In 2013, while taking my journalism degree in university, I had the opportunity to study abroad for a semester. Until this point I had never even considered it as I was competing as a rhythmic gymnast, plus I was in a relationship (bah, not an excuse I know, but at the time it was a huge factor and you will understand why by the end of this post), so leaving Portugal for six months didn’t really sound appealing to me at all. At least until the end of my second year of studies, when a colleague mentioned she was going to apply for the program.
I remember this being a weird time for me. I wasn’t happy. I was hating university and the degree I chose, and I had this sudden urge for change. So, when my colleague talked about this and told me “you have to apply” it sounded like the perfect opportunity for me and I decided to do it. Again, last minute, like all my life changing decisions tend to be.
Besides my disaster senior trip to Andorra, I had never traveled anywhere, and at this time I was very naive about the world and other countries. I was given the chance to choose up to three places by order of preference, and immediately my mind went to Italy, and for me it was between Florence or Rome.
Now, remember when I started by saying that having a boyfriend was a huge factor in this decision? Well everything that happened afterwards was because of this guy and my idiotic thinking – as I was weirdly dependent on him and I was young and stupid, so I can already say that bad decisions were made and, once again, I have regrets. So please, no judgement.
THE REAL REASON I WENT TO SWITZERLAND
When I got home with the news I wanted to study abroad, I wanted to have a talk with my then boyfriend, because I really wanted to do it, but I didn’t want our relationship to suffer from that decision (ugh, writing this makes me frustrated!). I mentioned I was thinking of going to Italy and, wait for it, I asked him to come with me (I KNOW! UGHHH).
This is when things took a turn. He told me in order to go with me he needed to be in a place where he could find a job. He mentioned his aunt was living in Switzerland, so we could go there and stay with her and this way we wouldn’t pay for accommodation. For some reason this sounded like a perfect idea. Poor, inocent me, thinking things wouldn’t go wrong.
So, the next day I sent my application, first choice Lugano, Switzerland, second choice Rome, Italy and third choice Florence, Italy. At least all of them had something in common and clearly my heart wanted Italian language.
I was surprised, but somehow I got accepted on my first choice to go to Switzerland – or maybe it wasn’t that surprising that nobody else applied to live in such an expensive country and that’s why I got it.
A few months of preparation, tickets bought and we were ready to move to Switzerland, the craziest thing I had done up until this moment. The day before we were suppose to go, his aunt called to say we couldn’t stay in her house. I literally cried. How can someone just change their minds last minute like this? It’s unnaceptable! Switzerland was so expensive, and even though I had a scholarship, it was enough for food, but not nearly enough to cover a rent in Switzerland. I honestly wanted to quit all this and just stay home, but I had no choice, it was too late.
MOVING TO LUGANO, SWITZERLAND
The day I moved to Switzerland was a total mess. My then boyfriend was late and playing playstation with his friends instead of packing, which made us arrive at the airport five minutes before our check in counter closed and almost giving me a heart attack. Then the entire experiene of flying for the first time, me hating it and being terrified – the fact I booked my very first flight on September 11th didn’t really help to keep me calm, as I grew up watching all the videos and documentaries about this day since 2001. Anyway, we arrived in Switzerland for the craziest, somehow weirdest experience of my life until this point.
I was warned by many to not go to Lugano. They told me it was expensive, extremely cold, and even one girl that chose the same place the semester before told me the classes and the course were very difficult and to go some place else. But hey, I’m stubborn and when I put something in my mind I go for it even if everything around me is screaming its a bad idea. I went anyway, sure that it was going to be great. Obviously, they were right and I was wrong, but usually I have to fall on my face until I accept defeat.
I spent stayed initially in Lugano from September until December. These months were a total rollercoaster of emotions as I tried to adapt to living in a new country, so different than mine in so many ways, with a new language I didn’t speak, new colleagues and teachers in a new university, fighting the constant cold and trying to figure out how to live with my then boyfriend.
Let me just clarify that if I could go back in time I would never repeat all of this, I would have done my semester abroad, alone as it’s meant to be, and I would have gone to either Rome or Prague. But again, it’s not like I can turn back time, so I will just look back at this time as a series of very bad decisions from my past that I have no intentions of repeating ever again. Sorry, but this had to be said, so you won’t read this believing I am a total idiot. I was, but I like to believe I’m not anymore.
I won’t be going into crazy details, as I would be here forever writing this post trying to describe these three months of my life, but here’s a short version of what happened. I realized within a few days after arrival that taking my boyfriend with me had been a huge mistake. By taking him with me I didn’t have the studying abroad experience everyone else had. I didn’t really make friends or spent time with people at my University, I didn’t travel at all, I didn’t do anything you are suppose to do during this experience. I didn’t even learn Italian, maybe just a few words, after three full months listening to it. Plus, in the end, from the five courses I was enrolled, I only passed two of them, delaying my university studies by one extra semester.
So, do I regret it? Yes! But not in the way you might think. I regret taking my then boyfriend with me and I regret not going to Italy as I wanted to. I’m sure I would have had a much more different and full experience and I know I would have loved every second of it, because in December I traveled to Rome, for a few days and I fell in love with Italy. Even before visiting my heart wanted Italy and I would have been so happy if I hadn’t been the trol who wanted to study abroad and take the boyfriend.
At the same time, even though I know I would have been happier with my initial choice and I regret my decisions, moving to Switzerland was the start of everything and it was because I moved abroad that I was bitten by the travel bug, and discovered there’s an entire world out there for me to explore. Switzerland wasn’t great, but it allow me to learn, to be more confident, to realize I have so much more in my life. Obviously all these realizations didn’t really come only from living in Lugano for three months, but after I visited Rome, the place where I wanted to live all along. In fact Italy is the real reason I fell in love with travel and the world, but it all started with Switzerland, so in the middle of all this, lets give some credit to this country at least.
Funny enough, I returned home with a million memories and stories from Italy, but Switzerland not that much. But remember, I’m stubborn, so I told everyone how much I enjoyed my semester abroad and wouldn’t admit the obvious mistake (the boy I took with me!) until I broke up with this guy two years later.
Travel will never be all rainbows and sunsets and neither will this blog. I created this in order to share my experiences around the world, and that includes the good and the bad and all the mistakes I’ve done along the way. I’m not here to sell the idea that if you travel everything will be perfect, because it won’t be. But trust me, when you fall in love with travel and the world, bad moments turn into good stories and good moments in good memories. Life isn’t perfect and neither is travel, but boy is it worth it!