12 things I’ve learned in 12 months living abroad

I cannot believe I have been living abroad for almost a year. Seriously, where did the time go? And I cannot believe I haven’t posted anything during this year. I started this blog a couple of months before moving to Toronto and my goal was to share my adventures here. But, as I learned, living on your own, going to school full-time while working, and trying to take good care of yourself don’t leave you with a lot of free time on your hands. I just started to feel like I can comfortably manage everything, so I decided to give this blog another try.

lessons learned living abroad

During the past twelve months, I’ve learned a lot of life lessons. I’ve been living on my own, far away from home for the first time in my life. Living abroad had taught me so much about myself and life in general.

1. It is not possible to know everything

I am a (very lazy) perfectionist. Before moving abroad, I had done quite a bit of research and I had a very thorough plan of all the things I had to take care of. Canada and Italy are not even that different, I did not suffer any major cultural shock. So I thought it was going to be very easy to do everything, as I was very prepared.

I was very wrong. At first, I had no idea where to go to get the most basic stuff. And, because I didn’t know anyone here, I didn’t have anyone I could ask for help or directions. I learned that it is okay not to know where to find things or how to do things. At the beginning, everything is a trial-and-error process. So don’t take yourself too seriously and learn to laugh when you mispronounce a word or when you get confused.

Related: what to expect + what to do in your first month abroad

2. I can call the doctor and make an appointment for myself

The first time I successfully called the doctor (without even feeling anxious), I felt like I finally was a real adult.

Not only I now make doctor appointments for myself. But I was able to take care of my finances, find an apartment, cook healthy meals, find different jobs, and getting good grades without anyone reminding me I should study instead of binge-watch tv shows.

I think this was one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned this year: I am able to do things, I am independent, and I can take care of myself.

3. It takes time to get adjusted to everything

People say that it takes from 2 to 6 months to create a new routine in a new place and I agree. I was both excited for my new adventure and frustrated for not getting things right away at the beginning.

At first, even regular errands felt like something extraordinary. The first time you walk into a grocery store abroad you feel disoriented. You will find a lot of new and different products and brands. It will take time (and a little bit of money) to figure out the one that you like the most.

4. Living abroad doesn’t mean I get to travel all the time

In fact, I didn’t travel anywhere besides Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and Guelph. Although I am trying to change this in the new year, since I moved abroad I am actually travelling less than what I was used to.

It is not just about money. Of course, being used to fly around Europe for like 40€, I get very discouraged when even domestic flights are at least 200$. It is also about time. Since moving here, I never had a whole week completely off. Considering that distances in North America are longer than Europe, it takes more time to reach your destination, therefore you’ll need more days off.

During this year, I had people telling me “Sarah, you’re always going somewhere”. Sure, my Instagram is filled with pictures of cool places. What they do not realize is that I live here now, I go to school in the morning, and then to work in the afternoon, just like everyone else. What I do is just making an effort to get out and experience as much as possible of this beautiful city and its surrounding.

5. I actually enjoy winter and cold weather

Before moving here, I dreaded winter. Winter in Milan is cold, and humid, and foggy, and dark. Winter in Toronto is pretty much the same, just windier and way longer.

So what changed? I stopped refusing to go out just because it was below 0°C and I discovered you can actually survive with the proper clothes. I might still complain from time to time, but the truth is I don’t mind wearing 5 layers of clothes anymore. I now find myself longing for snowy days and 4pm sunsets. Especially around the holidays, winter is such a magical time and there is so much to see and enjoy.

On a side note, after queueing for a concert in perceived -15°C, I think I can do anything now.

6. Bureaucracy doesn’t have to be a nightmare

I come from a country where bureaucracy is a form of torture. Instead, taking care of things in Canada is so much easier and I laugh every time locals complain about it. Customer services actually work and people will explain to you exactly what you have to do and how to do it.

Of course, I’ve encountered my fair share of rude clerks and receptionists, but I can’t complain because, in the end, I was always able to do whatever I needed to do and on time.

7. Breakfast is an actual meal

Sure, everyone knows breakfast is the most important meal of the day and blah blah blah. In Italy, breakfast is fast and it’s all about coffee or cappuccino with either a croissant, cookies, or cereals. Here a lot of people have an actual complete meal for breakfast. I mean, a typical Canadian breakfast includes eggs, potatoes, and bacon.

For breakfast, I used to eat the same thing every single day: coffee and cereals. Now, it is more varied. I still can’t eat eggs and bacon first thing in the morning, but I can do oatmeal, fruits, potatoes, bagels with cream cheese, pancakes, and waffles.

8. It is okay to miss familiar people and food

It is true what they say, you never know what you have until it’s gone.

My family is a normal family, not too attached, not dysfunctional. I was craving some more independence and I thought moving an ocean away would be good. It was. This way, I’ve learned so much and in such little time. I also learned that I really love my family and I do miss my parents and my sister every single day.

I found myself missing the food too. At the beginning, not so much: there were so many new cuisines to try! But then, about six months in, I starting craving a lot of typical Italian food. I can find a lot of ingredients here, but sometimes they can be very expensive (I am looking at you Parmigiano Reggiano). I learned that it is okay to splurge on things that will make you feel good every once in a while. Other times, I simply cannot find the right ingredient (does anyone know where I can find porcini mushrooms in Toronto?) and I just can’t make the dish with something else.

9. Life abroad is not perfect

Life abroad is just life and there’s no such thing as a perfect life. There will always be ups and downs. I believe the downs can hit you even harder when you are not surrounded by your support system.

There is this pressure that people abroad constantly feel. I mean, you get to live in a place that you picked, you are free to do whatever you want to do, how you dare not be always happy?

10. FOMO is getting worse and worse

Sure, when I see photos of my friends getting together without me, or when I know some major event is happening at home, I always feel a bit sad I can’t be there. But it is not just fear of missing out on things happening at home.

Now that I’ve lived in Canada for almost a year and I saw that I can actually make it on my own, I constantly think about all those other countries that I’d love to live in for a while. There are so many places and cultures I am curious about. Like, how is life in a place like Greenland or Iceland with very long summer days and very dark winter days? Or, would I be able to survive in a country like Norway, where they speak a language that I just started learning?

11. Bad English days are a real thing

Not only, after a whole year of speaking as much English as possible, I still have a very thick accent, but also there are days when my brain simply can’t function. I already made peace with the fact that I will never sound like a native, not just because of the accent but also because my active vocabulary is so much smaller compared to my passive one.

I’ve heard about bad language days from other people living abroad, but I could never understand how that could be possible. I mean, if you learned a language fairly well, how can you not be able to speak properly for like half a day? I still have no idea why it happens. For me, it is not really connected to how tired I am or to the topic of the conversation. There are just days when I wake up and I can feel my English sucks.

12. Always remember how lucky you are to have yourself

Of course, I have to finish this post with a The Maine reference. This has been my motto lately. It is pretty much self-explanatory.

Have you ever spent a long time away from home? What are some things you learned?

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First month abroad: what to expect + what to do

I can’t believe I’ve been here in Canada for almost a month already. And I still can’t believe I have already completed two whole weeks of classes. It feels like I had my orientation just yesterday.

I like it here so much. It is all that I expected, but also all that I didn’t expect. It’s been such an amazing experience so far and I can’t wait to find out what comes next.

First month abroad: what to expect + what to do

Expect to have to deal with a million boring things

Before arriving in Canada, I had made a list of things I had to get done as soon as possible. Get a SIN number, open a bank account, bring study permit to the international center, and all these boring staff. Then, once I arrived and I went both to my program orientation and the international students orientation, I added even more things to my to-do list.

You might get overwhelmed. You might find yourself going out at 8 am to be the first one at the bank and then you find out they don’t open until 9.30 there. It might take some time to figure out how to get into a building and where to find the right office. But it is okay. If you look lost enough, someone will probably help you.

What to do: do not postpone the boring stuff too much. Just do them, and then enjoy your time in your new city.

Expect to feel out of place

I didn’t experience any kind of cultural shock. Coming from another western country, it didn’t take me that much to get adjusted to my new environment. However, I did my fair sharing of eavesdropping people’s conversation to learn how to appropriately talk with your waiter or how to reply when the cashier tries to make small conversation with you (this is still such a shocker to me).

Sometimes, when I walk down the street, I feel like people can just get that I’m not from here. When I walk into a place, I always feel a bit lost and, even if there are directions, I always go the wrong way.

What to do: accept that you are in a new place and it will take a while to get to know it.

Expect to get lost a lot, and get lost on purpose

For the first week, my sister was here with me, so we did a lot of touristy stuff. This allowed me to familiarize with the different neighborhoods and points of interest. I still use Google maps a lot and the Transit app is my lifesaver, but I try not to rely on those as much as possible. Sure, that means that most of the times I walk a couple of extra meters in the wrong direction, but, hey, my goal is to take 10.000 steps a day so it’s all good.

Most of the times, when I didn’t know where I was or where I was going, I ended up discovering cool little places that I would have never seen otherwise. It can also happen that you accidentally walk in one of the worst neighborhood of the city.

What to do: pick an area of your new city, go there, and just walk around aimlessly.

Expect to change your habits

I feel like have already absorbed some of the locals’ habits: I now eat dinner do much earlier than I would do back in Italy (like, one day I had dinner at 5.30pm); I find myself not worrying that much about having a snack in class or while walking down the street; I always carry a water bottle with me; and unfortunately I also started drinking a lot more juice and soda.

What to do: embrace all the new little things that your new place allows. Keep you old habits that you like and incorporate something new in your daily routine.

Expect to have some communication problems

The language barrier always makes me feel very frustrated. It isn’t really a barrier, because I can understand people and most of the times people understand me. But, I feel like my spoken English is pretty bad. My accent is thick, and sometimes, when I’m in the middle of a conversation, I can’t remember words that I actually know.

What to do: keep studying the grammar and practice using new words as much as you can.

Expect to need a break

You’re in a new place, with new people to meet, new stories to hear, but if it gets too much, you can take a break. Sure, carpe diem should be your motto, but you don’t wanna burn out. There is no point in doing things if you don’t feel like you could enjoy them at the moment.

What to do: don’t be afraid to skip a party and spend time in your room watching Netflix instead.

Have you ever spent some time abroad? How was your first month there?

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10 unique and actually useful gift ideas for students studying abroad

As I told you in my previous post, I celebrate my birthday last week. I’ve had a great time and cool and useful gifts. This, and the fact that the holiday season is almost here, inspired me to write a gift guide, a list of gift ideas for students studying abroad.

unique and actually useful gift ideas for students studying abroad

(This post may contain affiliate links)

Is your friend moving away to study in a foreign country for a while? Do you want to give them something special, thoughtful, and useful? I made this list of gift ideas for students studying abroad from first-hand experience. I can assure you that if you pick one gift from here, you cannot go wrong.


If your friend doesn’t have one already, you can’t go wrong with a backpack. Especially one that can be used for school, but also as a cabin luggage.

white water walk in niagara falls

During my first year of college, for my birthday, I bought myself a North Face Borealis Backpack and I’ve been using it for everything since then. It’s perfect for college, as it has a lot of different pockets: for your phone, for your keys, for your wallet, lip balm, lunch box, medicines, there’s even space for pens, and it has a laptop sleeve. I also use this backpack every summer during my road trips. It’s the perfect size to bring it on a plane as a cabin luggage, and it’s quite comfortable to carry it around even when it’s heavy. It’s waterproof, it has those super great waist straps and, for extra security, you can add a lock to the zips.


As we’re living in the digital era and we always carry around lots of electronics, those need to be charged. A lot of other essential items, like a hair dryer or an electric toothbrush, need to be plugged in. Unluckily, different countries have different plugs.

Trust me, you can never have too many adapters. I have 4 and I’m always looking for a way to make room for more devices. So, go ahead and buy your friend an adapter, either a universal or a country specific one.

External battery

Since we’re talking about electronics, another essential thing to have is a portable battery. This is essential for those awesome days when there are so many views to take pictures of. Or for those long days of travel when listening to music drains the phone battery. Your friend will be thinking of you every time they get a low battery warning and another half day away from a socket.


Even if we’re in the digital era and your friend is planning on sharing the whole adventure on social media, or perhaps a blog (make them read why they should start a blog while living and studying abroad), a proper journal is an awesome thing to have. It could be used to take notes of all the things one shouldn’t miss, to make little bucket lists of places to visit and restaurants to dine at, or to write down personal thoughts and emotions that don’t belong on social media.


My first travel journal was on a plain Moleskine notebook, I loved that I could write and draw. But I quickly converted to the Squared Moleskine Notebook. I can still draw on that, but it’s so much easier to write on a squared (or ruled) notebook while you’re on the road, trust me.

DIY travel guide

This is a more personal gift. It will be even better if you’re a crafty person and you can bring one handmade with love. What you should do is: research your friend’s destination and create a custom itinerary or a list of all the attractions you would love to visit. Tell your friend to go to all those places and send you a postcard from there.


If you’re into fashion and you’d like to buy a piece of clothing for your friend, a scarf is the perfect gift. A shirt might be cool too, but you need to know the size and sometimes people have a different taste. A scarf is a bit less personal, but it’s so useful. Especially if someone is moving to a cold place. But even in a warm place, it can be used as a shawl during a cool night or when the AC is killing you.


This might sounds funny. But I actually put on my shopping list to buy at least 3 packs of my favorite hand cream. I know there will be creams where I’m going, but it took me years to find one that is perfect for my skin. I know I’ll have to make some trials and errors before finding another perfect match. So buy your friend’s favorite cream.


For the book lover a Kindle is the perfect gift. Even if they are all for printed books and don’t like e-readers, when you have to fit everything in a 23kg luggage, a Kindle seems like an amazing idea and your friend will be very happy to have one. Along with the Kindle, give them a long list of good books to read. Also, make sure they Join Amazon Kindle Unlimited, they can get unlimited reading and unlimited listening to a lot of books for less than 10$ a month.

Gift card

Gift cards are a student best friend. Just be sure to check that the shop will be available at your friend’s destination and that they’ll accept gift cards bought in another country.


Food is a great gift, maybe the best of all. But be sure to check if it’s allowed in the destination country.

Do you have a friend who is moving abroad for a semester? What do you think about these gifts? Do you have any other suggestion?

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What country should I move to? Things to consider before moving abroad

I’ve always dreamed about moving abroad. When I was a little girl I had the usual American dream almost everyone has around here. Then, when I was in high school, I decided I wanted to live in Canada in the future. Everything seemed so much better over there. And seeing how things are going right now, I couldn’t be happier with the country I’ve chosen.

Everyone has a different reason for wanting to move away from their home country. But ultimately it’s because we want more: we want new adventures, we want better adventures.

Things to consider before moving abroad

There are so many factors to take into consideration before choosing a new host country, but don’t get overwhelmed just yet. Ask yourself some questions, take a pen and some paper and start making lists. Everything gets better and it doesn’t seem so impossible anymore when you have a clear list of steps to take in front of you.

Where to go next?

If you really have no idea where to relocate, think about your own country. Make a list of things you like and things you don’t like about it. Then, look for places that are filled with things you like. It can be anything from stunning nature or proximity to the sea to universal health care or a good public transport system.

But don’t limit yourself, sometimes the bad outweighs the good. I decided to move to Canada to study. I’m not into cold winters and snowstorms and I wanted to go live in Vancouver. But I was genuinely interested in child and youth care and I got into my first choice school, which is in Toronto. So now I’m getting really excited to move there and wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.

Can I live and legally work or study there?

If you want to spend more than a couple of months in a country, chances are you will need a visa. You need to check if you’re eligible to get one and which type you’ll need. There are a lot of different types of permits, so make your research!

If you want to study in the country you’ve chosen, you’ll probably need a study permit. Sometimes that comes with a work permit, sometimes not, sometimes you can work for just a certain amount of hours when school is in session. It all depends on the country. You should check their government website, where all this kind of info should be listed.

Can I afford to live there?

After you’ve made a list of places you think you’ll enjoy living in, and you find out you are eligible to get a visa to study or work there, you should check the cost of living. Rents, foreign exchange, salaries, taxes, the price of groceries and public transports. On The Earth Awaits you can find the perfect city for your budget.

I know that being abroad just for the sake of being abroad is not for me. I want to see new things and meet new people. Most of the times, the most popular destinations are the most expensive and they will leave you without money and time to go explore around your new host country. For example, a lot of people move to London to work in restaurants or shops, but they end up working 10+ hours shifts and making enough money just for rent and food (because those things are super expensive there and pounds are still stronger than euros).

So maybe you want to look into more unique destinations. But if London (or any other expensive major city) is your lifetime dream, go for it. If you really want something, you’ll find a way to make it work.

How is the education system?

If you want to study in your new host country, you should check if you have the right requisites to apply to schools there. You will probably have to have your transcripts and other documents translated and notarized, so be prepared to make copies and pay extra fees.

If you’re staying just for a semester or a year, be sure your college or university will accept the credits you’ve earned abroad. There’s no use in paying international tuition fees and study hard for exams if you’ll have to retake them when you go back to your school. If you want to go back to your home country right after graduation, you should also check that your diploma or degree is valid there or that you can get your qualifications recognized.

Are there job opportunities?

If you’re moving abroad to work, you want to go where your skills are needed. Or, if you also want to reinvent yourself and start a new career, you should at least pick a country where there are opportunities for foreigners and a solid job market.

Do I know the language? Can I learn it?

Do they speak your first language in your new host country? Can they speak and understand English there?

If you want to get in touch with the local community in your new host country, you might want to consider learning their language. This will be a wonderful opportunity for you. You get to learn something new, to make friends and to get the real experience.

Are you thinking about moving abroad to work or study? Have you taken into consideration all these factors?

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I’m starting a blog about living and studying abroad

I can’t believe I’m actually writing this post. I was thinking about starting a new blog for the longest time and now it finally feels like it’s the right time to do it. I’m starting this blog about living and studying abroad because by the end of the year I will be living and studying in Toronto and I have a lot of things I want to share about this.

why you should start a blog while living and studying abroad

(This post may contain affiliate links)

Over the years I’ve read a lot of expat blogs and tons of study abroad blogs. I loved reading about other people’s adventures away from their home, I liked that they were always sharing tips and giving others amazing suggestions and ideas. I always thought having a blog was a cool thing, so now that it’s my turn to go study and live abroad I’ve decided to start Sarah in the Six.

Why I want to start a live/study abroad blog

To always have a place to come to

Right now I’m still just overly excited about the big move. I keep saying that the only thing that scares me about my future is the -10°C, but I’ve been reading a lot of expat blogs and I know I’m bound to have some sort of homesickness at some point or to feel discouraged when something doesn’t go the way I want it to.

So this will be the place that will remind me why I’m doing it and also the place where I can turn to, where I can write and vent, ask for advice and connect with other people that have been there before.

To keep a record of my life

Then why not just post your pictures on facebook or write your private journal, you may ask. Well, I hate sharing too much on Facebook and I don’t want to have my whole life on there. Sarah in the Six is my own place and I can do everything I want with it. Others can come here and visit my little corner of the web and they can choose to close this window anytime they want to.

The reason I’m not just keeping a private journal is that I get bored after a couple of days of writing everything down by hand. Also, I want to write for other people, I want to inspire others, give them tips and tricks and even concretely help them, if possible.

To reflect on the past

I like to think that a blog about travelling, living, or studying abroad is like a collection of souvenirs from all the different (literal and symbolical) places you’ve been to. I will write everything down, the good and the bad, so I can preserve every little detail of my adventures. A year or two or five from now, I could come back and see how much (or how little) changed in my life.

To connect with others

Blogging will be a fun way to keep my friends and family updated, to share my stories and adventures with them. It will also give me a chance to get in touch with locals and other people temporarily living or just visiting Toronto.

To improve my written english

I’ve decided I will write this whole blog in English. I already write a lot in English, but writing more than a caption for an Instagram picture is definitely still a bit challenging. Since I will attend a course where I’ll probably have to write essays (and I am already dreading it), I need some extra practice and writing about things I’m passionate about seems like a fun and easy way to do it.

Do you have a blog? Or are you thinking about starting a blog? What are your reasons?

If your looking for more about college abroad, be sure to check my college abroad group board on Pinterest and let me know if you’d like to join it.

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