“Life moves pretty fast sometimes.
If you don’t stop and look around once in a while,
you may miss it.” - Ferris Bueller
About this time a year ago, one of my closest friends and I decided to apply for our school’s study abroad program in Florence, Italy. To this day, I still don’t know what spurred this decision outside of pure curiosity.
After approximately four months living out a fairytale and seeing the world, I’m coming home. It’s as bittersweet a feeling as they come, and at the moment I’m sitting in the beautiful Boboli Gardens trying to come up with a way to sum this all up best.
For the first half of this trip, I documented every relevant occurrence in my journal. The schoolwork picked up tremendously towards the latter half of the semester, and I didn’t have time to carve my memories into stone, but needless to say this was the greatest experience of my life. And it could not have come at a better time.
Before I left home, I hit a breaking point. I felt like I was growing up faster and faster every day. I developed unhealthy habits, and my life fell into routine: Drive to school, go to class, eat, go to work, eat, rinse, Netflix, sleep, repeat. For someone who has dressed up as Peter Pan not once, but twice for Halloween, this was nowhere near the lifestyle I wanted to have. I didn’t know what I wanted, and my Bachelor’s degree was around the corner; approaching closer at every turn.
So I went abroad… and to be honest, I didn’t really put too much thought into it. I didn’t know what to expect, what to bring, and more importantly how it would affect me. I just did it.
I sit here today having visited ten different countries; nine more than I had before February. I sledded down the Alps in Switzerland, let my feet dangle at the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, and oversaw Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower. I drank a stein in the same tent Oktoberfest is annually held, went inside the Roman Colosseum, and took a picture with the Mona Lisa. As my friends can attest to; I’ve almost become numb to seeing incredible mountain ranges, gorgeous churches, and breathtaking cityscapes. But above all of these wonderful privileges, I got to live in Firenze.
Firenze is pretty dirty, smelly, and gross sometimes; I'll be honest . But wouldn’t you be too if you were over a thousand years old? It’s crazy to think that a vast majority of the buildings I’ve walked past every day are considerably older than our entire country. Il Duomo is still my favorite building I’ve seen on this trip, and I don’t think it’s even a close competition. It towers over every other building with strength and robust, and its red color represents the heart of this city. I didn’t get to see everything I would’ve liked to see here, but I saw enough to not have any major regrets. Oh, and the food, you may ask? It lived up to the hype, and then some.
I put myself out there and met a lot of really good people. The Lorenzo ‘de Medici Institute had its obvious flaws, but its ability to unite people from all over the globe throughout this journey was impressive. I probably won’t see many of them ever again, but I enjoyed the time we shared.
The most I’ve gained from this trip (outside of weight, here’s your fair warning) has been knowledge. I’ve learned way more here than I’ve ever learned in school, and I’m not talking about in my classes. My memory may defeat me when trying to recollect bits and pieces from all of the museums and historical sites I’ve visited, but I can proudly say I know much more about the world than I did before this trek overseas. It is the best history book you can find, after all.
I’ve learned a lot about myself, too. I miss my friends and family dearly, so obviously this sort of thing won’t happen too frequently in the future unless they’re by my side. However, I've become more independent than ever, which I didn’t know was possible until I started to take advantage of this opportunity on my own. There is nothing more thrilling than taking the road less traveled and discovering what lies within your trail. Unless, of course, it takes you into the attic of a strange Buddhist man in Pisa (it's not what you think); which is a story for another day.
It takes a lot of persistence and patience to immerse yourself in an unknown culture. At first, I believed I could fit in and become "one of them", but considering how much I struggled with my Elementary Italian course I soon realized this was impossible. I'm in a better position now than I was those first few days, but still a tourist when all is said and done.
Before I wrap this up, here are a few travel tips I've pieced together while in Europe:
1. ALWAYS pack your passport before anything else.
2. You do not wash your hands in a bidet.
3. Avoid all you can eat (and drink) buffets if you lack self-control.
4. Don't plan too many trips in advance until you know what to expect with classes
5. Take a cooking class. Seriously, they're awesome, and I'm no chef.
6. Don't expect high quality restaurant recommendations from trip companies
7. When you know you're not capable of doing something, don't sign up!
8. When an Irish man asks you if "you know", you better start to do a jig.
9. If you're sitting around in your apartment all day and it isn't for homework related reasons, you're wasting your time.
10. Expect to come home broke and fat.
Traveling isn't for everyone, but it is something that everyone should at least try to do when they have the chance. I've been told so many times by family members and what not that they wished they could've gone abroad when they were younger. I was fortunate enough to do this because of my incredible family, who I can't thank enough for allowing me such a life-changing opportunity. The world is so much more than a little town in upstate New York to me now, and I'm so blessed to be able to say that.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Ciao Firenze! Until we meet again.