Australia – kangaroos, Great Barrier Reef, Sydney Opera House… Japan – ramen and sushi, Harajuku fashion, Cat Island… England – the Queen, Big Ben, pubs… Peru – Llamas, Machu Picchu, the Amazon… How was I supposed to choose just one place? Walking through booth after booth at my school’s study abroad fair mentally transported me into each country shown making me all the more excited as I dreamily marched across the Great Wall, dived into the Caribbean Sea and ate brownies in Amsterdam. Then I realized what I knew about each destination was purely superficial. I grabbed about a dozen different magazines from each third-party program to go home and do some research.
Sitting cross-legged on my bedroom floor with a cup of hot tea to calm my racing heart, I began sifting through each informational magazine. As the cool wind whipped around outside on this cold winter night, my imagination continued to run wild. I could go here and eat that and see this and… My eyes had fallen onto something that halted my thoughts. The pricing. Basically, the cost for tuition and living would cost you a leg, an arm and your first-born child. I took a deep breath, contemplating how I would do this.
First step: Not losing hope. I still had to choose a location. What I wanted was adventure, beauty, a challenge and a hell of a lot of amazing food. After highly considering the Netherlands (Dutch is an incredibly difficult language), England (bangers and mash for 9 months?) and Australia (expensive), I finally landed on my choice which I had really known all along – Italy. This ravishing country has mountains, beach, forests, hills, cheap/delicious wine, gloriously sumptuous cuisine, centuries old cities and a sexy language. Thus began my love for the land of pizza, pasta and wine, and I hadn’t even seen it yet.
Second step: Mom and Dad (A.K.A. My lifesavers and the first people I always turn to for advice and help). They helped me get a loan. A fat loan. Big enough to pay for my tuition, housing and food for 2 semesters; however, I knew that I’d be the one to be paying it off for the next ten years on top of my federal loans, but I felt it worth it, and I was right. Anticipation built over the next 7 months until I finally received the award confirmation of the loan. At that point, 2 more months until Italy.
Third step: My spring semester at college that year had an additional and frustrating extra curricular activity – petitioning courses to match the school I’d be attending in Torino, Italia. I had to match a courses from my university (UTSA) to those at La Scuola di Amministrazione Aziendale. I sent in 15 different courses to be evaluated, which means 30 researched courses, 15 papers to fill out and sign and then each petition was reviewed by 3 different professors before it could be approved as a transfer credit. After a few months, 8 of my petitions were approved which would put me a little behind in my schooling, but it was better than nothing!
Excitement built inside of me with each passing day that led up to my departure. It mixed with my stress to make sure I had everything I needed such as a doctor’s check up, decent hiking boots and a new computer for my schoolwork. By the time the eve of my adventure came around, I had done everything but pack. I was up almost all night packing 2 suitcases and 2 carry-ons with necessary items for my 9 month trip. Once I finished, I couldn’t sleep, but at least that was helpful for sleeping on the plane the next day! The next morning at the airport, my family said arrivederci through tear soaked eyes. I set off to Toronto and eventually to Frankfurt for my final destination of Torino on September 3, 2012.
September: I had already made some crazy lifelong friends that I still visit in Torino to this day. My little Italian family that taught me how to fit in and how to live and love like a true Italian.
October: I had an incredibly kind boyfriend who cooked for me, took care of me when I was ill, raced me to castles and lakes on his motorcycle and kissed with the passion of an Italian heart.
November: I started babysitting a seven-year old boy who helped me with my language skills and I his. He cried about everything but smiled just as much, especially when I showed him Disney classics (his favorite was The Lion King)!
December: I visited a place I’d only seen in my dreams, Paris, where I witnessed love on the Pont des Arts, got lost in the Louvre (literally looked for the exit for an hour) and perused the christmas markets while warming up with vin chaud (mulled wine).
January: It began getting easier to speak in Italian, even though I would sometimes piss off some locals with mixing in some Spanish here and there (I guess some high school Spanish stuck after all).
February: I sprained my wrist and bruised my tailbone after an exhilarating snowboarding trip in the Italian Alps. Tequila in my tummy and Rob Zombie in my hears helped loosen me up since I’d never been before, and I can’t wait to do it again.
March: My first spring break not spent working in a restaurant. Instead I ventured to Morocco, Spain and Ireland and thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. I met other travel enthusiasts, trekked up waterfalls and through forests, consumed a plethora of the local cuisine and visited the Jameson Distillery in Dublin.
April: I was lucky enough to spend Easter (Pasquetta) with an Italian family to see how it was done. There were pounds of meat, loads of cigarettes (which I do not smoke) and rivers of wine and espresso. Not to mention non of them could speak English, so I really was able to use my newly acquired language skills.
May: After a goodbye (such an oxymoron) party, I was off to the airport, but I had just arrived… I didn’t want to go. A blur, and I’m back in America.
Damn. 4 years feels like forever ago, but it feels like I was just there. I left with 2 suitcases, a savings account and no knowledge of the Italian language. On return, I had 3 suitcases, no money and a fluency in Italian. Not only did I leave behind a bath robe and some purple candles, but also my heart. It’s okay, though. I want Italy to have it because it means that I have to go back!
Traveling does a lot to you. For those who have traveled as much as I, you get it. For those of you who have not experienced the world yet, just know this: you will change, but for the better. You gain more of an appreciation for what you have such as running water, a hot shower, a bedroom door, your safety. You develop a respect for other cultures and people no matter what they wear or how they sound when they laugh. Not everyone has the same privileges as we, the lucky ones. Not everyone has two legs to hike a mountain, two functional ears to hear Vivaldi’s mastery of the violin, two eyes to see the colors of a sunset. Do what you want, and don’t take what you have for granted. Appreciate it and appreciate yourself. That’s today’s lesson 🙂