Study Abroad Horror Stories

Photo By Abby Pfannenstiel

From realizing Italy doesn’t have ranch, to being followed home by a strange man

We all see the beautifully filtered and angled photos posted by our friends who are studying abroad. Did they really leave the country if they didn’t throw up an Instagram story of their passport on the plane with a sunset showing through the little window? Although one’s study abroad experience can be seen through the screen as a perfect trip made up of delicious food and stunning views, there is a lot more to it for every traveler. I am here to share some of my less than ideal stories from my time traveling the world. Ranging from silly to dangerous, to plain ignorant on my part.


The revelation of a picky eater

The food abroad was something I was excited for. I was headed to Italy, a country built on the best pizza and pasta anyone could ask for. I guess I didn’t realize how deep my Midwest roots went. I had grown to love my daily iced coffees and a dipping sauce with everything, these weren’t things I was expecting to say goodbye to when I left the states. One of my first nights in Italy, I ordered a classic margherita pizza, which was basically a thin crust cheese pizza everywhere I went. The pizza itself was amazing… but the look of disgust on my waiters face when I asked for a side of “ranch” was a moment of cultural shame I could have spared. I know ranch on pizza is a debate even at home but to Italians, it is an outright travesty. I could only indulge in the safety of my own apartment after halfway through my time abroad when I received a package of Hidden Valley Ranch and two bags of Hot Cheetos from my parents. I later found an international market that supplied these ranch needs. Also, the taste of Chipotle when I got home was a long-awaited heavenly experience.

Photo By Abby Pfannenstiel


What was in this face wash?

I was heading out for a weekend trip and needed to grab a cheap travel face wash kit, just a quick purchase from a store I had bought different things from before. Fast forward to a few washes later and a small cut on my face had turned into a quarter sized infected wound. One trip to the pharmacy and a slight facial scar later and I live to tell the tale. Life lesson- watch what foreign products you use on your face.


No, I won’t get in your car

One night, my roommate and I were leaving our favorite all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant that was about a 25 minute walk from our Florence apartment. Ten minutes in, we passed a busy bar which was not a surprise as it was 11:30 on a Saturday night. I notice the driver of a car look us up and down and make some sort of cat call. Again, not surprising because this is a norm in Italy, especially in a more populated area. I ignored the call and we continued to walk down the full streets of the city. After a few blocks, the streets started to clear up a bit and we saw the same car speed up and park about 15 feet in front of us. Weird, but we kept walking and passed the car while intentionally not looking into it. The car then speeds up and does the same thing again, parking 15 feet in front of us and waited for us to pass. At this point we freeze. Is this car following us? Well, yes. Obviously. So, we redirect our path and go toward one of the busiest streets in Florence, hoping to lose him in the hundreds of people walking and the active traffic. Ten minutes later, we turned onto the street of our apartment and talked  about how odd and scary that was, but made jokes about it and was just ready to be home for the night. Not a moment later, the man in the car pulls right up to us, rolls down the window and gestures at me to get in the car with him. Excuse me… what? Keep in mind, this man followed us for 20-30 minutes and this was his big plan to woo us? I gave him a nasty look and just shook my head vigorously and said “no!” He made a hand gesture toward us and drove off with nothing else. That was either a really weak kidnapping effort, or his attempt at courting us got very lost in translation.


Photo By Abby Pfannenstiel

$700 in unnecessary travel costs later

After a dream weekend in Paris, I felt good about my first successful weekend trip in Europe. I had many struggles while trying to travel on my own. From not knowing you needed a boarding pass to get on a plane, to missing my flight from the U.S. to Rome because I didn’t read the details of my flight itinerary correctly. So, after I figured  out all of the transportation arrangements and booking everything without incident, I felt good. This did not last. My roommate and I had arrived generously early to our flight from France to Italy. I handed the security my boarding pass (yes, I knew I needed one now) and he looked at me and with a little laugh said “wrong airport.” That’s right, the airport that my flight was at was two hours away. Did you know Paris had five airports? Because I didn’t. After emptying my bank account for a new flight to Bologna, which was as close to Florence as I could get at the moment, I consoled myself on the plane and told myself it wasn’t the end of the world. I got off the plane to the good news that my boyfriend had bought my roommate and I the $60 train tickets from Bologna to Florence we needed. See! This was all going to be ok! Well, sparing the details of very poorly managed airport shuttle transportation and two frantic girls running through a mile long train station, we missed the train. Two new train tickets later, we made it back. That was a $700 travel mistake that could have been solved with a few moments of really strong attention to detail. Another lesson learned the hard way.

Photo By Abby Pfannenstiel

Studying abroad is still an incredible experience that I recommend to anyone who has the opportunity. It opens you up to new lifestyles and pushes you out of your comfort zone. But, even if you aren’t able to get out of the country yourself, know that those who seem to be living their best life abroad are also experiencing some harsh realities.


Are you interested in studying abroad? Learn from my mistakes! Here are my top tips to know before packing your bags:

  1. Get your visa EARLY! Like six months in advance early. You have to mail your passport out and it can take up to 6 weeks to return. 
  2. Take everything with you. I left a lot of stuff behind because I thought I could buy it there, but products aren’t always the same as they are here and it’s hard to find what you’re looking for. It will be cheaper to pay the cost of shipping an extra bag than buying a whole new line of cosmetics.
  3. Never use the currency exchange booths. Use a secure ATM (usually attached to a bank) to withdraw money straight from your checking or savings account.
  4. Put yourself out there and get involved with your program the first couple weeks. There are so many people in the same position as you, be the one to start the friendship and invite new friends to coffee or a walk around town. 
  5. Book things fast! One problem I ran into multiple times was looking at hotels, flights, train tickets or travel packages and not committing, then returning later to see the price had gone up immensely. 
  6. Ask for advice, seek help on tips for how to travel on your own from parents or friends who have studied abroad before. Finally, don’t take it too hard when things go wrong.

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