Before traveling abroad, check your expectations and mindset


Ellie Kurlander ’24 is a Government and Art History double major from Atlanta, Georgia. She formerly served as Flat Hat Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief and is a member of Phi Sigma Pi. While she currently resides in Florence, Italy, Ellie misses her daily attempts to domesticate campus squirrels. Contact her at

The views expressed in the article are the author’s own.

In early March, Insider published an op-ed by a New York University student who recounted her miserable experience studying abroad in Florence, Italy. The article quickly took the internet by storm, with many criticizing the author’s out-of-touch and entitled criticisms. As someone currently studying abroad in Florence, I received about a dozen “this u?” texts from friends and family who were curious if her experience rang true to my own. Upon reading the article, I was left with an inexplicable pit in my stomach. I proceeded to read the article three more times to distinguish if it was satire or not. To my disappointment, I concluded that it was, in fact, not satire. 

The article, aptly titled “I’m an NYU student who studied abroad in Florence. I hated every aspect of my semester abroad,” is a 1000-word compilation of complaints from a nineteen-year-old grappling with how anyone could want to live differently than her. Moreover, this article also displays the all-too-familiar reality of setting certain expectations before making a big life change. 

Readers quickly get an idea of the author’s mindset at the beginning of her journey as she paints a cinematic, albeit caricatured, picture of her future Italian life.

“I imagined fun potluck dinners with my roommates, summer flings with people who called me ‘bella,’ gelato that dripped down my fingers in the heat and natural wine that paired effortlessly with good conversation and better prosciutto,” the op-ed article reads. 

However, the author’s bubble quickly burst, as expressed through this frank follow-up statement.

“…When my semester in Florence came to an end, I grew to despise the sights, hated the people and couldn’t wait to get back home to my campus in New York,” she continues. 

While it is easy to laugh and poke fun at some of the sweeping generalizations and hyperbolic language used in the article, I also believe there is potential for discussion regarding the study abroad experience. More specifically, I want to discuss the author’s criticisms and compare them to my own experience abroad with the hope that it will offer helpful insight for anyone considering going abroad.

The author’s first complaint centered around her discomfort living with seven other roommates. I will give this one to her; there is some truth to the claim that living with many people, especially randomly assigned strangers, is not easy. Not everyone will have the same living habits and, as the author puts it, “values” as you, which can be a learning curve. Living and traveling with the same people can cause tensions to arise and, at times, boil over. However, these moments can serve as a great opportunity for growth. Living with strangers presents opportunities to seek common ground, make compromises when necessary and communicate openly whenever tense moments occur. 

The author also used a large portion of the article to complain about her roommates using the study abroad experience as an “exhausting form of escapism.” To that, I answer: yeah, of course. After making it through online learning freshman year and the trenches of sophomore year, the opportunity to study in a new place with new experiences sounded like a wonderful way to escape from the stressors of everyday life. Apart from “exhausting escapism,” studying abroad has been enriching for my future academic and career ambitions. As an art history and government double major, I have broadened my perspective on both subjects in a way I wouldn’t have been able to back in the States. 

As much as studying abroad can be a nice, temporary break from reality, it is important to consider that life back home does not stop. On many occasions, I’ve had to set aside fun to work on summer job applications, academic proposals and, more generally, maintain obligations that may have followed me overseas. While it may be frustrating not to be able to escape responsibilities entirely, it in no way impacted my enjoyment abroad. Bucket lists are still checked, and there is still fun to be had. 

Another topic the article addresses is the exhausting pressure to travel on the weekends. I couldn’t help but let out a laugh when the author criticized her roommates for traveling to typical study abroad destinations, then proceeded to list five popular study abroad destinations she herself traveled to. Part of the appeal of studying abroad is the ability to travel to nearby countries on the weekend. I agree that there is pressure to make the most of your three-day weekends by traveling to as many countries as possible. Traveling for cheap around Europe is possible, but doing so every weekend adds up. While you may get FOMO seeing friends post themselves paragliding in Interlaken, Switzerland, or tanning on the beaches of Southern France, it is helpful to find a balance between making the most of your time in your home city and traveling to your bucket-list destinations.

A final aspect of the article I wanted to address was the author’s resentment towards locals. According to the author, she came in with the impression that Italians were “soulful, charming and overflowing with hospitality, but I could provide concrete examples of them being hostile, inconsiderate, and preposterous.” 

She then explained how she felt personally victimized by Florentines who rolled their eyes as she walked past in her leggings and Nike Air Max sneakers. 

While the occasional cat-call can feel off-putting, nearly every local I’ve interacted with was gracious and hospitable. Most shopkeepers and waiters were patient with my botched pronunciations and rudimentary grammatical structures. I quickly found that if you express the willingness to learn about cultures different from your own, the reception tends to be positive. 

My main takeaway from the author’s and my contrasting experiences is that studying abroad is what you make of it. I came into the program with very few expectations and with the understanding that no study abroad experience is perfect. It is natural to imagine what your life in another country will look like. Still, it is just as important to understand that the mental image you created may be drastically different from reality. If you come in with idealized expectations, you automatically set yourself up for disappointment. Unfortunately, life isn’t like “Roman Holiday,” in which you ride off into the sunset on a vespa with Gregory Peck. Instead, you should remain open to opportunities that come along as you go. 

As my study abroad experience winds to a close, I’m already looking back on my time with fond nostalgia. I can’t wait to regale stories of the frequent bouts of exhaustion-induced delirium my travel companions and I would experience after traveling for twenty hours straight; I’m excited to share tales of the frequent WiFi outages that resulted in hours of card games with my roommates. As well as forging new friendships, I took time to appreciate the city in solitude by going on long walks, journaling or reading in a piazza. These memories are what make going abroad really special. 

The expectations of laughter-filled dinners with friends, wine and prosciutto are possible. However, no study abroad experience is all rainbows and daisies. Exams, papers and tight deadlines are still stressors. Sometimes, you second-guess if you made the right decision to go abroad. One of the most important factors of study abroad is finding moments that bring you peace, whether in the form of a park, a friend or a good meal. 

While I believe the author’s negative feelings towards Italy are genuine, I never want to be invited to that pity party. There will always be some semblance of good in the bad and bad in the good; however, to the extent you have control over your situation, why opt for the latter?

In the words of my Florence roommates, “Don’t yuck someone’s yum.”


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