BOOM GONE, MOVED ON: HELLO UNITED KINGDOM.


Here I am, again, for the third time to be exact. It's eleven in the evening and in less than 12 hours I will be at the airport will a huge luggage, a backpack and a carry-on. I will be standing in front of the big gate that says "Departures" and I will be facing a new adventure. 

I did it three years ago and I did it last year as well, which means that I've been pretty much living a big challenge since 2013, when I recklessly decided to go abroad simply because I wanted to live in the USA. I did not really think about the bigger picture, cmon I was 15, but honestly, it was best this way. I had the time of my life and this was just the first of many steps. 


It was followed by me being a senior in Milan Italy, me starting college in Denmark and now by me catching a plane headed to the UK, where I will be an exchange student of a higher level. In fact, I did not leave with an organization and I will not live with a host family. This is me going to live on campus, in one of the six dorm-rooms of the apartment that I will share with other five students. 
I will be taking new classes, I will be partying with new people, learning about a new culture and will get to know a new city. I will travel, smile, laugh, cry. I don't know what I will do, but I know I will try with all my heart to spend these three months in the most effective way. I will try not to overthink, but to relax and enjoy the ride. I will just be true to who I am and everything will go as it has to go. No plans, no expectations, no disappointments. 

I've met people who told me that I was the most interesting teenager the have ever met and that if I continue like this I will achieve all my goals, others thought that I always looked sad instead, and some more told me that before getting to know me they did not think I was the type of guy I actually am... truth is, sometimes I don't even know what makes me happy and what I really want, so I don't expect others to know that for me. I may have lots of flaws but I am proud of one thing: I dare to try. I don't like regrets. I always try to push myself out of the comfort zone, even when I could avoid it and just live a simple life. And this time is not going to be different. I will show the world that I have more to offer, I don't like simple, in fact they say "If your dreams don't scare you, they are not big enough".

- Cris

REASONS FOR TRAVELLING SOLO

Sometimes I receive some spam from specific airlines, I open the emails and I look at the deals they offer. Most of the time I feel like booking the cheapest flight and leave, but then I stop dreaming and get angry because even if I want to go, I can't. I'd love to visit countless places, and I don't mind doing it on my own. That said, I don't mean I prefer it better than traveling with friends, but that I simply learned that I can have fun even on my own, and, more than anything, that I sometimes need time for myself.

Think about it, if you travel on your own, you can listen to music whenever you feel like it. You can choose where to go and what to see first, you decide if you want to have Asian food rather than Italian and, with no pressure of any kind, you choose everything.

You can also meet locals, which is good because you get the chance to connect with the culture of your host country, even if you are there just for a few days. A local will show you places and areas that are less touristy but worth to visit. It's just awesome to have someone guide you around and show you what he usually does daily.


That happened to me in Copenhagen. I actually flew there to meet some exchange student friends, but I happened to be the first one landing there, one day earlier. As soon as I got at the apartment I received a text message, from a Danish guy I connected with on Facebook, saying "Are you in Copenhagen? we should get a beer!" I was totally down for it and even if I didn't know how to get into the city, I managed to arrive at the central station safe and sound. Danish people are very nice, I asked for help and everyone was really kind. After a few glasses of beer and Mc french fries, an Uber driver took me back to my place at around 2 am as trains were no longer available.

The fun fact is that the Uber driver even offered me a job, which means that I managed to receive a job offer within six hours from my landing in that country. I had to google his brother's Italian restaurant because he wanted to show me, he was like "We need Italians at our place, think about it!"

My point is: if you really wanna go somewhere, just go. Do not wait for people to figure things out. Don't wait for your friend who has to let you know whether he has enough money or not, whether his parents let him or not. Just catch that aircraft and live your adventure up. You won't regret it. Sometimes it is good to travel and put some distance between routine and ourselves, to forget about problems for a few days. I know some people are scared to do it on their own simply because they think that it is weird to go to a restaurant alone or to check in a hotel alone, but find the courage to take off and do it because even this kind of experience will change your life.

- Cris

PACKING FOR EXCHANGE VS PACKING TO GO BACK.


I am pretty sure everyone struggled in getting everything (they thought) they needed inside a luggage, which could not exceed something like 23 kilos (I'm guessing it's 50 pounds for our fellow Americans). Prior our exchange we don't exactly know what we may or may not need and so we feel like we have to bring everything with us. Many exchange students made this mistake in the past and I don't want new exchange students to do the same. 

Bring Only What Is Necessary.
Thankfully, my American parents told me not to bring too much stuff, because I could have bought everything once abroad. Since we don't know how we will react to a new kind of weather, we don't know if we will get fat (or even how much) and we don't know if our outfits will fit with the culture of our country, simply bring what it is necessary. For example, I was going to spend my exchange in Colorado, so when I had to pack I obviously did not pack a winter jacket because that would have taken half of the space in my luggage. I could not wear it either because Italy is really hot in August and I did not want to arrive in the USA and hug my American family all sweaty.  I wore my Rotary Blazer, which was still light because there were only a few pins on it, so I was sure I was not going to lose any of them. I simply got everything I needed for the winter in Colorado, which was cheaper anyway than buying things in Italy.

Bring The Same Amount Of Stuff You Would Bring To A Short Vacation.
I know that the thought of having to pack your whole life in a luggage is driving you crazy, so simply do not bring too much. I think it is better to go abroad with only one big luggage and a carry-on. The amount of money you would spend to add a second bag can be used to buy the clothes you will need later on exchange. And I suggest you leave your home country with only one big bag because when your exchange will be over, you will have double of the stuff you arrived with.

Packing After The Exchange.
Now, this is the trickier part because you will have to pack everything you brought from your home country but also everything you accumulated in your host country. If you did not know how to pack your whole life in a bag, imagine having to pack two lives into one bag. You brought a lot of stuff abroad because you thought you needed everything but the truth is that you will end up buying clothes and things in your host country, even if you have everything from your home country. You cannot avoid it. You will also receive gifts from people, souvenirs, and everything else, and you will have now to decide what it is more valuable and what you need to bring home. 
This is my personal experience: I arrived in the USA with a big bag, my laptop, and a carry-on. I left the USA with two big bags (I literally thought that one of them was going to explode), a backpack that weighed 11 kilos, and a carry-on, but I still had to leave some things behind or even worst, throw them away. From the baggage claim to the arrival, it was just a short walk but I literally did not know how to bring everything in one trip, so I started to push everything until I walked through the gate and saw my family. They didn't even move to help me so I was like wtf, but I eventually found out that it was just because they wanted me to notice that my best friend was there with a huge poster and wanted to surprise me.


Packing Tips.
I will briefly tell you what made packing easier for me. First of all, rolling your clothes is better than folding them. By doing so, you will also reach the corners of your luggage and will save space.
Another life saver is a vacuum pack. My luggage was already full when I only had put 16 kilos in it, but I was allowed to bring 23 kilos, so what I did was putting my clothes in a vacuum bag, sealing it, and suck the air out with a vacuum cleaner. 
One thing that people do is to divide their luggage into sections and use them for each different kind of clothing. Instead, I think it is a better idea to fill up dead space with underwear and socks rather than putting them all on one side of the luggage. 
An important tip is to put the heavy stuff in your carry-on. For instance, for my latest trip I put shoes in my carry-on because shoes take a lot of space and they are heavy, and since most of the time they don't weigh carry-ons, it worked out great! 
Organize your electronics and your bathroom essentials in smaller bags or pockets of your backpack, so when you get to customs you can easily reach them and take them out.
Last but not least important is to put at least one outfit in your carry-on. If the first half is full of shoes, use the second one to put a pair of underwear, a t-shirt, pants and so on because you never know what can happen to your big bag. Sometimes checked bags lose their connection flights and it takes days before it arrives at your final destination.

I hope that these tips and suggestions will help you out making better decisions when it comes to packing for your memorable exchange. Please feel free to drop a comment if you have more things to say, like secret hacks and such.

- Cris

WHICH SPORT TO JOIN AT YOUR HOST HIGH SCHOOL.


I am pretty sure that one of the things people suggested you do while on exchange is to join an after-class club, or even better, a sport, because that helps you making friends (and why not, you keep yourself in good shape). But if you are like me, you are not a sport lover, you never were or simply you never practiced anything competitively, so what to do? I will give you some advice.

Do Something You Are Good At.
I mean there must be something that you are willing to do more than other things, right? I do not like soccer, I tried to play in the past but I did not like it, so I knew that I didn't want to play it abroad either, I'd rather run so I was thinking about joining cross country. Think about what you are willing to do more, just make a list, starting with the "ok" sports to the "I would never do that" sports.

Do Something You Are Comfortable Doing.
If they ask you to play a sport you are not interested in, refuse. You are not obliged to do it. If you want to do it but you feel like you are not good enough, it is okay! No one is good at the first shot, it takes practice to become good in something, so I suggest you ask your coach if you can practice with the team but maybe skip the first couple of games so that you can watch your teammates play and get an idea of what competitions are like. Once you feel confident, you can ask your coach to let you play competitions.


Try Something New.
I ended up playing tennis, and not cross country, because prior to my arrival in the United States my American mom told me that her son plays tennis and he and the rest of the team wanted me to play with them. The main reason they wanted me was that they needed players, but I thought that behind it there would be at least some excitement in having a foreigner on the team, so I accepted. Tennis was a new thing for me. Before going to the USA I played it once or twice with my siblings, but for fun. I never really knew the rules, I always focused on only hitting the ball. So I was excited to try something different, this is something I constantly did on exchange: saying yes to almost everything.

Do Something That Gives You The Opportunity To Meet People.
If the team has barely ten members and you are new at the sport, I suggest you don't join. The team is most likely seeking for someone who's already good at playing and if you join you will feel the pressure of competitions, and maybe won't make friends that last the whole year, but simply some people you have to deal with until the season is over. 
If you are already a professional player, the small team isn't a problem for you because you will contribute to the victory of the team and will most likely feel part of the group in no time. But if you want to try football or cross country, for instance, for the first time there is more chance that your team is full so you don't have to play if you don't feel comfortable but simply practice and getting to know everyone on the team. If you want to give it a shot in competitions as well (also because meets are cool, you travel around the State, or even better out the State if you go regionals) you can ask your friends if they can spend some time practicing with you, even on weekends, so you will get to hang out but also to get better at the sport. You will most likely get some friends who will last longer than a small and hostile team.

I hope these simple suggestions will make your sports seasons more enjoyable. If you have any problem just talk to the coach, and if you want to quit and start something else, just ask! I cannot promise that it is the same for every school, but sometimes they agreed to let me do some things just because I was an exchange student, so you will never know if you don't try!

- Cris

WHAT TO DO WHEN JET-LAGED AND UP AT FOUR A.M.


It is that time of the year: exchange students started traveling across the world, from Europe to the United States, from the States to South America, and so on. A lot of people will be facing jet-lag, some will handle it better than others, but what should you do when you get up at three or four in the morning and cannot go back to sleep? I personally went to bed at midnight my first day in the States but I still woke up at six a.m. the day after, which was not nice. So I started unpacking and then at eight in the morning I finally decided to go upstairs and see if my host family was up, and, even if it was Sunday, they were. But what if they were still having sweet dreams?

Prepare Breakfast For Your Host Family.


I am sure your host family already showed you where the fridge is and told you to feel like at home, so my suggestion is to prepare breakfast for them. If you do not know what they like in the morning, just prepare something you normally have and tell them that is what you eat in your home country. They will not judge what you made, but will instead thank you for thinking about doing such a thing for them. This way they will see your interest in bonding with them. I am sure that if they host students because they enjoy it, they will appreciate your action.

Do Some Exercise.
I am not a sports lover and I will probably never be, but one of the things you can do early in the morning is working out. You will most likely gain weight in your host country anyway so the best way to "prevent" it is to start doing some exercise for the very beginning. By the time you will be done you will be able to take a shower and go to the kitchen for breakfast.

Read Or Watch TV In Your Host Language.
If you are done with your exercise (or simply skipped it - and that's okay) you can read a book in your host language and underline the words you don't know so that you can look them up afterward. If you are not a book lover and prefer to watch tv, do so. Turn it on and put subtitles in your host language so that way you will hear it but also read it. It will help you a lot and you will improve in a very short period of time.

Write A Letter To Yourself.


This may sound a bit stupid, but it is actually nice in the long run. Write down everything that comes to your mind. I mean, you are in your host country and still have the whole experience in front of you: write down what your feelings are, what your expectations are, what your level in your host language is and what you wish to achieve before the end of your year abroad. A year later, once you are back home, pull it out and read it. It will be crazy to realize how much you have grown.

Explore The Area Around You.
If you have the chance to, go for a walk. Don't be sitting on your bed just because you don't want to be the weird kid who walks on his own, just go. Imagine this: It is 6 in the morning, the sun is rising, the city is still calm and it is not hot yet: go for a walk. Watch bakers prepare their shop window with fresh bread, postmen riding their bikes and delivering newspapers, elderly people sipping coffee etc. If you are in the United States most of this might not be the case. Usually, the only way a person can get around is by driving a car, and you clearly cannot do that. So consider this idea only if you feel like you can do it. Maybe you can walk around your neighborhood and if you meet a next door fellow just say hi and introduce yourself. That way if they see you going around on your own they will not think a stranger is roaming around their property.

Write An Entry In Your Journal.
I suggest you keep a journal throughout the whole exchange experience because it will be nice to be able to read it again after some time. I wrote an online blog while I was on exchange and I also kept a calendar where I briefly wrote what I did day by day. I have been back from my exchange for two years now and I still open up my agenda sometimes to look at it and see what I was doing the same day two years before. It is also nice because sometimes I forget things and when I read them I am like "I did not remember that at all!".

Do Not Take Day Naps And Stay Up Late.


One of the most common advice people give exchange students is to go to bed when the host family does it, that way they will most likely wake up late and not before their host family. This can be true, but it depends on the situation because as I said earlier I went to bed at midnight and woke up at six. It sure helps not taking naps during the day, if you sleep in the afternoon you will be wide awake by the time everyone goes to bed, and that is not nice, but if it happens just follow some of the advice I gave you earlier! Read a book, watch a series or write a journal.

Read also: MY LAST DAY AS AN EXCHANGE STUDENT.

- Cris