A wise man once wrote, "Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest of chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey." I am so lucky to realize how true these words are after my experience abroad last month.
For the first five weeks of 2015, I was fortunate enough to study abroad in Italy. My 36 new friends and three adult supervisors traveled by bus throughout the entire country of Italy. We stayed in Venice, Siena, Florence, Rome, and Sorrento with day trips to Pisa, San Gimignano, the Amalfi Coast, and Pompeii. As you can imagine, the trip truly was a dream come true.
I knew coming to the University of Delaware, which was the first school in America to institute a study abroad program in 1923, that I wanted to study abroad at some point during my tenure as a student here. What I didn't know was just how life-changing studying abroad would be and how much I would learn while I was there. While I did take six credits of class, the learning that I will remember the most is the learning I experienced outside of the classroom: what I learned about myself, about my life and about living on my own in a completely unknown and foreign place.
Since I stayed in five different cities for five weeks, I decided to compile a list of five life lessons I learned during this seemingly magical time in Italy:
1. Don't think. Say yes to anything anyone asks you to do.
This piece of advice came from my sister who also studied abroad her junior year. I relied on these words for the entire trip as it allowed for me to a) not get bored and b) open my eyes to new experiences and different groups of people. "Want to ride a gondola?" "Sure!" "Let's go climb to the top of the Duomo!" "Count me in!" Not only did I get to really experience Italy, but I also was able to really get to know everyone on my trip, which was one of my main goals coming in.
2. Even the best fall down sometimes (literally).
I am a dancer, so I like to think I am a graceful person who is not very clumsy. However, the uneven, cobblestoned streets of Italy can get the best of us, especially when you are so enamored with the beautiful sights surrounding you that you don't watch where you are going. Regardless, I saw my falling as a type of blessing in disguise since I got to venture to the Siena Emergency Room with my professor, his wife and my friend who also hurt herself. Let me tell you - you never truly visit a country until you have to deal with their medical care system. However, it turned into an unexpectedly good day and a memorable story.
3. Experience and feel each moment.
Italy has been on my list of countries I wanted to visit for as long as I can remember. From the first step off the plane to my last day, it felt absolutely surreal to be there. I could not believe I was walking through these beautiful streets and seeing all of this remarkable art and architecture. I remember I even started crying when I got to Florence and saw that my hotel was near one of my favorite churches I studied in Art History in high school! Those moments, the ones where I looked up in disbelief and awe, were plentiful. It was like I was in a movie. I truly felt like an Audrey Hepburn living her Roman Holiday.
4. It is perfectly fine to miss your family.
My family is the most important part of my life. Clearly, I missed them the second I said goodbye. I have never gone five weeks without seeing one member of my family, and thankfully I did not have to in Italy since they came to visit me in Rome! I loved showing them how much I had grown already and how comfortable I was with the Italian culture. As the youngest person in the family, I loved being the person they turned to if they had questions, too. Until they arrived, all I wanted was to have them there and experience the country where we came from with them. When they finally did come, it just enhanced my experience that much more and provided memories for all six of us.
5. Only those who risk going too far know how far they can go.
There has been a sign with this phrase hanging in my house for years. I never really understood what it meant until I went abroad. Yes, I was scared and nervous in the beginning. But I'm glad I was anxious. It took me out of my comfort zone, and yet here I am; I survived and came out the other side exponentially better. If I was able to become friends with the 36 people on my trip that I did not know before and able to thrive in a completely unknown place, then I am sure anything else that gets thrown my way, whether it is right after graduation or beyond, I am confident I will be able to handle it.
I have been back in the states for a few weeks now, and I still miss Italy every single day. I know I will go back to Italy again. For now, I will keep looking at my pictures, hanging out with my friends from the trip, and reliving all the wonderful memories day after day until that lucky day arrives.