part about ordering the Bruno Special — bottomless wine.  It’s a great way to get a big meal in, and also a great way to start the night out before hitting the town.  Located on Via Della Spada just minutes away from Piazza della Repubblica; you simply have to try this place.

5.  Perseus

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Located right near Piazza della Liberta, you absolutely have to head here to try the famous “bistecca alla fiorentina”.  One user on TripAdvisor even went as far to say that it was the only reason she came to Florence.  Your taste buds will definitely agree with her as you enjoy this truly authentic dining experience. [divider]

Well, there ya have it.  When it comes to Florence, there’s so many options when it comes to places to get a delicious meal, but these would be the top 5 I would suggest to friends.  Just make sure after you finish your meal, you enjoy a nice scoop of delicious Italian gelato.  Delicioso!

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The Ultimate Guide to Studying Abroad in Europe

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So you’re taking the plunge into the study abroad world? Congratulations! I hope you are ready for what is guaranteed to be one of, if not the best semester of your college experience. Personally, my semester abroad completely changed my life, and shaped me into the man I am today.  I have studied abroad 3 different times, traveled to over 27 countries, and worked as a tour guide in Europe for two years.  I want to share my knowledge of all things Europe and study abroad related advice.    I’m going to go over just about everything I can think of that will help you prepare and be ready for this amazing and life-altering endeavor.

Disclaimer:  This post is about 3000 words!  So grab a cup of coffee and a snack.  

Pre-Departure

Picking Your City:

Where do you want go? I’m sure at this point you know people who have gotten back from studying abroad, or have heard stories about different cities. You have to analyze what is most important to you. As well, you have to think about finances. If you are on a tighter budget, you will definitely want to avoid cities like Paris, London, or Copenhagen. Would you prefer living in a smaller city with less tourism and abroad students, or do you want to be in a big city surrounded by people and nightlife? It all comes down to personal preference. I’ve known people who have studied abroad in the tiniest cities in Spain, and absolutely loved it. They did not have as many travel opportunities, but they came back to America speaking amazing Spanish. Most students however do choose to study in bigger cities. I studied abroad in Rome, and had an incredible experience. I met amazing people, traveled a bunch, and actually learned decent Italian. If you are dying to study abroad in one city, then go. I know it can be common for Universities to partner with certain organizations that only have programs in specific cities. Do not let that stop you. There are tons of alternative options if you plan ahead. You can take a leave of absence from your school and choose to study with any program; all that matters is that the classes offered at your program will transfer back to your university.

 Picking Your Program:

Most universities partner with study abroad programs, and that makes it very easy for you to choose. A couple of questions to ask about each program that can have a big impact on your time abroad.

  • Do you have an option between a homestay vs. sharing an apartment with other abroad students?
  • Does this program have classes on Fridays?
  • Does this program offer any weekend trips included in the tuition price?
  • Is taking a language class mandatory?
  • How does the tuition compare to other abroad institutions?
  • Is the Campus located in the city center?
  • Where are the student housing options located?
  • Do they provide any extra incentives to study abroad with them? (Public transportation costs, travel insurance, meal plans, etc)

These are just a few aspects that I feel can be really important to the overall value of a program. I think the most important is choosing a program that does not have classes on Friday, and have a wide variety of class times and schedules. Now, I know a lot of people just sign-up for their programs without doing any research. But ALL of these questions can be answered by just sending a short email or two. Plan ahead, get answers, and pick the program that best fits your needs.

Recommendations: API, AIFS, SAI, CEA 

Packing:

Don’t be that person who brings their entire wardrobe with you. It’s not necessary, and you will most likely regret it. I’d definitely recommend packing something for every type of weather. It’ll most likely rain, possibly snow, and you’ll travel to warmer destinations.   Be prepared, but don’t have 5 outfits for every possible weather scenario. Also, keep in mind that in every major city in Europe you will be able to find an H&M, where you can purchase budget items if you need it. On most airlines, you’re allowed one large checked-bag, one carry-on bag, and one personal item (backpack or purse). Try not to stuff every square inch possible with stuff, because you will definitely do some shopping abroad. You’ll buy souvenirs and other random stuff, so you’ll want to have room for your flight back home.

Finances:

Studying and traveling abroad in Europe is expensive. Let’s be honest. That is definitely one of the reasons why only 2% of Americans are lucky enough to have this incredible experience. I had to take-out student loans in order to finance my time in Rome, but it was worth every penny. I also had a job, and was saving up money so I could do as much traveling as possible. I know a lot of people will have very generous parents when they send their kid abroad, but that is not that case for everyone. If you are going to be rather tight on finances, plan out your weekly budget, and figure out exactly what you can spend to avoid future financial headaches.

Recommendations:

Apply for a credit-card that has no foreign transaction fees.

Check with your bank about International withdrawal fees / international banking partnerships. 

The Visa Process:

I’m not going to go into full detail about this because normally your program advisor should help you along the way, but make sure you get this handled with ample time. I almost could not go abroad because I waited too long, and got really luck that my visa was finished. It’s important to double and triple check that you have ALL of the materials needed before going to the consulate. 

Electronics / Photography:

Electronics in Europe are very expensive compared to prices at Best Buy, so it’s best to come prepared. If you are into photography, make sure you have everything you will need. Make sure you bring all your chargers, SD cards, lenses, etc. I always recommend people to bring GoPro’s because they get excellent footage, and you can get some awesome underwater footage for when you go swimming.

Blogging / Journaling:

Whether or not you think 4-5 months away from home is along time, it’s going to go by in a flash. I really wish I had set-up this blog before my time in Rome, so maybe I can help a few of you out now. It’s not too difficult to set-up a basic and free blog to document your travels. Trust me. When you look back on it 20 years from now, you’ll be really glad ya did. Even if you don’t want to start a blog, buy a cheap journal, and write in it once a week.

Preparation:

Always scan and photocopy a picture of your passport, drivers license, and credit cards. Make sure you have important numbers written down. Have two separate copies, and have one emailed to you as well.

Studying Abroad

Traveling:

“If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.” – Anthony Bourdain

One of my favorite quotes. I think it perfectly encapsulates exactly what I’m trying to inspire you to do as well. Travel as much as you can, and really embrace your time abroad. It goes by quick, and every trip you go on will have unique experiences and memories that you will never forget. Europe is an amazing place to travel, and with cheap airlines, bus companies, and travel agencies, it can actually be really affordable. I’ve written tons of useful information on this website about places to go, and things to do. Hopefully you can find it useful.

Safety:

I’m putting this second because this is definitely one of the most important topics. I’m going to be blunt; just don’t be stupid. Use COMMON SENSE. I’ve never ran into any trouble in any European city when I’m acting responsible. I guarantee at least one person reading this will get “white girl wasted” and have a panic attack thinking her friend got kidnapped. Calm down. Take a deep breath. Everything is fine. Don’t get freaked out by the movie “Hostel” and think you’re going to get sold into some weird sex slave / virgin auction ring in Paris. Just drink responsibly. If you see one of your friends who is absolutely wasted, take care of them. Don’t walk home alone. It’s really not that hard. Also, when you are drinking. PLEASE be aware of your surroundings. I’m always overwhelmed with sadness when I hear about an abroad student slipping and falling off a tall building, or a girl who can’t be found.

Pickpocketing:

This is very common in Europe. You will be a target. But to be honest, it’s really easy to avoid. What I always recommend people is, BE PARANOID. Yes, when you are in ANY crowded space, think that everyone is trying to pickpocket you. Make sure your wallet and phone are safe, and don’t stand too close to anyone. If you stay paranoid in crowded metros, bars, clubs, train stations, etc. You will not be a victim of the pickpocket.

Studying:

Wait, so you actually have to go to class during your time abroad? Yes.

I’m not gonna lie, my semester abroad was actually one of the tougher semesters of my undergraduate career. That’s also because my program was pretty strict, and I was taking 16 units. At the same time though, my teachers were very relaxed about a lot of school assignments / due dates.

Let me fill you in on a little secret. Your professors WANT you to travel. They want you to explore Europe, to meet new people, and to embrace different cultures. At the same time, they want you to learn. Most abroad programs will allow you a certain amount of “absences” per course. Take advantage of those. If you find a cheap flight on a Wednesday, skip classes on Thursday, and jump on that plane. You’ll find time to finish that homework assignment later. Carpe Diem.

(I had Italian class every day from 9-11 A.M during my semester abroad. They told us we were not allowed to miss more than 8 classes. I miss a total of 15, and still received a B+. However, part of that reason is because I was one of the better students in the intermediate level)

Nightlife:

You are in college. That means it’s a great age to do some drinking. Bonus: the drinking age in Europe is 18! Pretty much every popular abroad city has it’s own unique and vibrant nightlife scene, with different events and parties every week. Take advantage of those deals. Go out. Party. Socialize.

Recommendations:

#1: The two/three weeks you arrive into your city, go out as much as possible. This is the time people are most open and willing to meet new people. There is an atmosphere around study abroad students that makes it so easy to introduce yourself to others. You’ll get really great at answering questions like, “Where are you from”, “What school do you go to?” “What program are you studying with?”, etc. Get drunk. Make friends. Eat Kebabs.

#2: Make friends with the bartenders and club promoters. Typically, they are awesome people who just love to party. This will come in handy when you’re getting free rounds of shots and cheaper beer, and everyone else is paying full price. Definitely can be a huge money saver for the struggling abroad student.

 Language:

Come on! You are in a foreign country with a foreign language; try your best to learn at least the basics. It makes me frustrated when I’ve talked with students who got back from a semester in Florence and the only phrases that they can say are “ciao” and “grazie”. It’s fun conversing in other languages, and the locals will definitely respect that you are trying. You’re obviously NOT from there, so just do your best. Most programs require a mandatory language course, which I think is great. If you make an effort, you can pick it up new words and slang terms quickly. Hint: having a drink or two in you will definitely help the confidence level.

Saving Money:

Your first couple weeks in Europe, you’re probably gonna go nuts and forget about any type of budget you had in mind. Then you check your bank account and realize it’s time to buckle down, and find ways to cut costs. Here’s what I like to do to save money:

  • No more eating out. Making your own meals for EVERY meal will save you a ton of money. Can you boil water, and throw pasta noodles in it? It’s that easy. Hopefully by this point in your life you know how to make a couple decent meals for yourself. Start cooking. If you make it a habit, it becomes easy, and you’ll save up a ton of money for more traveling.
  • PRE-GAME! Invite some friends over to your place, or head out and drink outside. Buy your alcohol at grocery stores. Drink several drinks before heading to the bar or club, that way you really only need to have a one or two when you’re out. Also, having that friend at a bar is always clutch.
  • No more Taxi’s. Unless where you are going it is absolutely crucial, and you can’t get there by using the public transportation, there’s no need to be wasting money on cabs. Use your feet. You’re in Europe. Walk it out.
  • Don’t buy useless stuff. You most likely know what I mean when I say that. Whenever you pull out your wallet, think to yourself, “is this absolutely essential?”

Phones:

I’m sure most of you reading this will have some sort of smart phone. Do your best to get it unlocked. It’s really not that complicated. When you get it unlocked, you can use any SIM card from around the world in it. You can get a cheap plan, and only pay for the minutes you use. The calls you receive are free. (You can get a data plan if you wish as well). Trust me, you’re going to want to have a local number. It comes in handy. Also, utilize messenger apps like WhatsApp and Viber while abroad.

Day Trips:

Try your best not to waste your weekdays when you aren’t that busy. No matter what city you are studying abroad in, I’m sure there are tons of options on places and activities to discover. Make the most out of your time. Don’t go home after class and stream Netflix or take a nap. Go outside. Do something active. Wine tasting. Nearby beaches. City Hikes. Do some research, and just go.

Streaming Television:

I know I just said don’t stream Netflix, but I understand that sometimes it needs to happen. For those with Google Chrome, just download the app HOLA! Unblocker. It works for me all over the world. It just changes the IP address. Perfect for streaming stuff.

Fall / Spring Break

This is something I normally recommend to plan in advance. Personally, I would utilize this amazing 11 day break to see as much as possible, but that’s my personal preference. I know people who have chosen just one or two places, and really relaxed during their time off. I’d just recommend to plan it early, and start booking flights / hostels. It will feel a lot better when people are panicking about their plans, and you have it all booked.

Keeping in Touch:

I know for a lot of people it can be hard to be away from friends and family for a long time. I’m going to challenge you and tell you to limit those connections. Embrace the new friends you have met! Obviously, your parents will be worried about you, so keep them in the loop and update them on all your travel plans. But don’t skype them everyday!