I wish I could say that studying abroad in Florence was the best semester of my life — that every moment was a dream and that I was never sad. However, I was in the process of losing my friend group, I was away from my parents for the longest time of my life and I was rekindling an unhealthy relationship (oops). But on the plus side, I learned a lot of new ways to help me feel like I’m home wherever in the world I am.
The most important thing for me was making time to be alone. I’m a gemini and empathic person so I tend to absorb other people’s energies and emotions SO easily. So, especially when I’m in a new place, it’s so important for my self-preservation to find time to be alone. Some of my fondest moments from my semester abroad were moments I had to myself, wandering around museums, the city or sipping a cappuccino in my favorite cafe. Since I learned this about myself, I put this practice to use during my one week trip to Barcelona with my best friend of ten years and her friend I met for the first time on the way to the airport. It was a great trip but I just needed a day to reset and when I took that time to reconnect with myself, it made all the difference. I was better able to compromise with my travel companions and give my all to making the group experience one for the books.
Going along the lines of taking time to be alone, I also put myself on a schedule, especially in terms of exercise. The university I studied at had a free gym we could use and I took full advantage of it. I carved out the time to get away from everyone, leave my house and physically work out all of the angst I was feeling. No matter where I am, working out is my thing. There is something so fulfilling about working through my emotions in such a kinesthetic way. During my cardio sessions in a Florence basement, I filled my phone with music to pump me up, TedTalks to inspire me, and Amy Poehler’s Harvard commencement speech to remind me to laugh and keep moving forward. Even if it’s not working out, my advice is to find what coping mechanism works best for you — whether it’s reading, singing, journaling, whatever. Find it, make time for it, and stick to it. It will help ground you and flush out all the negativity you’re feeling during this time of upheaval (although it’s an exciting time of upheaval, it’s still a time of upheaval!).
While I was sad in Florence, I was so guilty about being sad in Florence. It was only after I returned home that I realized that it is so okay to be sad even when surrounded by such beauty. You are not selfish or ungrateful. Sadness comes regardless of physical location and regardless of circumstance. Once you’re able to let go of the guilt, it allows the sadness/homesickness/whathaveyou leave sooner.
Something my best friend said that really stuck with me is: “being sad in Florence is really different than being sad in your hometown.” It was one of those things that was so simple that it never hit me before, but it was so true! Although it’s true that sadness will hit when it wants, at the end of it all, you’re still abroad and should try to make the most of it. Even when I was feeling down, I would make myself go outside and I would just walk around for hours. It made me appreciate the beauty of where I lived, it enabled me to get some very needed fresh air, and it helped me learn Florence inside and out. Thanks to these mile long walks everyday, I remembered the streets of the city even two years after being away. Even though things were not ideal, I was not going to let that make me miss out on Italy.
Find “your place” in the city. I first visited the David in August of 2014. The woman who teaches Caryn and I Italian and Spanish told us that sometimes people have very strong emotional reactions to seeing it. It was huge, life-changing. And for me, she was right. I walked in the start of the long hallway and was so awestricken with the 17 foot tall marble man in front of me. From that moment on, David was my place. During the semester I was in Florence, whenever I couldn’t snap out of a slump, or was too stuck on the negative, I would pop into the Academia that housed my dude and after a little while, everything was good again. Find your place that puts you at ease. This place can change too, even within the same city. In Florence this past August, my place was Ponte Santa Trinita — the bridge to the right of Ponte Vecchio (if you’re facing Oltrarno). One night my friends and I crossed it and sat on the ledge and watched a huge moon while saying “wow is this real?” And from then on I would always end up on this bridge during my nightly walks. Find your home in your new home.
Something that I definitely didn’t master during my semester in Florence but that I know is a huge factor to beating the blues abroad is backing off the booze when you’re feeling weird. Feeling homesick? Feeling angsty? Missing your fam? Probably chill on going out for even just a little bit. Listen, I still imbibe and am typically down for a glass of vino. But if you’re in a new place and have a limited support system and find yourself going out multiple times a week (as I know is common especially in a huge study abroad destination such as Florence), maybe chill. For a little.
And! Last but not least, find your support system even if they’re back home. My sister and I got so much closer during my semester abroad. Caryn and I emailed a lot. My best friend and I shared a lot of messages with each other (she was studying abroad in India at the time). Find your tribe, love & be loved by them.
I lied; one more thing. As with everything that gets hard, remember why you started.
Ciao for Now,