Looking Back

I’ve been home for about two weeks now and I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I’m going to be here for a while.

When my friends and I first returned home the common phrase was “America sucks.” We were back to the monotony of actually understanding what people were saying. Back to the stiff, geometric skyscrapers littering the streets. Back to the hustle and bustle lifestyle that seizes the everyday American. Essentially, we were back to reality.

Now that I’ve let it all soak in, I’ve come the realization that America certainly does not suck. I may no longer eat pasta or pizza every day, nor do I get to pass centuries of history while walking to class, but America possesses pieces of our everyday lives that I often took for granted. We can split checks at restaurants, we don’t have to pay for water with a meal, we have public restrooms, we (generously) use our air conditioning, we dry our clothes. We may be young, but we have come farther in this short period of time than some of the oldest of established lands. We are a country with little shortage of hospitality, luxury, and rights. No, we aren’t perfect, but we don’t suck.

Therefore, spending six weeks in Florence, Italy not only allowed me to appreciate and love a new culture, but it allowed me to further appreciate and love my own. I got to experience a place that, in a way, became a part of me because I grew to know it on my own and in my own way. Now that I am home, I feel as if i have a perspective that others around me don’t have. I don’t mean this to sound vain, instead I feel that certain everyday experiences can now be compared to the everyday experiences of a person halfway across the world. Whether I’m comparing the sizes of American ice cream to Italian gelato (American portion sizes are indeed out of whack) or I’m comparing the pace of my day to the pace of an Italian, I now have tangible experiences to refer back to that allow me to think about the varieties of life on this earth. My time abroad made me eager to explore even more types of lifestyles and to reevaluate my own. After finishing this journey it’s my belief that traveling shouldn’t just make you fall in love with where you went, but it should enhance the way you see where you are.

As cliché as it may seem, I felt this is what happened to me on the Fourth of July last week. After being a foreigner in different countries for so long, and learning the history and culture of those places, it felt strange to be celebrating the history and culture of my own. After the initial strangeness subsided, I felt a pride and patriotism I hadn’t acknowledged before. Here I was, in my home country, no longer a tourist or confused American student lost in a fog of flirtatious buon giorno‘s. I was in a place whose culture I identified with, and others traveled here to admire that just as I traveled elsewhere to admire other cultures. My study abroad session has given me six weeks to enjoy a new place, and a perspective that will give me a lifetime of enjoying wherever I am in the future.

While this all seems thoughtful and positive, I should include a belated disclaimer that I spent a good deal of time pretending I was still in Italy and wishing I could go back forever. It was, and probably always will be, the best summer of my life and I will be forever grateful for it. However, now that I am looking back, it is clear to me how it was more than just a fun summer–it changed me, in the least cheesy way possible, and with that I will leave you with one final ¡Grazie, ciao!

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