My first month has been a whirlwind of excitement, change and adventure. I’ve eaten more than I’ve ever thought possible but I’ve also walked the equivalent of that every day in Rome. I think my new favorite treat here is the wonderful (although somewhat touristy) gelato crepes.
It’s been a great time, but amidst the eventfulness, I’ve encountered an unexpected challenge that I don’t think many people tell you about before going abroad.
I’ve found there’s a good amount of pressure to travel both frequently and far. Many students here leave Italy each weekend to explore different countries throughout Europe. Understandably there’s a big rush to get in as many different places as possible while abroad.
While it’s good to take advantage of the proximity of other countries in Europe, I do think it can put pressure on students who are unsure of where they want to go or who can’t travel as often.
There have been a few times where friends of mine have left for the weekend and I’d almost felt guilty for staying in Rome. Since I’m only here for a short amount of time, it feels like each weekend needs precise planning and intention. Sometimes the freedom and extent of options can be overwhelming. Where will I go? Who will I go with? What will I do there? Will I travel within the country or go beyond?
The truth about this kind of pressure is that it isn’t necessary. The plans of others should never dictate your own in the sense that you shouldn’t feel pressured to leave simply because others do. You don’t need to do enough in order to make the most of your time abroad.
In the weekends that I’ve stayed close to home, I’ve learned to better understand the quality of my own experiences versus comparing them to the quantity of others. Staying in town has allowed me to discover interesting places that most have not had the opportunity to for lack of time. Some of my best days have been right here in Rome, uncovering hidden parks, artsy neighborhoods and local record shops. One of my favorite memories is a simple walk I had along the Tiber River while listening to live music by local Italians.
In truth, there isn’t enough time to see everything in one semester. You can certainly try to get in as much as possible, but that doesn’t guarantee it will be a meaningful experience. There’s a place for weekends to travel far but it’s also good to let yourself fall in love with where you are. To explore that place in depth. To allow yourself to integrate more than as just a tourist would, but as a local would.
I’ve begun to uncover what I value in traveling and how I can make the most of my time abroad. It’s been a wonderful learning experience so far and I’m excited to see what new discoveries arise as the rest of the semester unfolds.
So to those who travel outside their study abroad country and to those who stay close to home, rest assured there’s no pressure.