Going with the Flow in Florence

Stone arches of bridge or acquaduct in Italy
Talking through her concerns with others helped study abroad student Amanda let go of her anxieties over the summer she spent in Florence, Italy.

MIUSA: What did you learn most from this experience?

Amanda: Learning to compromise and go with the flow of the situation was something I definitely learned in Europe. It’s really not practical wanting to do things your way, because incidences come up that you have no control over, especially when you are traveling with other people.

Even though I moved away from home for college, not seeing my family for a solid two months, with my depression and anxiety, was one of the things I was worried about. Also the whole time I was planning the trip I had lots of anxiety about the money: “I’m spending all this money and what if I go there and hate it?”

Once I got there I knew I could call my mom whenever I wanted, so that made me feel a lot better. Then once when I went through the experience, I definitely knew it was worth the money, so those anxieties just fell away.

Did you disclose to your study abroad program and plan for your medications?

I didn’t talk to my advisor and tell him about my situation, but in all our orientations we talked about if we are having problems with mental health or if we need to see a counselor, what all our options were while we were abroad. I felt if I had needed help abroad, I definitely had the resources.  

Our advisor warned us that if you are taking medications that are a narcotic in the U.S., then you need to make sure you can travel with it. I didn’t have any issues with my medications; I just googled it and looked at the different resources.

The program was six weeks but I backpacked afterwards, so I was gone for about two and half months. Getting my doctors to understand that I needed the full amount to go with me was difficult; I had to make a lot of phone calls. The pharmacy would fill it, but the charges would get blocked by the insurance company. It was a little shaky at first.

Do you use support systems or coping strategies?

I wasn’t seeing a therapist and my psychiatrist abroad. Every day I was so happy in Europe, it was hard for me to worry about the problems that I usually worry about when I’m at home. It was different there, but it wasn’t bad.

I still had my coping techniques to calm myself down, which I can do anywhere. I had a good mindset going into it and I prepared myself for being cut off from my normal resources.

I did know of a couple others with mental health conditions on the program. It helps because you see there’s others who might be feeling similar to you, and they are doing great. Even if I did have feelings of anxiety, I had friends around me and even people from the global program to get my mind off it and reach out and talk.

What about interactions with Italians and the culture?

Before I went I was really anxious about the language and that people would have preconceived notions of me as an American, but if you try to speak the language people are usually pretty nice. If you’re friendly and open, you can create great bonds with the locals.

We would just hang out in the piazza, and we’d meet people we would see every day. It was really easy. Even though there was the language barrier everyone was surprisingly open to talking; people were intellectual.

I don’t think I experienced culture shock; I got there and felt right at home. I didn’t have that moment where I felt “this is different and I can’t do it”. One of my roommates from the U.S. had trouble with that, but for me I just melted into the culture.

What advice would you have for other students?

I got my wallet stolen when I was in Florence, I was like “Oh my god, what do I do?” I had no idea how I was going to get money. It was really scary at first, but I wish I would have taken a moment to breathe and remind myself that “I am still in Italy, living this awesome life right now, and it’s going to be fine. I’m okay; I’m safe and that’s all that matters.”

Luckily I was on a program, and it was just comforting knowing that they are there to help you. If I was alone, it would have been a lot harder for me to handle all by myself.   

How was your adjustment coming back?

It was hard coming back because I loved my experience so much, and I was so bummed out to go back to working, going to school, and not having fun anymore. What made me feel better is that I want to travel with my career. I know in the future I will probably live abroad for a much longer time. I am an anthropology major and really like other cultures. 

I had been planning this trip for a year at least and it felt like it would never come; once it did, I blinked my eyes and it was over.

I learned how to slow down in those amazing times of life and really take it all in. It’s a valuable lesson anywhere, and one that I always knew, but traveling made me realize it so much more.