The key to a successful study abroad experience is being able to use your imagination. You have to imagine that you aren't here for just six months, four months, or five weeks. You have to arrive having convinced yourself that this is where you live. Not where you ‘are living for a semester' or where you ‘will be studying for a while,' but that this is your home. It's a shift in thinking, one that requires a substantial amount of imagination, one that produces incredible results.
A good way to prepare for study abroad is to listen to others who have been abroad before and what they wish they had done. Probably the most common retrospective desire is ‘I wish I had been more involved in the Italian community.' Becoming involved in a new community is always challenging, no matter how you slice it, and especially so while trying to decipher a new language and a new set of social customs. But with a little (ok, a lot) of imagination, it is possible to become a part of the local community.
To become involved you cannot listen the voice that says, ‘I'm only here for four months, so it's not really worth it'. Meeting a group of locals outside of your campus or a bar is always worth it. Think about what you do at home, the activities and hobbies that are an integral part of your life. For example, I devote a huge amount of my time to taking dance classes and tutoring. If my study abroad site were where I lived permanently, I would need to find a dance studio and a school that cooperates with tutors. So, I found them. Taking dance class was a great way to become accustomed to the Italian language. Ballet uses an international vocabulary, and after a day of being frustrated by things that should be simple, like buying coffee and taking the bus, it was a great relief to walk into the studio where I knew what I was supposed to do. It was fun and comfortable.