By Denise Harroff
After spending 18 days in Urbino with the Department of Communications Studies of Tarleton State University, there are some things that I wish I would have researched more closely before traveling. I also spoke with students traveling with Tarleton’s Honors College about what they wish they had known before their study-abroad trip.
Based on interviews with those students and my own observations, here are the 10 most important things to consider when studying abroad in Urbino:
10. Leave Room for Souvenirs
While you’re studying abroad in Italy, you will be visiting many different places. On our trip, we took tours and independently traveled to various places in Italy, including Ravenna, Gradara, Pesaro, Florence and Fano. Every place you visit will have shops that invite you to empty your wallet on all of their goodies. If you’re like me, you’ll want to buy a souvenir at every place you visit—both for yourself and for friends and family. And if you have lots of friends and family or buy anything remotely large whatsoever, you will need extra space in your luggage. So, when packing for your trip, remember to leave room for all of the things you’ll want to bring back with you. Also, U.S. Customs and Border Protection stipulates you may only bring one bottle of wine back with you in your luggage (if you are 21-years-old or older), and your souvenirs and goods can only equal up to $800 before you have to pay taxes on your things. They are then considered imported goods. Francesca Jackson, a Study Abroad student who visited Urbino with the Tarleton Honors College, said it best by advising to “pack smart.”
9. Upload Plenty of Photos on Social Media
While you are traveling, your family and friends will miss you just as much as you miss them. They want to know that you’re having a good time, especially if someone else (like a parent) sponsored the trip for you. They love seeing pictures of their best friend or child or cousin in another country, seeing architecture and eating food that they have never seen before. So, take pictures, and upload everything. Shaquinnsha Hilliard, a student with Tarleton’s Honors College who studied abroad to Urbino, advised, “Take lots of pictures, and call your mom!” Also, be sure to get pictures of yourself with monuments and interesting sites. Although Grandma may think a picture of a painting is beautiful and is glad you were able to see it and share your experience with her, what she really wants to see is a picture of her beautiful grandkid standing next to the beautiful painting. So, don’t forget to get pictures of yourself with all the cool stuff.
8. Learn Italian Customs
Italians do some things a little differently than we do in the United States. Megan Andrews, a communications major who studied abroad to Urbino, said, “Look up Italian customs. Some things are rude to Italians that aren’t rude in America and vice versa.” Even if you’re a student studying abroad from a country other than the U.S., I can guarantee that there are some things Italians do that you are not used to. For instance, do not be offended when an Italian waiter tells you not to put parmesan on your pasta or that you may not order and drink a dessert wine before your meal. If anyone meets you and kisses both of your cheeks, do not be alarmed; it is a common and friendly greeting. When an elder walks up to where you are sitting—maybe on a bench or a bus—and stands next to you, waiting, they do expect you to stand and give up your seat. Italians will only serve their food as it is prepared, they greet everyone mostly the same way, and they highly respect and prioritize their elders. These are just a few of their common, daily customs, and it will help your travels to research how they do things before visiting. Sarah Titus, the teaching assistant for the Tarleton Honors College on its study abroad trip to Urbino, said to “embrace the culture as much as you can.” Camille McGehee, another Tarleton Honors College student who studied in Urbino, added, “Don’t just hang out with Americans, because you won’t get the same experience.”
7. Try Everything
When first arriving in Urbino, we got settled into our rooms and then went searching for food. It was late at night, and many of the restaurants and cafes were closed. One of the small restaurants that was still open was the Istanbul Kebab House. When we first walked in, no one wanted to eat there. It was small, dark, hot, and the menu looked very outdated. We thought, ‘There has got to be somewhere better to eat than this.” Little did we know that by the end of the trip, we would all have stamp cards to the Kebab House, and everyone on the trip were considered regulars. The Italians seem to be more concerned about the quality of their products than their advertisement of their products. This is why I recommend trying everything; things are not always what they seem. A shop that may look unorganized and cluttered may have designer swimsuits for sale. A restaurant with a small, wooden patio could have the best steak in Urbino. What Americans might consider “gas station coffee” might be your go-to coffee before class every day. In Urbino, you truly cannot judge a book by its cover.
6. Learn Italian
One of the most important phrases I learned on my trip to Urbino is, “Come si dice… in italiano?” This means, “How do you say… in Italian?” One of the fastest ways to learn Italian is by asking the Italians how to say things. When you buy a new purse and don’t know how to say “purse” in Italian, just ask the store clerk. You will pick up words and phrases the fastest this way. However, it is incredibly helpful to know at least a few phrases in Italian before arriving. Buy a good quality pocket-Italian book specifically for tourists. A good book for traveling will have go-to phrases for you to learn, like “Where is the bathroom?” “How much does this cost?” “Do you speak English?” Where is the bus station?” “Can I have more?” “Excuse me,” “Please,” and “Thank you.” It’s amazing the difference it makes communicating with people in Urbino when you know even the simplest of phrases in Italian.
5. Plan to Spend
Spending money while on your study abroad trip is very different from your everyday spending. For instance, using the ATMs in Urbino is much cheaper than using the ATMs in America. The fees are much cheaper, and they are easy to find and easily accessible. Plan to use mostly cash while you are in Urbino, because there are very few places that will accept debit or credit cards. Even some places that do accept cards from Italians will not accept American cards. When eating at restaurants as a group, 99 percent of the time, the waiter will not split the check. Ashley Ford, a student who visited Urbino with the communications group, said, “They don’t split the check, so expect to pay exact amounts.” You will have to all calculate how much each of your meals were and put the cash all together to pay for the one bill. Jake Vensin, an honors student who took a study abroad trip to Urbino, said, “Budget in advance so you can travel while you’re there.” It is very easy to spend money in Urbino and when traveling to other towns, so before you leave for your trip, plan to spend much more money than you think you will. Having more than you need is better than having less.
4. Have a Plan for Texting and Wi-Fi
Buying an international phone plan with your cell phone provider is well worth it for this trip. Even though you can still use iMessage, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat texting, etc. with Wi-Fi, there are some times when Wi-Fi will not be readily available. For instance, if you are on a tour in another city and get separated from the group, it is important that you have the capability to call or text someone to find out where the rest of the group is. (An app called Viber can help with this.) Also, Wi-Fi in Urbino is not like the Wi-Fi in the United States. It is very spotty in places, sometimes very slow, and it kicks you off every once in a while. There are not many restaurants or places with Wi-Fi, and even if they do have it, it may not be reliable. An investment in a Wi-Fi hotspot would be the best decision for contacting others and using the Internet on your phone, tablet, or laptop. If you buy or lease a Wi-Fi hotspot, you will only need to download a free texting/calling app and will not need to buy an international data plan.
3. Don’t Expect the Italian Food You Are Used To
The authentic Italian food in Italy is not the Americanized Italian food you may be used to. They only use balsamic vinegar and olive oil on their salads. Jacob Martin, an honors student who studied in Urbino, said he was surprised to learn that “there is no ranch” dressing, or any kind of salad dressing, in Urbino. Hilliard said that she learned that alfredo sauce does not exist there. With the exception of ragu, most of the pasta in Urbino does not have meat in the sauce. McGehee said, “Be prepared to explain gravy to Italians.” Steaks sometimes come covered in cheese or a sweet wine sauce. Ice cream is much creamier and is called gelato. There are cafes all over instead of fast food restaurants, and wine or beer is offered in nearly every restaurant and cafe. Some restaurants and cafes charge a two euro service charge, but it is not customary to tip the wait staff. Sometimes bread is brought out before your meal, but they like their bread less dough-y and crunchier. Drinks do not come with free refills, and water is usually brought out in a bottle, not as tap, and costs a euro or two. The food tastes very different than you would expect, but do not worry about not enjoying it. Just order the food off of the menu as is, and enjoy what they bring as it is meant to be prepared. And Harley Brown, a Tarleton Communications Studies student who studied abroad in Urbino, advised to “load up on tacos before you get on the plane.”
2. Bring or Buy a Fan
Daniele Gramolini, chief executive officer at Linga Ideale, a study abroad spinoff for the University of Urbino, said the cost of electricity is very high in Italy, so most places do not have air conditioning. You may walk into a handful of cafes and shops and feel a slightly cooler atmosphere, but even if air conditioning is used, it is used very little. Urbino residences and businesses usually have open windows and open doors. The dorms, hotel rooms, or apartments that most study abroad students reside in will not have air conditioning. Because of this, bring or buy a fan. Because the electricity outlets are different in Italy and you don’t want to use up precious luggage space, I suggest buying a fan while you are in Urbino. There is a store (similar to a small Sears) in the Porta Santa Lucia mall called Unieuro. The store has fans of all sizes, ranging anywhere from 15 to 300 euros. I also suggest buying a portable, handheld fan—maybe even one that mists—for tours and days that you plan to be outside for prolonged periods of time. Unieuro sells these types of portable fans for 10 euros.
1. Prepare to walk, walk, walk!
Everywhere you go in Urbino and every tour you take outside of town will require you to walk, maybe sometimes even hike for several miles. The city of Urbino has many hills, so you will be sure to build leg muscles while you visit. Bring more than one pair of good, comfortable, reliable walking shoes. Refrain from bringing brand new sneakers that may need to be broken in, and also refrain from bringing sneakers that are old enough to possibly fall apart from all the walking you will be doing. Wearing the same shoes every day can make sensitive pressure-points on your feet, so bringing more than one pair gives your feet more variety and the ability to relieve pressure on certain areas of your feet when you can switch out shoes. Along with comfortable shoes, bring comfortable clothes to walk in, but don’t forget cute clothes for the days you want to take pictures or eat a nice dinner with the group. Chanel Nwankwo, another Honors College student who traveled to Urbino, said, “Make sure to bring comfortable AND cute shoes.” And wear your Fitbit if you have one because you will be racking up the steps while you are in Urbino!