The end of my study abroad session became harder for me to grasp the reality of what was happening. Rome was my last excursion and my final weekend in Europe crept up on me with a severe sickness of both germs, and home. I couldn’t find the time to blog, so I wrote in my personal journal to keep some of the more nostalgic and emotional memories to myself. I figured rather than create blog posts at the end of my session that were carefully crafted and over-thought, I would settle my thoughts and reflect on my feelings after I had been back home for a while. Now, I can put my confusion into perspective.
When everyone asks me how my study abroad program was, I reply “amazing”, “incredible”, “extraordinary” and they rarely ask anything further. It seems foolish to me that something so monumental in my life could satisfy the curiosity of another with a simple and clichéd adjective. I don’t have time to explain my thoughts without a misunderstanding or miscommunication. Yet, when put into writing, the meanings become clear.
Florence, Italy surprised me. I expected Europe to be a magical kingdom, state-of-the art, innovative, clean, pristine, elite, glorified. However, my eyes were opened to the opposite. The beauty wasn’t in the exterior, but in the soul of description. The buildings are breath-taking because they’re rich, ancient and ornate, the cobblestones hurt but they’re culturally unique, the Ponte Vecchio needs some serious remodeling but it has been standing since the Renaissance period, and the Arno River is green but it’s in Florence, Italy and the city is so full of heart that it doesn’t matter.
I heard during my travels a lot of, “You’re only in Europe once! Enjoy it, you’re in freakin’ Italy!” That was mostly everyone’s philosophy.
My philosophy: learn something that will make me better. I don’t have to think it’s the most incredible city of my life just because it’s Europe and I’ve never been. I came to study abroad to broaden my horizons, and looking back on my experience, I have not a single regret.
I got everything I wanted, not in the way I planned, but on a surprising and more rewarding scale. I love traveling and embracing other aspects of the world, but physically living in a foreign country gave me insight in reverse: I appreciate home more than ever.
It’s important to see the world, exploring is magic, and the number of cities I want to see before I reach the end of my road multiplied greatly from this journey. I took over 1,000 pictures, ate delicious food and made memories of a lifetime. Meanwhile, I was able to be grateful for what I have back home.
I’m not going to sugar-coat my documentation and say “Oh my goodness, what I would give to go back, I wish I was in Italy everyday.” I don’t think that. What I think is that places are still places, and the people you surround yourself with matter more. I sat on the Ponte Vecchio the last evening, taking everything in one last time and crying because I was so humbled to be there. Suddenly, I saw a middle-aged woman carrying her mother in an assisted walker, very slowly across the threshold. In that moment, everything I had been searching for during my trip came into full circle. Florence is magnificent, but at the end of the day, and at the end of our times, it doesn’t matter how many bars you hopped to, how many friends you had, how much bread you ate, how many times you bought gelato, how many pictures you took of historic structures, how many clubs you hit, how much wine you drank. What matters is the people who you can share these experiences with, and who you can recount your stories to.
Aside from all of the things that went right or wrong, there was nothing better than being able to sit on my grandparents’ couch and share with them everything I’ve been able to do, just because I took an opportunity. I could see in every picture my daily gratitude, appreciation and awe of the city. And the most important part that I take with me are the memories I can share with the people I love.
Maybe I’m weird because I’m not dying for gelato again or more scarves or more trains to catch or more Piazza’s to sit on top of. Life is what you make it, and this trip is one that I can be proud of, because I came out of it with more than just a few extra pounds in bread and wine.
It’s one more chapter in my life, a constant discovery and reminder to just be. Just be happy. Just have fun. Just go with it. Just live. Just do. Just travel. Just see what happens. Just try anything…Just be.