How I chose my study abroad country

One of the most prominent questions I get when I say I’ve studied abroad is, “Why Italy?” My immediate response is always, “Why not Italy?”

If only my decision were that simple. Thinking back to the pre-application process days, I struggled to narrow down the countries. I knew which term I wanted to study abroad (Spring). Check. But which country would be best for me? Which one would yield the best experience? Which one would fit my budget? I had 42 countries to choose from. How would I choose the ONE country in which I’d spend 5 months of my life away from friends and family?

During the first few weeks of finally deciding to study abroad, my mind was racing with all the possibilities. I could go to Hong Kong… my best friend is studying abroad there right now. It’d be so cool if we studied abroad together! Or Paris! Don’t people always dream of going to Paris? Or Australia… I do love Tim Tams. The possibilities were endless.

My study abroad advisor asked me what my highest priority was. I told him, “Finances.” I wanted a country that wasn’t too expensive and one that would yield the least amount of loans. “Sweden,” he said. I looked into the programs offered in Sweden. They actually didn’t sound too bad… until I saw the weather in Sweden. A solid 27 degrees Fahrenheit. Nope, I thought. Born and raised in the wonderful state of California, I couldn’t imagine myself in such treacherous (yes, treacherous) weather conditions. My SoCal soul would be frozen for 5 months abroad.

Although I didn’t rule out Sweden completely, my heart was set on London, Paris, or Florence. Typical European cities, I know. I had several serious heart-to-heart conversations with myself. Would I be okay living in such drastically different cities (and weather)? I don’t even speak French! How do I communicate with other people? How do I use the Tube? Do Italians eat pasta all day every day? During yet another meeting with my study abroad advisor, he said, “The most important thing is that you go abroad. No matter where you go, you’ll have a great experience.” I kept his advice in mind and thought to myself that maybe I was making this much harder than necessary.

Before I made my final decision, I reconnected with one of my good friends who participated in the ACCENT Language and Culture program in Florence, Italy (one of the programs I had in consideration). We had been chatting via Facebook during her time abroad and I was asking her questions about all sorts of things from financial aid to how many pieces of luggage she brought. Bonding over the delicious Cuban bakery that is Porto’s, we spent 3 whole hours sharing stories and advice (mostly on her end) about her experience. Reading about her adventures abroad was one thing— hearing about it in person was another. There’s something about coming back from such an incredible experience that makes the individual glow. They way they speak and carry themselves just ignites a flame inside and immediately makes you itch to go abroad. That’s exactly how I felt. I was sold. Italy it was.

In retrospect, I could not have asked for a better host country or city. Europe is very accessible—so traveling between countries and cities is much easier than traveling within the states back home (and cheaper, too). If you are the worried, stressed out, and indecisive prospective study abroad student like my former self, just go with your gut. Connect with study abroad alums. You can’t go wrong. When all is said and done, you will be a better person for simply having gone abroad and traveled without abandon.

Remember! Bridge from Abroad is a community of future, current, and former study abroad students sharing their stories. Feel free to reach out to our contributors or use the contact form to talk about all things study abroad.

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