Viterbo was a great city to study abroad in and USAC was a great company to study abroad with. I originally picked USAC because it had a good reputation at my University and it was super affordable. I picked Viterbo as my destination because I wanted an authentic experience. I wanted to be around the language and the customs every day.
The amount of time I would be there was also important to me. I had always dreamed of traveling and living abroad but I didn’t know if I could do it. Going for a year was a challenge I gave myself that came with many rewards. Not only did I have more opportunities to travel and enjoy my environment, but I also had more opportunities to build relationships.
At the beginning of my abroad experience, I began working at a private school teaching English to a variety of ages. Staying for the whole year allowed me to become friends with my students, to learn about their lives, and to watch them grow.
Budgeting for Study Abroad
Many people worry about the cost of study abroad, but it is very achievable. I applied for many scholarships and by the end of it, it was cheaper than my freshman year at The University of Iowa. The tricky part was not having an income for nine months, but if you go into the experience with a budget it isn’t impossible. I allowed myself $3,000 for travel and $3,000 for my everyday life and by the end, I was nearly $1,500 under budget. I’m not going to lie, the budgeting and lack of income made me anxious and stressed, but it was a real-world experience. Saving and budgeting is important in your adult life. It may seem like a barrier in the study abroad experience but looking back on it now, I see that it helped me to value and enjoy the time when I did spend some of my savings.
Navigating the Emotions of Study Abroad
Going abroad is exciting but it is also terrifying, as it should be. You are leaving your comfortable surroundings and jumping into a culture you know very little about, but that is why USAC is so great. They provided my group with many outlets to make us feel at home in Viterbo; such as taking us on a tour of the town, creating a Facebook page so we could connect with each other, introducing us to Italian students, and connecting us with language partners. They were also very patient with all our questions, even the small ones.
There are many challenging things that come with study abroad. Traveling alone was the most difficult for me. In the beginning, I had a bad travel experience and it made me wary of trying again. But it only takes one trip to set everything back on track. Start small. Take a train to a town an hour away, take a bus to a town 15 minutes away. Take day trips. See the area around you. Work your way into long trips if that makes you feel comfortable.
Adjusting to a Different Language
The language barrier was another difficult part of the experience. Not speaking the language you hear on the street and in the cafes can be liberating but also paralyzing. On one hand, you get to listen to all the beautiful sounds of this foreign language without worrying about the meaning, but on the other, it makes it difficult to communicate. Luckily, you have a lot of tools at your disposal. You can get a translation app like google translate and download the language onto your phone so when you are out of a WIFI zone, you can still type in what you are trying to say. You can also use an app called Duolingo to practice your skills at home.
Taking Classes Abroad
Classes abroad will usually differ from your expectations. Fortunately, with USAC you can audit classes and drop them after the first couple of weeks if you are not enjoying them. But the study abroad experience is about a lot more than just the classes. You are constantly learning while you are there, whether it is about the culture and the people or whether it is about yourself.
This experience, especially the year-long session, will open your eyes to new phenomenon around the world and help you discover how you prefer to live your life. It will provide you with things that will help you reflect as you progress through your life.
Shania Schmidt studied abroad in Viterbo, Italy for the Spring 2017-Fall 2018 academic year.