Why Staying Active is the Key to a Successful Study Abroad Experience

Why Staying Active is the Key to a Successful Study Abroad Experience

While living and studying in Italy for the past three months, I can definitely say I’ve experienced some personal growth. In this article, I will be speaking from my own experience, but I am positive that the majority of other exchange students would agree with me.

If I could give one piece of advice to anyone out there considering exchange or anyone currently on exchange, it would be this: KEEP ACTIVE.

No, I am not saying that you should hit the gym every single day or fill up your schedule to the ultimate brim, but keeping active and getting involved during your study abroad is essential for a few reasons.

Exploring the mountains of Tuscany with my friend. Here, we are examining a flower we had never seen before- the Japanese Lantern.

There’s No Short-Cut to Learning about a New Culture

Let’s start with the not-so-obvious but quite obvious main reason: Keeping active pushes you to dive into your host country’s culture. Sorry guys, there are no shortcuts or websites that can substitute for experiencing the culture first-hand.

By exploring your host city, trying the country’s foods, and speaking to the locals, you are experiencing a foreign culture. How cool is that? And besides… aren’t you studying abroad to learn about another country? If not, just go ahead and click off of this article. But let’s be real here, I don’t think anyone chooses to study abroad with the conception that they only came to study. To truly live in a foreign country is to experience what it has to offer!

A snapshot off an afternoon in Florence, Italy.

Stay Healthy Mentally and Physically While Studying Abroad

Secondly, staying active is important because it keeps you mentally and physically healthy. If you stay holed up in your room watching Netflix after school everyday, you aren’t really living your life to the fullest. For one, you are simply lounging around on your laptop. You can do this anywhere, so save it for later!

Instead, you could go out and explore or ask your host sibling to have a coffee with you. You are only studying abroad for so long, so soak in as much as you can. I have one month left in Italy and I still have so much to do! On the other hand, being isolated in your room simply is not good for your mental health. Hello, over-thinkers, I am talking to you!

Fighting the cold weather with a hot chocolate!

In all honestly, sometimes you do need a day off to just watch some Netflix and relax; however, try not to make it the main event of your night. Get out there and learn the language, or how to make a local dish. It will be much more fun and memorable. Besides Netflix, there are plenty other ways of how exchange students can fall into an unproductive and lazy slump. My point being is that it’s healthy to jump at the rare chances you have while studying abroad.

Getting Involved is Your Chance to Make Friends

My third and final point is that you’ll make friendships and memories when you get involved! Yes, it is awkward at first, but once you really get to know your class or teammates or host family, it will be much better in the long run. For example, I joined a cross country team in Perugia. During the first few practices, I kept to myself and ran with the other new members of the team. It wasn’t until after I became friends with the rest of the team that I truly enjoyed being on the team!

Greenheart Traveler, Bethany Carideo, exercising with new friends in Italy.

Bethany with friends after cross-country practice in Italy.

Now, I go to and from practice with a teammate that lives two minutes away from me. If I did not join the team,  I would have never known him or the other great runners on my team. At school my teammates stop by my class during breaks just to say hello, and it’s really nice. We are like one big, happy family.

This goes for Italians in general… they are one big, happy family. And as for memories, well, memories are made. You have to immerse yourself in your current situation to create something that is worth remembering! That means putting yourself out there and opening up to the people and opportunities that are in front of you.

Me posing as a stormtrooper at the Lucca Comics Festival!

Some of you may be thinking, “Yes, I agree, but how do I keep active”?

Here are a few suggestions to get active while studying abroad based on my personal experience:

  • In a general aspect, choose a host country that sparks your interest. This will make it easier to get involved in the culture and learn the language. For example, don’t study in Italy if you don’t like pasta or big family settings.

My friends and I at my host sister’s 18th birthday.

  • Spend time with your host family. Don’t simply treat them like a hotel; they are your host family. This will make everyone happier and more comfortable. You can learn so much from them!
  • Say “yes” to plans! Go out with your classmates for lunch and with your host cousins to the beach. Getting out of your comfort zone is not a bad thing. I can attest that I always end up having a good time when I say yes.

A visit to Santa Maria with my Host Mom.

  • Attempt the language! Whether you are nearly fluent or level zero on Duolingo, communicate as much as possible in your host country’s language. This shows everyone that you respect their culture by trying to speak their language. PS- I’ve been here for three months and I’ve had people tell me I speak better Italian than people they know! While this may not be true, I simply try my best, laugh, and learn along the way.
  • Join a club or a team. If you are into sports, try out for a club team. If you enjoy creating, sign up for an art class. There are endless possibilities.
  • Smile! What an opportunity you’ve been given by your family and host family. People care so much about you that they’ve sent you on this grand adventure so that you may grow and learn. The least you can do is smile back.

Finding a bit of the USA in Perugia!

In the end, everyone’s exchange experience will be unique. After three months, I can say that I have become more independent, patient, and open to new situations. I’ve learned about Italian culture and a bit about myself. Imagine how much personal growth one could experience in a year of studying abroad?! All in all, my experiences did not happen by chance, but by my personal decision to stay active.

In bocca al lupo! Ciao!


About the Author:

Bethany Carideo, is 16-years old and our 2017 Greenheart Travel Correspondent scholarship winner from Athens, Tennessee. Bethany is traveling abroad as a high school student in Italy and her goal is to become proficient in Italian, and is excited to have new host siblings during her time abroad. Follow her adventures here!

One thought on "Why Staying Active is the Key to a Successful Study Abroad Experience"

  1. Melonie says:

    Sage Advice. Make the most out of your last month. Enjoy every moment. Good job.

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