Category Archives: Practicalities


Hardcore apologies for taking so long, but here we go, and today it’s all about mmmmoney.  So for any future study-abroaders with questions about that, here’s what you need to know:

  1. It’s not cheap.  Going through ACM, I’m automatically responsible for regular semester tuition payments, plus a program fee of $5000.  Then, you add in airfare going both ways, the daily cost of lunch (breakfast and dinner are provided by the host family), four months of random living expenses, books and class supplies, and extra money for any souvenirs or side travel you want to do.  And of course, one has to keep in mind that the dollar is currently very weak against the Euro, and that Italy — and especially a city such as Florence — is an expensive place to be anyway.  (Also, in my own case, all living expenses are coming out of my savings, I’m paying my parents back for airfare as soon as I return, and I’ll eventually have to shoulder the tuition/fees in the form of student loans –all of which just goes to say that the expenses are not to be taken lightly and that this is one of the best times ever to avoid being an idiot with mah moolah.)
  2. That being said, it’s still perfectly manageable, especially if you’re in the habit of actually keeping an eye on your finances so you know how much is coming in (ha) and going out.  So, create a budget: it’s an idea as obvious as an elephant in Kansas, but so many people don’t actually do it that it never hurts to say it again.  ACM provides a loose reference to how much you can expect to pay for basic stuff over there, so you can use that to start with, and then just be prepared to go over and spend the first couple weeks figuring how much stuff actually costs and what you actually use.  Adjust your budget accordingly, stick to it, and then you get to sit back and roll around in the feeling of being a responsible adult.  (Oh, and just to throw out a loose total, ACM says students typically end up spending between $2000 and $4000 — obviously it’s better to overestimate your own expenses, so plan on using the higher number.)
  3. Up until the point you’re actually settled in the homestay, cash is not your friend.  It’s good to think ahead and get some money in Euros before you go, just in case, but you shouldn’t be carrying around much in loose bills.  The solution (and isn’t it always?) is to use plastic; I went with the Visa TravelMoney card, largely because I used it the last time I went to Europe and had no problems.  You pre-load it (which helps with that whole budgeting thing), and you can add money to the account up to three times, which means that if any massive emergency occurs my beloved (and ever-so-generous — did you catch that, Mom?) parents can ride to the rescue and restock it from a distance.  You also get the option of paying an extra 5-ish bucks to put a second card on the same account — most excellent to have stored away somewhere in case your first is lost, stolen, accidentally sat upon, purposefully sat upon by an enemy with malicious intent, etc etc.
  4. Apparently they have ATMs everywhere.  So that’s cool.

And there we have it.  I am now going to go try to well and truly finish packing — last time I checked I was 0.25 kilo over weight on the checked bag (*insert displeased scowl*), so I think I’ve fixed the problem but we’ll see.  If nothing else, I suppose I will at least get to entertain myself with the spring scale this afternoon; it was cheap, easy to find (near the luggage in any supercenter), works flawlessly, and despite its practicality remains more fun than any Slinky ever.  All hail the scale.

…See you tomorrow  : )

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Posted by on August 17, 2011 in Practicalities


Planes, Hotels, and Other Places I Won’t Be Getting Much Sleep

Meant to drop by earlier (desperately need to re-establish the habit of blogging regularly), but I got distracted by Ian’s Shoelace Site.  It takes seconds to learn the knots, but I was so fascinated that I kept untying and retying my shoes, so…yeah.  Sorry about that : )

This will be brief, but just wanted to throw out a little more info on the flight and initial accommodations.  Basic stuff, but I figured it was important to show my solidarity with anyone who doesn’t travel that much, and who maybe still feels a little uneasy about airports and about the idea of failing to get a hotel room and being forced to either wander a strange city until daylight or fall asleep under a bridge.  (Also, I’m writing for at least four separate audiences across the age spectrum, so probably best not to assume that everyone’s had experiences like this themselves.  See, I *can* sometimes remember to be considerate of others!)

Good news is, there is of course nothing to sweat.  As I said way back in…what, May? –I ended up on the phone with a guy who lives in the area (Tyler, and you should check out his blog), and we got online to look up airline tickets and then booked the cheapest we could find, heading out one day early so that there’ll be plenty of time to deal with anything that goes wrong.  You print the online ticket, you get your passport — boom, all set.  Plus, we later found out that another student will be going out on the same flight (one Jessica Marie, and you should also check out her blog), so it’s incredibly comforting to know that there will be at least 2 other people around to not-panic with.

Also, it is pure and awesome coincidence that Tyler, Jessica and I are the three people blogging for ACM.  But while I’m thinking about it (and because inserting links is fun), I’m also one of two people keeping a blog for Cornell College, so here is a link to Willi’s.  Click, read, all that jazz : )

Anyway, so we’ve got the flight booked.  I’ve only flown once before (by which I mean 4 flights making for one round trip), and it was awhile ago so I don’t really remember how airport security works.  BUT, I remember the basics (wear shoes that won’t hold up the line, have your papers ready, don’t put fireworks in your carry-on, remember that even concealed shanks will set off the metal detector), and I’m just going to cheerfully assume that the rest is not difficult.  Besides, even after I drive out to pick up Tyler and we both make the 3-hour trek to Chicago, we’re still going to get there with literal oodles of time to spare — so while paranoia has always served me better than blind optimism, I’m going to go ahead and say that there’s nothing to worry about.

And happily, the hotel is probably going to be even easier.  Jessica has pre-booked a room for us at the Hotel Duca d’Aosta (which is where the ACM program was going to have us staying for the first couple nights anyway), so all we have to do is decide whether to take the bus or a taxi.  And then we’re there and we can all pass out on semi-clean hotel furniture and start living out of suit cases — and I seriously can’t wait ❤

So there you go.  Easy planning for flights and hotels (and the ACM coordinator provides suggestions to anyone who asks), plus important directions are given in the ACM handbook, so just try to split the cost of a room with other people and you will have been as clever about this as it is possible to be.

And now I’m going to go back to reading about a series of highly gruesome political murders in the name of academia.  Cheers.

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Posted by on August 3, 2011 in Persons & Peoples, Practicalities


General Packing Overview (also known as the *happy headdesk*)

As I am down to 24 days before I head out for Florence, it’s time to really start playing around with meticulous list-making and latent OCD, and this week all focus is on the delightful problem of packing.

Those flying Swiss International get one checked bag (50 lbs) and one carry-on (18 lbs).  They say you can bring one personal item, but they also say you really shouldn’t actually do that.  So what this means is that I’ve got to get my life down to 68 lbs, including the weight of the bags.

The good news is, the ACM handbook comes with a suggested packing list, so if you use that then you won’t forget anything *really* important.  The bad news is, every person has to pack for their own needs, so you’re basically on your own no matter what.

That said, things to consider:

  • Laptops, textbooks, shoes, coats, jeans — these things are heavy.  And you still have to bring them.  It sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s so easy to forget to start your planning with the necessities and then see what else you have room for.  When you’re going around buying stuff, ALWAYS be thinking about what will actually fit in your luggage.  And about whether your luggage is breaking any of the rules of your particular airline.
  • Clothing has its own calculus in a case like this.  You’re not only planning for what can fit in your suitcase without weighing it down, but also for the weather (northern Italy has only a slightly less wild seasonal swing between summer and winter than the Midwest), for various activities (swimming / walking / walking A LOT and on cobbles / casual hanging out / opera-going / etc.), and for what will help you *not* stand out as a tourist.  Not standing out isn’t really that big a deal, but being unobtrusive is better; partially, since programs like this are all about learning from other cultures, you should actually be making an attempt to (literally) do as the Romans do, and also you’re less likely to get pickpocketed if you’re not walking around in shorts and a USA t-shirt.  Layering is key for everyone, and for girls (keeping in mind that I haven’t tested this out yet), I’d suggest a lot of layered tops, as in camis and thin tees to go over them.  Actually, I may devote more time to clothing in a later post, as I know it was a concern for me and my parents — oh, and my mom thinks we found a miracle coat, so I guess I would’ve had to come back and talk about that anyway.  (And I tease my mom, but seriously, that coat may literally have been an act of God.  And I mean that in the ‘have some rainbows’ way, not the ‘so-angry-must-smite’ way.  <3)
  • Toiletries and personal products are extremely iffy.  On the one hand, these sorts of things are far more expensive in Italy, so if you’ve got room then you should definitely bring that shampoo and conditioner.  On the other hand, you may find you’d prefer to save the space and bring a more complete wardrobe or something; obviously people actually live over there, so no matter what you *will* be able to buy all the little day-to-day junk you normally depend on.  Best way to be prepared is just to make that initial value judgment, space vs. money, and then to go over ready to wing it.  (It would also help to not be high maintenance, but I suppose it is sometimes too late for that.)
  • Official documentation.  For the love of your favorite decadent dessert, do NOT forget to bring all the papers you need to bring.  There’s a checklist for them, so it should be fine, but you are so inexpressibly screwed if you don’t have them, so ALWAYS USE YOUR CHECKLISTS.
  • Remember that whatever you bring over, you have to bring back.  Along with whatever souvenirs you picked up. And even if (like myself), you mostly just intend to take pictures, I guarantee you’ll still get to the end of the program and end up staring at a pile of crap you only vaguely remember buying but still can’t stand to part with, because it’s like magic and compulsive hoarding rolled into one and that’s just the way it works.  So be ready for that.

I can chuck in a bit more info about packing as we got closer to the time that I, y’know, actually start packing.  In the meantime, I intend to do posts on the flight/initial housing arrangements, academic preparation, clothes (I guess), money and payment, communication options, and whatever else pops up.  Also if I just get bored and feel like typing, because listening to a keyboard go all clackety from active use is a great way to delude yourself into thinking that you’re being productive.

Again, for anyone who’s not preparing for study abroad, posts through the rest of August will probably be as boring as the slowly expanding puddle behind a leaky faucet — and probably not even that exciting, because leaks can at least be kind of hypnotic.  But massive oversharing infodumps never directly did anyone harm, so why not  : )

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Posted by on August 2, 2011 in Practicalities


Catching up

When I got accepted to this program and started looking at previous off-campus students’ blogs, I was kind of annoyed at the lack of detail about the lead-up.  What I really wanted to know was how to prepare for a thing like this, and mainly all I was getting was ‘night before, I’m so nervous’ –> ‘I’ve arrived’ –> ‘I’m eating such and such and it’s pretty good/bad’.  Grr.  So, out of a love of lists and an obsessive attention to detail, I’m going to actually talk about preparations as I go about them.  You’re welcome, future students (and I’m sorry to everyone else).

1. We can skip a large chunk of this because, after I decided to apply to the program, everything for months was just ‘follow instructions.’  Followed instructions on the application, followed the instuctions I got by email after I was accepted, followed instructions on the health forms, insurance forms, visa application, course registration, etc.  Just Simon Says everything at this point and you should be fine.

2. Wanted to get a jump on learning the language and familiarizing myself with the city, so preparations in that direction.  As far as the language, I’ll be buying the $40 starter-set Pimsleur method for Italian, plus an Italian-English dictionary — if I need anything else, I’m going to trust that the internet knows everything.  I’ve also already purchased the Italian Survival Guide as a basic overall “do’s and dont’s” sort of handbook, as well as a Knopf mapguide of Florence that looks super handy.  Will be poring over all these things with fascination for the next 3 months.

3. Joined the Facebook group for the class, got a travel buddy who more-or-less lives in my area, and purchased tickets online.  Orbitz was the cheapest at the time, and we’re going with Swiss airlines — I’m told that Swiss (as a European airline) is great, but I’ve been burned by bad airline advice before so we’ll see.

4. Currently, stuck on wardrobe.  Apparently shorts and sneakers will mark you as a tourist in Italy, as may anything that veers far more towards casual than classy.  I’d like to not stand out at all, so…damn.  That’s not to say that I’m not classy — I ooze class, you know — but it’s by sheer force of personality, not wardrobe.  Because I dress like a bum.  Jeans are apparently alright over there (and hallelujah, because that was non-negotiable), but I think I’ll have to invest in more wedge shoes and light dresses/skirts.  Plus a jacket that can act as a raincoat (it gets rainy).  Plus cardigans and more jackets for layering.  And I have to make sure that I can walk for extended periods of time comfortably and keep shoulders covered (cathedrals, you know) and adjust for high and low temperatures.  And I’ll probably need a watch.  *sigh.*

So yeah, that’s where we’re at.  I find out soon what classes I got into, and my parents inform me that my handbook arrived in the mail, so I’ll be getting acquainted with that as soon as I get home.

Have I mentioned that I am incredibly ready to do this?

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Posted by on May 21, 2011 in Language, Practicalities