It’s unrealistic to expect that a study-abroad experience will go without a problem. Yet I expected studying in Italy to go exactly like that- without a single problem. For the most part, it has. However, things like missing American holidays, getting sick, and coordination of two lives do lead to unnecessary frustration.
American Holidays- I wasn’t too broken-hearted about missing Labor Day. Or Columbus Day. Or Halloween. Or even Veterans Day. However, when it came to Thanksgiving, I was determined not to miss it. Thanksgiving is such a family-oriented holiday, I got a little mopey just thinking about it. Luckily, my fellow Americans here in Milan pulled through for me. My friend Mike had his mom visiting the week of Thanksgiving, and she graciously agreed to cook a real Thanksgiving dinner for us- complete with turkey. As Mike didn’t have a stove, I ended up hosting six other American students (and Mike’s mom) for Thanksgiving.
Mike’s mom saved the day. She brought pumpkin pie all the way from the States (Milan doesn’t have a lot of traditional Thanksgiving food). She cooked turkey, sweet potatoes, gravy, and a whole host of other Thanksgiving food. Instead of spending an American holiday Italian style, I ended up celebrating with six of my closest American friends here who have truly become like my second family in this study abroad experience.
Getting Sick: shortly after Thanksgiving, I got sick. At first, I thought it was a cold. But then it got worse- I could barely breathe, my voice completely disappeared, and my head felt ready to explode. Feeling terrible, I went to Bocconi’s International Student Desk (ISD) to ask for advice. They were amazing. With one look at pathetic me, someone whisked me off to go visit an Italian doctor.
In Italy, you can get most medications at a pharmacy, where the pharmacist has the capability of prescribing medications. You can actually get a lot of strictly controlled medications in the US just by talking to a pharmacist free of charge. However, in my case, I was taken to the doctor for a more refined diagnosis. The ISD was afraid I had pneumonia. Thankfully, I only had bronchitis. I was sent home with a variety of antibiotics, cold medications, inhalers, and a stronger version of Sudafed. I was under strict orders to rest, drink plenty of fluids, and to make not developing pneumonia my new number one priority in life.
Getting sick abroad isn’t a whole lot of fun- not that it is back in the States either. After two days in bed, I was ready to die from the loneliness of it. My roommate, afraid I was contagious, was avoiding me like I had the plague. My friends, also fearing for their own health, did the same. I can’t say that I blame them- but it was really lonely there for a while. Especially because I couldn’t talk for several days because of inflammation in my throat, which meant not even phone conversations. I’m now well on my way to recovery- just a few more days of taking antibiotics and then I should be fine.
The third difficulty of being abroad that I mentioned was coordinating two separate lives. I live my Milan life right now- I have Milan friends, Milan classes to worry about, a Milan home (and all the associated worries/tasks), and all the associated things that go with being an Italian (Italian holidays, customs, etc). Then there’s my Seattle life. Trying to keep up with my Seattle friends, my actual family, and what’s going on back home is hard, especially with the nine hour time difference. On top of that, I have to coordinate things for leaving Italy and moving back to Seattle.
While abroad, I’ve found a place to live back in Seattle, missed my younger sister’s bridal shower, gotten an internship offer, filled out masters applications, struggled with the financial aid office, and registered for classes(and re-registered multiple times). I sometimes feel like I’m being pulled in two- and being forced to choose between two worlds. Then I take a deep breath, tell myself I can do this, and move forward. I think mastering the international juggling act is one of my biggest accomplishments while abroad. I can do this, I can do anything. Everybody has been really great and really tried to make this process easier (special thanks to Sharmon in the advising office- you have been fantastic!).
Please don’t get me wrong- I LOVE studying abroad. I wouldn’t trade this opportunity for anything. The things I have learned, the people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve had- they all more than make up for the minor difficulties I’ve described. Life back home was a difficult balancing act, getting sick was no fun, and holidays were just as difficult to coordinate there. I would highly recommend studying abroad to anyone- just know you have to be motivated, and it’s easier if you have people to lean on.