What I've Learned So Far

Written by Vanessa January 20, 2012

As a first-time international traveler, I knew that participating in the CIMBA program was bound to teach me countless lessons about both the customs of different cultures and myself as a person.  Though I only arrived in Paderno del Grappa a mere four days ago, I have already had some completely new, exciting experiences that have given me insight into the adventure that is studying abroad.  Here are the top five lessons I’ve learned from the CIMBA program so far:

1. Jet lag is not a traveler’s friend.

After taking two flights, crossing 7 time zones, and traversing nearly 5,000 miles from Clear Lake, IA, to Paderno, I was exhausted – to put it mildly.  All I wanted to do when I arrived on campus was collapse onto my bed and sleep for as long as possible.  The thing about jet lag, however, is that even though I felt tired, I could not sleep.  For the first few nights here, I would wake up in the wee hours of the morning, wide awake, as if my body was confused as to why it was sleeping when it would normally be awake.  I am happy to report, though, that I finally slept through the night last night!  While jet lag is an inconvenience, it will subside within a few days – and it hasn’t stopped me from enjoying my first few days in Paderno.  Take that, jet lag!

2. Homesickness happens.

As exciting and incredible as studying abroad is, it can also be somewhat overwhelming to suddenly find yourself living in a foreign country surrounded by hundreds of new people, without the comforts of home that you’re used to.  Combine this with the fact that you’re thousands of miles away from your family and friends, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for homesickness.  Never fear, though – this feeling is completely normal.  And while you will surely continue to miss your loved ones throughout the program, the homesickness, like the jet lag, will diminish as soon as you become more settled into your new surroundings.  Plus, how could you be sad in a place as beautiful as northern Italy?

Mt. Grappa

The view from my bedroom window doubles as a cure for homesickness.

3. Making friends is a given.

Before I arrived on campus, I found myself getting a little worried about making friends and finding a group of people to travel with during the weekends and travel breaks.  My fears turned out to be completely unfounded, however.  The fact that everyone else is also looking to make friends, combined with the built-in socialization that comes with living in the dorms, means that connections will be made as soon as you arrive on campus.  I’ve already met too many great people from all around the country to count, and I’m going to Venice this weekend with a group of awesome people!  All of that without even having been here a week – it’s really that easy.

4. My stomach has an unlimited capacity for pasta.

…and pizza, and croissants, and carbohydrates of all shapes, sizes, and flavors.  Italy is a carb lover’s paradise.  The cafeteria serves pasta for lunch and dinner every day, along with an array of pastries for breakfast (including one that is actually filled with Nutella – and, yes, it’s as delicious as it sounds).  Tonight I ventured off campus to a pizzeria in a nearby town, where I tried some delectable thin crust margherita pizza.  Yes, I might gain about 20 pounds while I’m here.  But I will enjoy every carb-filled minute of it.

5. CIMBA is amazing.

While I’m sure every study abroad program is incredible, I can’t help but think that CIMBA is pretty perfect.  I’m taking all of the classes that I would have otherwise been taking back home, but I’m living in an absolutely beautiful country – did I mention that I have a view of Mt. Grappa from my dorm room window?  Plus, we have two free weeks and nearly every weekend to travel anywhere we please, and the program offers tons of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to truly immerse yourself in the Italian culture.  I just signed up to help teach English to local elementary school children once a week, and in the coming weeks we’ll have the chance to do everything from going to dinner with an Italian family to taking a wine-tasting tour.  Something tells me that this is going to be an amazing semester.