Pre-Departure: Paperwork, Jitters and Excitement- Oh, my!

(Me jumping out of B’ham!)

Hello! My name is Carissa Loft and I am a senior at Western Washington University starting Fall 2017. I am majoring in Sociology and minoring in Psychology.

I am studying abroad in Reggio Emilia, Italy through the USAC (University Studies Abroad Consortium) program. The classes they offer are education, communications, health/nutrition, and Italian studies.

The classes I’m enrolled in are:

· Elementary Italian (eeek!)

· Italian Cinema and Film Criticism

· Italian Cuisine (I had to, and it’s only 1 credit)

· Italian Food Highlights and Hospitality Field Study (also, 1 credit)

· Women’s Health Issues throughout the Lifespan

· Social Media in Journalism

I am leaving for Italy tomorrow. I don’t really know what brought me to chose Italy. The only other time I’ve spent outside the country was when I traveled to Guatemala to volunteer when I was in High School and I absolutely loved it. As much as I love all Latin culture and lifestyles, for some reason, Europe seemed to be calling me. I thought that Italy sounded like an amazing place to live for four months. A calm and authentic lifestyle, similar enough to North America that I’d adapt easier, but different enough to where I would be totally out of my comfort zone. Delicious food, romantic language, laid-back and social lifestyle and traveling around Europe- sign me up!

I hope to gain insight into the culture of Italy. I want to learn all about the food, the people and the culture. All I really know about Italy is what I’ve seen in movies. When I think of Italy, I think pasta, wine, cheese, old buildings, the language, the customs of Italians, etc. I did some basic research on Italy. I found some amazing photography websites, to get a sense of what Reggio Emilia looked like. But honestly, besides that, I didn’t do much research. My study aboard program, USAC, sent me some information a couple weeks before my flight. This included all the logistics of where I was, the essential customs, where to eat, etc.

I asked my friends who have studied abroad before some advice. They told me about the “WhatsApp” app to stay in contact with friends without getting charged, to use google maps to get around and to try and eat breakfast and lunch at home as much as possible that way you save money. But besides that, I’m kind of blindly going into this trip, which is kind of the fun of it.

I am the most nervous about being away from home for four months. The longest I’ve been out of the country was two weeks. Although, I have a feeling that I’ll be enjoying myself so much that the time will fly by. I plan to overcome homesickness by using FaceTime to stay in contact with my family and friends and to send them postcards.

I am also nervous about the language barrier because I know literally no Italian. Though, it is slightly similar to Spanish, which I know the fundamentals of, so that makes me feel a little better. But, I will be taking Italian class so I know that will help me!

Lastly, I am nervous about not knowing anyone on my trip. I’m hoping that I will make new friends very easily, but I have a feeling that I will. In my past experience traveling outside the country with people my age, we all bonded very quickly and easily, so I hope that happens again.

Overall, I am most excited for the FOOD, to get out of my comfort zone and grow as a person, to learn about a different culture, customs and meet new people who have different insights than me, and to have fun roaming around Italy. This trip has come at the perfect time for me. Personally, financially and educationally, I am ready. Thank you for reading my blog and I hope to have you follow my growth throughout my four months in Reggio!


· Do your health clearance form during the school year at the WWU Student Health Center. It’s free (Actually, after researching this more – it is more convenient, but they do charge your student account $60).  If you are not currently taking courses (in the summer for example), you have to go somewhere else and pay a walk-in fee/charge for this service.

· You will need money to get a lot of the paperwork done. Fees for your visa, getting passport pictures, etc. Have some extra money saved up to do that stuff. It will be coming out of your pocket.

· Call and email your study abroad advisor. If you do your paperwork ahead of time, you can ask them questions and they’ll get back to you pretty fast.

· If your study abroad program offers a program that sets up your flights for you- do it. Really helpful, and you don’t have to worry about messing up your flight. For my trip the flight program was called Frosch, and they set up the group flight so that I will be meeting someone in Italy upon arrival.

· Look into honorary consulates in your state. So much better than flying to California to get your VISA. Email and call. Email and call. * Remember to be very polite*. Your honorary consulate might be difficult to reach, but he/she will eventually reply.