la vita è bella
Studying abroad was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. If I had the chance to do it again, I would have gone for the entire school year as opposed to just one semester. My coworker Steph also studied abroad in Rome for a semester and we occasionally discuss Rome itself, but just the other day we discussed the impact Rome had on us.
Steph mentioned how difficult the transition back to the States was for her. The same goes for my experience. I don’t think anyone takes into account the reimmersion process for lengthy European travel. It’s not just the intense pasta carbonara and gelato cravings. It’s not the lack of any decent Nutella croissants in the States.
There’s something so spiritual about being uprooted from everything and everyone you know and thrown headfirst into the fires of a foreign country, foreign language, and figuring it all out yourself.
There’s no user manual for a new cultural immersion. Even if you speak enough of the language to get by, you might not speak the right dialect. Calling home is easy in the States. Ordering coffee is easy in the States. Finding a spot for lunch is easy in the States. Reading a map is easy in the States.
Suddenly, you’re in a foreign country and NOTHING is easy, not even washing your underwear.
But doing laundry in the sink, ordering wine and pizza in Italian, catching a train to Naples all become routine, second nature. In the same breath, so does having lunch at the Pantheon, spending the afternoon at the Vatican, and drinking beer with Swiss Guards.
((The beauty and horror of studying abroad is becoming used to being abroad.))
Being left behind in Bologna, conversing with the signori at the dress boutique entirely in their language, buying shoes in sizes like UK37, and being asked “Mangia qui o porta via?” when you order lunch from the small cafe are exactly the kinds of experiences that solidify your sense of self.
I saw it in the other students in my program. Rome suited them in one of two ways: either your foundation becomes so shaken that you completely fall to pieces or your foundation is so solidified that everything about your SELF suddenly becomes chiaro – clear.
Rome silenced the cacophony of being 19. It forced me to put life in perspective. It forced me to see ME, without the haze of college and boys and family and drama, ME in my truest, purest form.
And it forced me to make adjustments to be the ME that I wanted to BE. I became who I am thanks to five too short months that flew by much too quickly.
Rome lies quietly just below the surface of my skin, bubbling up just to let me know it’s still there when I need it. Rome manifests itself in my love for blood oranges and white wine, in my quest for the perfect croissant and hazelnut gelato, in my occassional slip into translating nonsensical things into Italian, in that whaft of cigarette smoke + rain + car exhaust combination that immediately takes me back to the streets that wind from Piazza Navona to the Colosseum.
Coming home to the States was bittersweetly difficult. I found myself slipping into the hybrid Italian-English language my pals and I had taken to speaking. I would yearn for the incessant buzz of history at my fingertips. I craved the richness of faith and the humanity of the people. I ached for the discovery of SELF to reveal itself again and again.
I came back to the States more sure of myself and my capabilities than I have ever or will ever experience in my life. I knew who I was, who I am meant to be, and what passions needed my energy most. The one single thing I was absolutely most sure of, though?
I need to go back.