Studying Abroad

Words and Collage by: Caitlin Johnston

Monash has a campus in Prato, Italy. I found this out in my second year when I was living in a sharehouse, working multiple jobs and living off McDonald’s and Mi Goreng. Travel was the last thing on my mind.

A year later, the stars align, my lease ends and doing a unit in Prato seems perfectly attainable. Being the impulsive person I am, I saw this as my only opening. So, I applied for the unit (late), applied for the study abroad grant to get me there (sorry HECS debt) and applied for a European passport too (cheers Dad). Before I could even process my decision, I was off.  

My arrival to Prato was horrendous. I got off at the wrong train station, didn’t have cash, and I was sweaty,
sleep deprived and tripping over cobblestones. It was already dark, and I was literally running to my accommodation because my phone was on 1 per cent. But once I got there, I was met with a pastel pink boarding house, a warm little Italian lady who helped me to my room and the loveliest housemates who looked past my frantic state and took me out for a welcoming dinner and drink. 

What followed was a month of studying travel literature whilst exploring breathtaking towns with fellow Monash students. Please note that the trip was not simply a romantic picturesque gallivant throughout Tuscany; I certainly experienced culture shock, difficulty with the language barrier and facing my own ignorance and prejudices towards Italy itself. These experiences certainly still benefit me now and I like
to think I gained a fair few lessons:

Be Humbled

On the plane ride over, reality kicked in: I’d never been to Europe, never travelled alone, didn’t know any
Italian whatsoever nor anyone else doing the program. Humility helped me remain open to learning as much as I could, and to absorb the beautiful culture. Studying abroad should challenge you anyways! There is no shame in asking for help and admitting that you have much to learn. 

Finding Balance 

One of my worst habits is my inability to plan anything, instead just going with the flow. Though this is fun (to an extent), acquainting myself with new travel strategies turned out to be crucial. This included finding the balance between writing itineraries and being spontaneous, alone time and social events, and immersing myself in Italian culture but also enjoying (thanks to my housemate) Vegemite toast some mornings. This self-care tactic helped me combat feelings of homesickness. 

Staying Connected to Home 

I’m talking Facetime, phone calls, group chats and even postcards! Staying connected to loved ones helped in two ways: it was comforting to hear voices from home, and it also allowed me to put the privilege of travelling into perspective, strengthening my desire to soak up every second of it. 

Lean into it All 

You bet I shamelessly listened to the Call Me By Your Name soundtrack, ordered a different pastry with my coffee each morning, watched Under the Tuscan Sun with my household and ate so. much. pizza! But I also found love in the mundane; cooking for myself, walking slowly to class, watching Italian television and just having fun with the novelty of it. 

Studying abroad taught me to find comfort in unfamiliar situations and surrender to the unknown. Lessons which translate well to enduring the current isolation period and the strange world we now live in. 

My short time abroad will be forever cherished. And Prato, may we meet again soon

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