One of the biggest challenges and most rewarding aspects of studying abroad is getting to know and become comfortable with your host family—and to have them feel the same way about you! It takes time and happens gradually, but if you both put in the effort, you’ll leave with a new home and an extended family waiting for your return. Having a host family was one of the most nerve wrecking aspects at first—what if they don’t like me? What if we don’t get along? What if it’s horrible and I feel like I can’t be at home? Though they were all valid questions, you just have to be open and honest with your host family and slowly start to get to know one another.
You might not be instant friends with them, especially if you’re from completely different generations on top of being from different cultures. It might be hard to communicate if there’s a big language barrier, but you have to try. The more effort you show in getting to know them, the more they’ll come to appreciate you and want to be open with you. It’s the same thing as meeting a stranger in America: slowly start to teach each other about yourselves and as time goes on, you’ll (hopefully) be more comfortable and become better friends. So don’t get into the nitty gritty details right away—especially with Italians, who are known for wanting to keep their privacy with people they don’t know well. Maybe the first night focus on talking about yourself: why are you studying here, what your family’s like, things you don’t like to eat, etc. But also try to get them to engage as well, by asking them questions too or giving them room to interject. Even if it’s frustrating and you don’t know what to say, just remember that in a week or less all of your efforts will pay off.
To further help your relationship with them, you need to be considerate and respectful. Don’t let garbage and clothes pile up around your room. Italians pride themselves on keeping things neat, and many other home stays elsewhere—even if the family doesn’t care about organization—would appreciate you being able to pick up after yourself and not make a mess out of their home. You are a guest in their house first and foremost, and no matter if you become a new family member by the end, you still need to respect their rules and boundaries. Though they don’t set a curfew, be conscious of the time you come home and the amount of noise you make when you return. Also be aware of how much time you spend in the bathroom, how much/little you eat of what they make you and how you interact with any friends they have over or pets they have. It’s not that you’re being tested per say, as much as you should be respectful and aware of how you’re acting in someone else’s house.
After time, you and your host family will grow to be more accepting and understanding of the others’ behaviors and likes or dislikes. You’ll be able to talk freely and fall into their habits of how long to spend in the bathroom, a normal serving size at dinner or how neat you should keep your bedroom. The more you integrate yourself into the culture and try to learn from your host family, the happier all of you will be and the better experience you’ll have. So just jump right in and learn, experience and grow. This opportunity is all about you and your hosts learning from one another, so why not make the most of it?
It’s like freshman year all over again…the dreaded thought of weight gain. In a foreign country with an entirely different diet than the States, it can be hard to maintain your weight and fitness—especially when you have to juggle class, exploring your new home, and venturing off on the weekends to new places! Not to mention having a host mom who likes to fill your plate with three courses at 8 pm. Others try to save money or avoid the weight sitch entirely by eating infrequently and as little as possible—no buono!
Food is an important part of every culture. Italy is all about the pasta, bread and vegetables, versus Americans chowing down on hotdogs and hamburgers. But if you look around Italy, you’ll see mostly skinny or average weight citizens ordering light lunches and big dinners. So how can you handle a pasta lunch, and a pasta dinner followed by potatoes, meat and salad, and ending with a fruit salad? You have to keep your food quantities in perspective. Follow the culture. If they eat a lighter lunch, follow suit. You might get hungry again before dinner if you’re used to eating earlier or having a larger lunch, but give yourself some time to adjust. Grab a snack or go exploring to keep your mind off food (though passing so many little gelato stores might make it worse). After an adjustment period, you’ll be able to eat on the same schedule as the Italians, or whatever culture you’re experiencing, do.
Saving money is always a concern when abroad, but don’t let that keep you from eating! You don’t have to go to a nice restaurant every time you want to eat. Check out grocery stores—they often have cheap, already made options for lunch or ingredients to make your own. Go out to eat with a large group and try sampling a variety of dishes; by splitting the bill, you’ll still get all the flavors of your country at a lower price then trying to work your way through the restaurant’s menu on a variety of visits. Also, simply checking out the smaller cafes and lesser known restaurants on side streets could lead to big money savings—and having a secret hangout!
Besides money and weight gain, others are just concerned about pleasing their host families. When you first arrive, just talk about what you can or can’t/won’t eat and go from there. Get a sense of their eating habits—how much they eat and when they eat—and try to mimic them as much as possible. They want you to have a good time studying abroad and want to make the adjustment easier, which can mean making you feel at home with a big hearty meal. Don’t feel like you have to eat it all. Learn how to say “I’m full” or something along those lines, and politely decline. They won’t be offended and it can actually help them learn how much food they should make so it’s sufficient for the whole family.
Most importantly, you need to enjoy your abroad experience. Don’t let counting calories or coins hold you back from eating and doing what you want to do. Once you immerse yourself in the culture, measuring out everything you eat won’t matter anymore. Besides, there’s always time to lose weight if you need to or form a stricter budget for the rest of your stay. In the meantime, buon appetito!
There are five things that I just can’t commute to New York City without:
This one is most obvious. Our phones are our lives. I wouldn’t be able to get to work the first day without Google Maps. Because of the Urban Spoon app, I found the nearest Indian food place without wasting time wandering around on my 30 minute (well 20 once I wait for an elevator) lunch break. I keep up with editors in San Francisco, Dallas, Lexington and New York via email. I listen to music (very low or only in one ear for safety reasons) as I walk through the streets or sit on the train. One thing I learned the hard way though is to never text while walking. I know it seems silly, but I have gotten inches from speeding cabs on more than one occasion because of texting. Always pay attention while walking, no matter where you are!
Everyone I know who has to commute hates it, but with the right stuff, it really isn’t so bad. I love the fact that I have 30-40 minutes at the start and end of every work day where I can either just sit and read, listen to music or get to know the person sitting next to me. So far I’ve read The Monster of Florence, Fifty Shades of Grey, and Fifty Shades Darker as I’ve commuted. Last year, it took me the whole summer just to finish one book! If you’re not into books, listening to music, playing games on your phone or just looking out the window are other nice ways to cherish your downtime while on your commute.
This may be the writer in me but I carry a marble notebook with me everywhere. Aside from my planner, which I don’t always have on hand, I use a notebook to leave myself reminders, take notes during work, or write down the crazy stories of my day. I don’t think I could leave the house without pen and paper in some form.
Everyone should do this! Take a zip lock sandwich bag and fill it with essentials. I keep Oil Absorbing Sheets, Excedrin, a small mirror, anti-bacterial, pens, gum, lip balm, floss, tweezers, tissues and a mini toothbrush and paste in mine. This way, you don’t have to look through all the compartments of your bag to get to what you want and it makes it easy to change from bag to bag. Also, if you get caught in rain, your lotion explodes or your water bottle leaks, nothing will get ruined.
As told in the post “Don’t Just Think On Your Feet, Think Of Your Feet,” I wouldn’t be able to commute without my commuting shoes. I still have blisters and calluses from those first two weeks of walking two miles each way in flats. Walking as a part of your commute is a good way to incorporate a bit of exercise into your day, but walking in shoes without support can lead to back and knee pain. You could really ruin your feet. I commute either in a pair of Keds or these Fit Foam Adidas Flip Flops. Change up your shoes and your feet will thank you!
As an art history major and taking an Italian Masterpieces class, lots of time is spent touring museums and visiting churches. Though spending time in church is probably the last thing you think you’d want to do, some of the coolest art can be found in these places: the tomb of Michelangelo in Santa Croce, the frescoes by Masolino and Masaccio in Santa Maria del Carmine, and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling. Even if art isn’t your thing, if you’re in Italy, at least take the time to go to the Uffizi (originally office buildings designed by Vasari for the Medici family) or spend some time in the Duomo (if you don’t mind enclosed spaces and hundreds of stairs, take a trip up through the dome for a great view of the entire city).
If you decide to spend a day on some art, there are some things you need to know to be prepared. Gypsies and pickpockets love to hang out around tourist areas, most living right around the Duomo. If you’re carrying a bag, keep close track of it, holding it close to your body and making sure it’s zipped up—though keep in mind, there are some who will go the extra mile and cut your bag if they can discretely. Many suggest using a money pouch—kind of like a fanny pack but under your clothes and very easily hidden—to protect your money, even if your bag does get compromised. Mostly, if you pay attention to your surroundings and tell the gypsies a firm “NO,” you’ll get by just fine.
If you’re going into a church, you need to be dressed appropriately—even in the summer. Shoulders and knees need to be covered. Occasionally they’ll let you get away with your knees showing as long as they’re almost or partially covered, but you need to decide if it’s worth the risk. A few churches, like San Miniato al Monte, will provide awkward poncho like cover ups if you’re dressed inappropriately, but you will just look like a ridiculous tourist. Bring a scarf or shawl to wrap around your shoulders. Opt for bermuda shorts or a long skirt to hide those knees. You can always bring some clothes to change into if you get too hot, but the interior of churches are generally nice and cool.
Finally, you’re going to want to take tons of pictures to show off to your friends…but you’re going to have to refrain. Most museums with few exceptions will allow you to take pictures—if you can, the flash MUST be off, or you’ll add to the damage many of these works have already suffered. The majority of churches would also prefer you looked around without filming or photographing its content, partially because some are still filled with practicing monks or just because the decorations are old and need good maintenance. Even if you can sneak a picture or two, try to hold off from doing so; it will only make the paintings fade and flake sooner, and soon only reproduced images will be left—we definitely don’t want that.
No matter where you go in the world, there is sure to be a wide variety of art and architecture marking its growth and culture. Take the time to appreciate it, even if you aren’t interested in museums. You may be surprised by the talent you stumble upon.