by: Sarah Allen, Marist Italy FFE, 2013-14
I remember the morning of August 22nd as if it happened in slow motion. I woke up, finished packing, charged all of my essential electronics, said goodbye to my favorite people, and I left for the airport. I had avoided thinking about what leaving really meant, and so I thought of it more as a vacation than anything else. It just didn’t seem real at the time. It didn’t feel like my Dunkin Donuts bagel would be the last I would have, or that this was the last time I’d ride in a car for two months. It didn’t feel like I was leaving my home, much less my country, for a year abroad.
Everything hit me when I arrived at JFK. I remember being late and scrambling to get my bags checked so I could go through security. Standing in line at the check in counter, I couldn’t even look at my parents with dry eyes. It was finally hitting me, right then and there, that I was leaving for a long time, and that things would never be the same. Going through security, I looked back at my parents maybe 10 times. Even once I was through, I tried to collect myself, but it was so hard. I walked down to the correct gate and it seemed like I was the last one to get there. Everyone was already mingling and getting to know each other while I shuffled by, clutching a pillow pet and wiping away my tears. Nobody else was crying. Nobody else even appeared to be upset. Great, I thought, What a fantastic first impression this is making.
Despite remembering that morning with exceptional detail, the rest of our journey to Italy I remember in a blur. Maybe that’s due to the fact that my eyes were literally blurred with salt water, or that the transition was just really difficult for me. We spent our first five days in Tuscania. I remember that, but I don’t particularly remember enjoying it. I spent my time glued to the crappy WiFi, wondering how the hell I would survive with so little access to my family and friends back home. In all honestly, I spent the first part of the semester with this mindset. I lived day to day, just trying to make it all work until I could go home. I remained glued to my phone and computer, and those four little bars of WiFi were my best friends (although let’s be real, in San Lo it’s more like two or three). Sure, I went out and had fun, but even so, I beat myself up for choosing to do something other than just go to a regular college. I asked myself why I had to be the one to do something different. It wasn’t until the end of the fall semester that this frame of mind began to change.
I hate the fact that I wasted so much time thinking about going home. I only have 33 days left in Florence and now I can’t imagine going home and not coming back. I noticed that home was different for me when I went back over fall and winter breaks. I noticed that each time, I had changed a little more, too. Going home for fall break was my only regret over the course of my year in Italy. I could have traveled to so many different places, but I chose to go back home and try to be the person I was when I left. Little did I know, this was an impossible task. Living abroad in another country changes you, even when you don’t realize it. It’s the experience of other cultures, the experience of living on your own, and the experience of interacting with so many different people. I’ll admit that it took me too long to immerse myself in these experiences, but at least I finally got there.
I am a different person compared to that girl crying in JFK eight months ago. I’m someone who can fly to another country on her own. I’m someone who can order lunch in Italian. I’m someone who can sleep in a tent in the middle of the desert. Most importantly, I’m someone who makes her own happiness and cherishes the little things. I’m different and I’m so glad that I’m different. This experience has given me the chance to gain an enormous amount of independence and I’m really thankful for that. It’s provided me with a thirst for adventure that I’m sure I will never lose. I’ve seen so much of the world with some of the best people in the world. I find it hard to pinpoint just exactly how much FFE has meant to me. There aren’t sufficient words to express how the growth I’ve undergone has changed my life. All I have are the stories I can tell and the lessons I’ve learned. Collectively, they define the wanderlust that now dominates my life.
The quote on my high school graduation cap read, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” In retrospect, I think I was a bit of a hypocrite to make such a claim, having yet to experience any real lack of comfort in my life. But I think I get it now, after being here in Florence for almost a year and after facing moments where I truly found myself out of my comfort zone. It is those moments that you remember the most. It’s those moments that you learn the most about yourself. It’s those moments that define what your life is all about. I think back to the night of April 31st, almost a year ago, when I made my final decision to come to Florence. I had no idea at the time that I was making a decision that would not only change the way I look at the world, but also the way I look at myself. What if I had decided to just do normal college like everyone else? What if I had stayed within my comfort zone? How different would my life be right now if I hadn’t had the courage to take this chance? I really don’t want to know.