That’s how many miles away Palazzo Chigi is from my childhood home in Tallahassee, FL. 5,168 miles between me and my family, between me and my mom’s homemade lemon poppyseed cake, between me and the comfortable and familiar life I have always known.
Before coming to Italy, I expected to feel uncomfortable and out of place—that seemed a normal thing to experience for anyone that lives in a foreign culture for two and a half months. I never expected, however, to find any sense of home or belonging in a place so different and unfamiliar. How could I? How could a place so far away, filled with people I don’t know, ever remind me of the things, the places, and the people that I love?
The reality is that, at some point, this town snuck up on me. Ariccia, its people, and my classmates have all made me feel included and loved. They have proven a comforting constant through times of uncertainty and have taught me the importance of patience, confidence, and open-mindedness. They have shown me that it is important to recognize your smallness in the world, but to never forget your capabilities and your impact.
The people that I’ve met over the past seven weeks have also shown me that home is more than just a building or a town or a place. It’s a warm smile from Maris or a contagious laugh from Ana. It’s a hug from Kelli or a genuine conversation with Sophie. It’s a funny joke from Olivia or the smell of India’s popcorn cooking on the stove in the kitchen. It’s exactly what I make it, and I know that I always carry small pieces of it with me.
I am grateful to say that this experience thus far has taught me invaluable lessons that have shaped who I am. It has pushed me to be better than I thought I could be and has challenged me to dream more ambitiously. To embrace discomfort. To search for the commonalities that unite us as people, no matter how different we may seem or where we may be in the world. But above all, it’s shown me what home really is—the summation of the experiences, feelings, and people that we love. The things that bring us reassurance and the memories that we never want to forget.
I know that my home may still technically be that house in Florida 5,168 miles away—the place that I’ve always known—and it might also be my little one-bedroom apartment in Auburn where I feel content and secure. But they say that home is where the heart is, and I think it’s safe to say that a piece of mine will always be in this quaint and unassuming little town that I’ve grown to love.
So wherever, whoever, whatever your home may be—I hope you know that no matter where you are or what season of life you are in, you never truly leave it behind. You take pieces of it with you wherever you go. And, if you just so happen to end up in Ariccia, Lazio, Italy, just know that there’s a whole community waiting to welcome you with open arms. Maybe even a community that you might someday consider home.
Best wishes and ciao for now,