By Jessica Helfond

My month in Rome was full of unexpected twists and turns. While it all ended up okay, there are a few things I wish I knew before leaving. Here’s some general advice for studying abroad, mixed with some specific tips for studying abroad in Rome.

1. Try new things.

I know what you’re thinking. No kidding, Jessica. Of course you’re going to be trying new things while in a foreign country. Yes, I know it sounds self explanatory! But I do think it’s important to keep in mind. While in a foreign country, you’re constantly surrounded by new, unfamiliar things. Literally everything is different. Because of this unfamiliarity, it can be easy to want to fall back into old habits to find something that feels familiar. Like getting spaghetti every night. Or not going on a spontaneous walk around the city, and instead staying in bed and watching your favorite feel-good show on Netflix. But trust me, keep putting yourself out there and try new things and you won’t regret it. The whole point of going abroad is to have new experiences, and it’s important to keep that in mind throughout your entire trip.

2. Don’t be afraid to be more assertive than normal.

I know, this sounds weird. But this tip is specifically for Rome. Italians are known to be more aggressive. Not in a scary, I’m going to fight you way, but more in a general sense. You have to ask for what you want, especially in a setting like a coffee shop. Waiters aren’t going to be super polite like they are in America (probably because in Italy there are no tips, so they don’t really care), and people aren’t going to wait around for you to make a choice. So you have to know what you want and ask for it, and if you do, you’ll end up getting it.

3. You don’t always need a plan.

Some of my favorite days were spent just wandering around Rome. It’s so fun to explore a new city, and you never know just exactly what you’re going to find. So don’t be afraid to go out for the day and see where it takes you–odds are it’ll be better than you could have imagined.

4. Bring good walking shoes.

I can’t stress this enough. I was told this before I went, but I didn’t realize that Italians walk literally everywhere. I walked over 175 miles in 4 weeks in Rome, so PLEASE bring good walking shoes.

5. Bring extra euros. And then bring a few more.

I made the mistake of not bringing enough euros. I didn’t realize that so many small transactions are based on cash (especially all those two euro gelato purchases). If you run out of euros, you have to find an ATM that most likely has terrible exchange rates and usage fees, so you’ll end up spending way more money than you want. Using cash is ESSENTIAL, so bring more euros than you think you’ll need. Odds are, you’ll use them.

6. Public transportation will be ridiculously crowded. It’s okay.

I can’t even describe how crowded public transit in Rome is. Imagine a bus or metro with so many bodies in it, you are pressed up against people all around you (if you can’t imagine that, think about sardines in a can). It might seem like I’m exaggerating, but I’m really not. There are times when it’s so crowded, the vehicle cannot physically hold another body. As unpleasant as that sounds, it’s not that bad. There’s always air conditioning, and you aren’t really on transit for that long, so it goes by quick. 

7. You will make it through.

This is more of a general study abroad trip. Being in an unfamiliar country can seem overwhelming. Now put the stress of taking classes (that do, in fact, count for your GPA) on top of that, and it can seem like way too much. However, it’s doable. And despite how crazy the classes may seem, there’s plenty of time to have fun, make new friends, and go on new adventures while studying abroad. Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime chance, and it’s something that I truly think everyone should experience.

Jessica Helfond studied abroad in Rome in Summer 2019. https://ieo.ucla.edu/travelstudy/italian-rome/