I was 18 years old with my three other newfound friends and we were quite literally stuck in the steep cliffs of Cinqueterra, Italy. Our fifth friend floundered below us, off the main path and unable to get back to us. What began as a kind gesture to rescue our friend’s camera off the cliff below turned into a three-hour rescue mission that included five policemen, a boat with a flood light, a helicopter and a rappelling rock climb rescue. Plus the twenty-odd Italian spectators. It was my second week studying abroad in Florence, Italy.
Although it was my last encounter with the Italian police, it was a classic welcome to the fickle nature of study abroad, where when you try to go to the safe, touristic destination your friend gets stuck on a cliff. There are a lot of aspects of the study abroad experience that can be intimidating. Everything from how to cross the road to greetings (Americans, take note: kisses!) is different. Added into the mix is the fact that you are thousands of miles away from home, without your usual familial or friend support system. It is a lot. However, most students who have had successful study abroad experiences recommend one thing: saying yes.
“There are so many ways you can fall back into your comfort zone,” says James Storch, a Senior Associate at Morningside Translations, who spent the summer of 2008 in Berlin and Heidelberg, Germany. “When you are abroad, you have the opportunity to live and discover a place for a finite amount of time, it is especially important to say yes to an invitation or an event that comes up. Even if you are not feeling particularly up for it or necessarily interested in it.”
While this might take you to a heavy metal concert in an abandoned elementary school that, shockingly, was not as fun as you had imagined, it could also lead to high points, like exploring the Northern Italian countryside during a wine festival in Trieste.