When I first walked down the corso of Ariccia, I noticed the old-style streets that pave the way for cars and passersby alike. Looking at swaths of cobblestone everyday has inspired me to view life in a new way. And no, I don’t mean it in the sense that wearing stiletto heels around Italy probably isn’t the best idea. Rather, what I mean is that as I walk on the cobblestone streets of Italy, I realize that each moment of my life is like a cobblestone, making up the highway of my life (insert Rascal Flatts song here).
I find this to be a fitting comparison, as the many cobblestoned streets in this country have witnessed so many people, all on their own paths, paying little mind to the stones supporting their feet as they make their journey. The moments of my life are similar. They make up who I am and all play a role in how my life will continue, affecting the decisions I make and the relationships that I build. As I break down this comparison even more, I find myself recalling certain moments that have been instrumental in forming my cobblestone path, and I know that many more stones will be added during my semester in Italy.
So far, collecting stones for my path has been easy here in Italy. Each experience is so new and fascinating, and they shape the way that I view the world around me. A moment doesn’t have to seem big and important for it to become a stone. A particular moment that stands out to me is from my first weekend trip during the program. I traveled with a group of classmates to Florence, and as I sat down on the train, I realized that I was traveling abroad for the first time as an adult, without my family to help along the way. This wave of independence crashed into me and I became so excited to continue this journey of personal growth as I branch out on my own. That feeling in my heart formed a stone to be added to my cobbled street.
During the remainder of my time in Italy, I look forward to having new experiences and turning a moment of my life into something that will stay with me forever. And when I am long gone from Ariccia, I will revisit these moments, just like how I walk down cobble-stoned streets in the town that I now call home.
First there was the stray tom cat who made his home in the park we’d walk through to get to the train for a day in Rome. Then there was the sweet friendly cross-eyed cat–barely a stray—who would roll over on the sidewalk outside the pet shop in Albano to show us his belly and purred as we pet him. Then there was the legion of strays lazing about in the ancient ruins of the Roman empire, showing us that the real rulers of the world have 9 lives. Then there was the kitten who captured our hearts in Sicily as she mewed from a tree branch on the beautiful little farm we stayed at.
These are only a few of the encounters I have had with the stray cats on the streets of Italy. I have crouched on the ground, clicked my tongue, offered out my open hand to sniff, and generally made myself look like a fool for any feline friend I have caught a glimpse of. Some are friendly; they approach me and enjoy the attention. Some just stare from a careful distance away and make it known that they don’t want to be approached. I try to respect the wishes of the cats of Italy.
Italy is a country that is as diverse and varied as its stray cats. The rich cultural history means that cities that are only a couple hours on a train away from each other can feel like completely different countries with distinct personalities. Florence was artsy and fashionable, Rome was ageless and powerful, Palermo was rustic and lively. I have experienced the cobbled streets of these cities with wide open eyes and a desire to soak it all in. I try to respect the streets of each city like I respect the stray cats that roam them.
Sometimes my experiences have been closer to what its like when I meet a shy street cat. Maybe the language barrier or my nervousness or the newness of the culture makes the experience awkward. But sometimes I am rewarded for making my brave step forward into Italian life. Maybe it’s the local market stand owner greeting me with a smile, or when my practiced Italian pronunciation is easily understood by the waiter. That feeling of satisfaction is just as rewarding as a hesitant stray finally letting me pet it.
Touching down at the Fiumicino airport two weeks ago was my first time outside of the United States. The flight over the ocean was like a baptism. I got on the plane with anxiety and a little fear but landed with giddy anticipation. I embarked on the 20-minute taxi ride to Ariccia awestruck; experiencing everything for the first time, and taking in everything I could.
The best comparison I can make to my experience over the past couple of weeks is that it is like being a child. The pure newness of everything from the history to the landscape to the culture put me in a state of perpetual wonder and at times disbelief. I have tried to prolong and preserve that feeling, but like how a child cannot stay small forever, I have found myself adjusting and acclimating to my life here as time goes on.
This ongoing process of maturing, however, is proving to be even more transformative than that first wave of the initial shock. Settling into a routine, forming strong relationships, and being able to call a place home are things that only come with time and experience; and are the things I truly value. The craziest part is that it’s only been two weeks since I feel like I have seen and learned enough to last me a lifetime. I have made beautiful memories and what I know will be lifelong friendships in such a short time.
The intense anxiety I once felt about traveling overseas and living with 9 other people seems like a distant memory, and my current reality is filled with more amazement and gratitude than I could have imagined possible. I still feel like a kid here in many ways, but I find myself growing and learning every day, maturing and coming of age with each new experience.
The days leading up to leaving for Italy I was incredibly excited but also overwhelmingly anxious about leaving my home and my friends. Everyone around me would say that I was going to have the best time and that it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will change my life forever and they were right. The thing that no one tells you, however, is that you will have bad days and you will miss your home and your people so much that it physically hurts.
This study abroad program is an incredible experience, and I would never trade it for anything but everyone telling me how phenomenal it would be and that everything will be perfect made me feel like I could not express when I was having a hard time. You are allowed to have bad days, feel homesick, and want to go back to what you know sometimes; it is completely normal and just because you are studying abroad in a beautiful country does not diminish what you have left behind.
I, personally, have struggled deeply leaving my family and friends and yes, I was holding back tears in a club one night in Florence because I was suddenly so overwhelmed by everything and everyone around me and that none of it was familiar. This is okay and something that everyone should be prepared for. The days that are not phenomenal, perfect, or fun are going to come and whatever feeling you may have in those moments are completely valid. It is a unique experience and not everyone will understand but we are allowed to miss things from home and our feelings of loneliness in a foreign place are valid. Take in every moment and adore those times that everything is perfect, fun, and phenomenal because there are so many of them but never feel like you cannot struggle because we all do.
When I went to write this blog, the only thing I wanted to write about was the feeling of deep gratitude for every moment this summer. This summer was a summer of transition: transition from student to graduate, and student to Teaching Assistant. It was marked by many challenges and unforeseen circumstances, but mostly it was marked by the gift that is friendship.
At the end of the day, there’s a million things I could write about. I could write about the warmth I felt upon my return to Ariccia, as I was a student of the program in Summer 2021. I could write about the fear I felt on the day students arrived, the group of girls I would be spending three months with. I could write about the joy I felt working alongside my team of inspiring women. But at the end of the day, the greatest lesson I learned and best gift I received was that of friendship, so that is what I will touch briefly on.
There are not adequate words to describe the feeling of honor I have after meeting these girls this summer. It was a group of 21 intelligent, curious, hardworking women that were seeking growth and knowledge of the world around them. I witnessed strength, perseverance, and kindness from them day after day. They offered me grace and forgiveness when I fell short in my role. They offered me friendship when I needed it most.
So, thank you, to the women who impacted so much of who I am today. I will cherish the memories we made together for the rest of my life. Every day was sunnier because of who each of you are.
I’m sitting at my favorite cafe in Ariccia, Antico Caffè, having my Ciambella (donut) and Cappuccino. Sadly, I caught myself counting down the days left till I get to hug my family, and friends at home. Now, this may seem ungrateful, but I ensure you it’s not.
Coming to Italy I was over the moon with excitement about what was to come this summer. But now, I sit here wishing I was where I know, but also wishing this experience of a lifetime to never end. I’m still trying to find how to be in this moment and enjoy it completely without missing what I don’t have.
Every day in Italy is a beautiful, new experience for me each day poses a challenge in its own way. I remember the first day we arrived, and someone told me to learn to find comfort in things that feel like they have no familiarity. During the first three weeks in Ariccia, I was so excited to live my dream Italian summer. What I did not think to consider at that moment was how homesick I would feel at week eight, or how difficult it is to find comfort in an environment that’s not my normal. As silly as this sounds, I never anticipated missing peanut butter or lemonade with ice so much, not only because they taste good but because they are what is comfortable. This summer has taught me that throughout life there will be some periods that are more uncomfortable than others, and I must find ways for myself to find comfort in them.
Being so far from home has taught me that it is okay to miss these things but to embrace the new and exciting things a new country has invited to my life, as they won’t be in my life forever. So many experiences good and bad, new amazing fresh foods, and people of a completely different background than I, yet, have become some of my favorite individuals. This summer I could have sat in my uncomfortableness and counted down the days till I got to go back to America. Instead, I embraced the challenge and emersed myself in the Italian culture! I will always remember my time in Italy because it was uncomfortable and that’s what made my memories here.
Being out of my comfort zone is a vicious cycle of continually longing for the comfort of being in Auburn but also being so excited about my experiences here. I know that as much as I want to feel a sense of familiarity now, in two months’ time I am going to desire things from Ariccia and all over Italy that are not accessible in America.
Here is a picture of Paolo teaching me how to make a cappuccino! One of the many skills I picked up this summer!
Whoever said studying abroad for the summer would be perfect was not telling the truth. Do not get me wrong, this experience has allowed me to grow in more ways than I could ever imagine, but it also came with some of the biggest challenges I have ever faced. It has been an emotional rollercoaster that has changed my preconceived notions about what this summer would entail. Living with twenty-two strangers was one of my biggest worries coming into this. Thinking about going from living by myself for two years straight to sharing a bedroom with four other girls left me with extreme anxiety. Constantly, I filled my brain with “what-ifs,” but little did I know I would be forming lifelong bonds with these so-called strangers.
The individual days are exhausting and long, but, looking back, now I feel like I just blinked once and only have two weeks left. I had a fear of being here for three months and not being able to accomplish all the items on my bucket list, but all the places I have visited in Italy have exceeded my expectations. Sometimes, I might come back from weekends complaining from exhaustion, but deep down I know that the memories I have made along the way are far worth the temporary drainage I might feel. With that being said, the biggest lesson I have learned along this journey is that giving myself physical and mental health breaks is crucial for success in a foreign country. Taking time to breathe and self-reflect when needed has eased my nerves and homesickness significantly.
Some days I repeatedly say to myself “I cannot wait to go home,” but I know that as soon as I step foot out of Ariccia, I am going to instantly have withdrawals. I am going to miss so many memories, from as simple as cooking dinner in the palace to our long walking tours with Ettore, our tour guide. As time is quickly coming to an end, I am trying to soak in the last few weeks’ worth of memories by saying yes more to the spontaneous adventures with these spectacular girls. By doing this, when I blink on the last day I will feel completely fulfilled.
Nine weeks have passed now, and I am here in shock, feeling like I just got off my plane ride here. I have traveled throughout my time in Italy. So far I have traveled to many cities throughout my time in Italy: Rome, Lake Como, Venice, Sorrento, Capri, and Lucca. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time traveling and getting to explore every inch of Italy, but traveling every weekend can get tiring, and always am in a feeling of “wow, I can’t wait to go home”. Whenever I say this saying now on my long train rides through the countryside of Italy, I am always referring to Ariccia.
I love going to explore all these major tourist cities but getting to come home to my familiar small town and sit and watch the sunset almost every night is one of my favorite things and makes me fall in love with Ariccia every time I return. Going to the belvedere to watch the gorgeous landscape or sit for Aperitivo at Bar de Chigi and watch the sunset is my new routine of what I call home and is just as exciting as getting to see a new city.
I always catch myself missing some things in America, like my fluffy pillows, my cats, or even my favorite restaurant, but I know the second I get on the bus to the airport to leave my home of Ariccia, I will be missing these past 12 weeks like no other and will be missing so many things of my new home like my sunsets in Ariccia.
When I first arrived in Ariccia, I had an equal amount of concern and excitement for what this summer would hold for me. While I knew this experience would be something entirely new for me, I had so many preconceived notions about what a “summer in Europe” would look like. Within the first two weeks, these notions were completely shattered and replaced with reality. While many of the realities of living in Italy have proved better than I could’ve ever imagined, there have also been many unexpected struggles that have come along with it. Through this experience I’ve discovered just how much Americans glamorize European countries, placing them on unrealistic pedestals. The truth is, being an American in Europe is challenging and uncomfortable. The good news is that discomfort leads to growth. I had no idea how little I understood about my own country until I lived outside of it for a month and a half. Listening to people from other countries talk about the United States while simultaneously experiencing the extreme differences between Italy and the U.S. has given me an entirely new perspective. There are truly so many things I would have never noticed about the U.S. until stepping outside of it. One of the biggest differences being convenience and comfort. Whether for worse or for better, the United States seems like the most convenient, comfortable place on Earth after living in another country. To offer a few examples: air conditioning, cars, LARGE cars, free public restrooms, free water at restaurants, easily accessible food and drinks at all times, ice machines, TARGET, grocery baggers and every brand and style of anything you’ve ever wanted. All of these things sound like heaven on Earth to me right now, but if you’re reading this from the United States, I’m sure a summer in Italy sounds like heaven on Earth to you. What I’m trying to say is: this experience has made me appreciate the United States in a way I had never appreciated it before. I’ve also come to appreciate the reality of Italy in a way I had never appreciated it before. Considering how vastly different American culture feels from Italian culture, I can honestly say that I’m proud of myself for the adaptability I’ve shown as I slowly work to acclimate to my new home. I’m no longer surprised by men staring and honking, women reaching in front of my face at the grocery store without saying a word, inhaling cigarette smoke everywhere, ignoring men with accordions who walk into restaurants and play right next to me, historic ancient or baroque architecture surrounding me at all times, cars being driven recklessly on cobblestones streets, or cats everywhere you go (my favorite part). I’ve come to appreciate these little things as the traits that make Italy what it really is, rather than the perfect fairytale that’s been painted my entire life. My advice is this: if you’re planning to travel to another country at any point in the near future, go ahead and remove all of your expectations. Understand that adapting to another culture and attempting to view it fairly and without judgment takes work. Luckily, all of that work is worth it when you feel yourself finally beginning to truly understand and appreciate the beauty of that new culture’s differences.
As I get older, I find myself reminiscing on the past. I often think to myself “what I would give to go back and relive those moments.” From exciting experiences to simple times with loved ones, I wish I would appreciate those times more when I was living them.
When I was preparing to leave for Italy, I set a reminder on my phone to remind me every morning not to take today for granted. I have tried to appreciate every special moment and opportunity that I’ve had here. I’ve made so many great new friends and have seen so many beautiful things. The irreplaceable memories that I have made will forever be on repeat in my brain. I know I will miss this exciting time in my life but it is hard not to get caught up in a routine or bogged down by the weight of the season of life that I’m in. I am going to be a senior at Auburn and can’t help but feel overwhelmingly sad and scared. This rollercoaster of emotions is sometimes exhausting but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
I am now about two months into my Italian journey. Some days I miss home and some days I never want to leave. I miss my bed, ice, air conditioning, my people, my dog, and so much more. However, I know in a few months, I’ll look back and wish I was here. In those moments, I’ll miss the palace, aperitivos, train rides, living with twenty two of the best girls I’ve ever met. So, for now I’m trying to take everything in and not take a moment for granted.