9 countries, 17 cities, 33 Instagram posts, too many beers and much more wine, many new friends, memories to last a lifetime, and one eternal city that I fell in love with. This was my semester abroad.
It feels like just yesterday that I was making my way to SFO at 4 am to catch my flight to Rome. On the blog post that I published that morning (you can read it here), I wrote about a man named George that I had met at my father’s restaurant. An older gentleman, George can be considered a world traveler and consequently a man of much wisdom. He claimed that traveling so much has given him the answers to many questions throughout his life. Before I left, I didn’t really know what my questions about life were. I didn’t know what answers I could possibly find. Although I’ve only seen a small fraction of the world compared to George, I now feel as though I understand what he meant.
You see, everyone talks about studying abroad as being an insanely positive, life-changing experience. As a prospective study abroad student, you hear these words and expect to wake up every morning with a greater understanding of life and the world, that everyday you will engage with locals and live a magical fairytale, where you won’t gain weight, you’ll get straight A’s, and you’ll fall in love with prince charming in a nice Italian suit. Unfortunately, what they don’t tell you is that life still happens while you’re abroad. You still get stressed, and you still cry, and you still miss home. And most importantly, everyone goes through their own journey. I feel as though everyone has a different and unique purpose for this experience, and are free to find their own meaning to associate with it. Whether it’s learning more about your background and where your family comes from, to fall in love, to discover your passions, or just to see the world, I don’t think a study abroad advisor or student can tell you what your experience will be or should be like. For me, my time in Rome has made me discover that I have a passion for traveling and that I have the ability to shape my future in whatever way I see fit. The last four months have given me the motivation to do so.
So when George said that traveling has given him the answers he’s been searching for his whole life, I can say my first worldly adventure has given me my first: that my life is up to me. I have the ability to shape where I go from here. The entire world is in my hand and I have the opportunity to do with that what I choose. For me, it’s finishing school and working in the field I’ve always dreamed of. It’s giving my family a life they’ve worked too hard for and never received, and giving myself the chance to see the world that I’ve fallen in love with.
As I pack my bags to wrap up this amazing journey, I would like to share a few thoughts I am taking away with me from this experience.
- I’ve made some amazing friends along the way. I am very blessed that I found such a great group of people right away while in Rome. They became my family as we traveled Europe together. It’s a blessing to associate the people who made you feel like you were home, with the place that you ended up calling home. You are who you surround yourself with, and I think I found some solid surroundings.
- The world is really small. When you’re sharing a hostel in Munich, Germany with a guy who happens to be best friends with one of your friends from college, you realize that. Connect the dots everywhere you go.
- Look fear straight in the eyes and say “F off.”. I was in Paris, France, exactly one week before the attacks in November. When we heard, we were a little taken back. We were eating out at a restaurant in Paris on a Friday night, exactly 7 days prior to the attack. However, I refused to let an act of terrorism define my study abroad experience like so many kids did. Many American students went home early out of fear. It’s understandable. However, the fearlessness that I am now so proud of reminds me that this is unfortunately the world we live in, and I will never let the fear of others’ actions stop me from living the life I have imagined. I saw Rome go from busy every night and the streets of Trastevere crowded, to empty piazzas and an eerie feeling. Seeing that distinct change and fear from the locals reminded me that I will always refuse to allow fear get in the way of life.
- The best view of the world is from an airplane. I was on more than a few planes throughout the semester, and time after time, I was mesmerized by what I would see. Whether it was just a layer of clouds, the Swiss Alps, or the Mediterranean. It was a constant reminder that we are so small compared to the world. It’s a humbling moment.
- There were many times where I looked at Rome and didn’t understand the hype. It’s actually really dirty in some parts, the men are creepy to say the least, there’s graffiti everywhere, and every evening at 5 pm, pigeons will poop all over you. There were days when I didn’t think life here was so glamourous. I kept comparing it to the more modern Amsterdam, the cleaner Edinburgh, the more efficient Munich, the class of Paris. But then I step into St. Peter’s Basilica. I walk by the Colosseum. I turn the corner and see the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. I hear about the Sistine Chapel and then I witness it. Rome is one of a kind. It’s art and history is unparalleled. I am more than lucky to have called it my home.
It is unbelievably surreal that tomorrow, I will be leaving Rome. I don’t know when I’ll be back. I don’t know when the next chance I have to return to Europe will be. I don’t know many things about the future. But what I do know is that I will never forget a moment of this experience, the people who are a part of the story, and the people who made it all possible.
Rome, thank you for being my home. You’ll always have a place in my heart. I don’t know when, but I’ll return to you someday. Ci vediamo a presto. Sarò sempre innamorata di te.