Before embarking on this journey to Italy, my dear friend made for me a hand-made pillow with the words “Ti amo Italia.” This phrase translates to “I love you, Italy.” This thoughtful gift was presented to me during my sending-off party before coming here. This gift encompasses my feelings about this beautiful country and its people. Having visited here for only a few days twenty years ago, this immersive three month program has allowed me to experience the beauty of Italy all over again, but with deeper cultural meaning. By practicing using the Italian way of speaking, cooking, and even traveling via metro, I have not only adapted to the Italian culture, but have come to love it as well. A love for this culture comes from an appreciation for the slower way of doing life such as walking to places, finding out that cappuccino is my favorite Italian coffee to gradually sip, and stopping for a refreshing gelato on warm summer afternoons.
The people too are beautiful with their expressions such as “brava” for “bravo” when doing something well or “salve” for a pleasant greeting. Also, I have grown accustom to greeting shop owners when entering shops and visiting the local markets to meet the people who produced the products they sell.
Italia has taught me several things about myself. Italia has taught me to be brave in new surrounds and embrace the unknown. Overall, this experience has led me to say “Ti amo, Italia!,” and I hope to visit you again soon.
My return trip to Rome at Trevi Fountain
Before I went on this program, people called me “crazy” and “over ambitious.” I was looked at with wide eyes, followed with a comment on how I was making a “risky move” by going abroad for three months with complete strangers. These were not just strangers from my university, but from one miles upon miles away from the school I call home. The nightmare of being an outcast trickled into my thoughts more than one time or two. Yet now ten weeks in, I can say that fear has vanished. These girls have become my fellow explorers, by adventuring to new parts of the world with me. They have become my teachers, by teaching me to yell “War Damn Eagle” after the chorus line in the song “Sweet Home Alabama.” They have become my friends, by being bound together by our daily new experiences and international incidents.
My main goal for this program was to travel as much as possible. I wanted to learn about each culture, language, style, and the customs of as many niches of the world as I could in my twelve weeks. However, I have realized that not only have I learned a lot about the people in these places, but I have also learned a lot about a face I see far more often, myself. I have learned many valuable lessons, but here are the biggest ones:
- It’s ok to miss home. Home is really where my heart is at times. I never realized just how attached I was to its familiarity until it was no longer there. There have been patches of time where I craved the comfort of my own bedroom or just the simple sound of my mother making dinner in the kitchen. Yet, I have come to realize that all the smells, sounds, and sense of familiarity that I love so much is still there. It isn’t going anywhere. Breaking away from this familiarity is all part of growing and that is what this program is about.
- Be thankful. To say that I am blessed to have spent the past ten weeks traveling the world with no real worries or ties is a tremendous understatement. I am grateful for my parents who have embraced my sense of wonder and allowed me to explore, despite costs and hesitations. I am grateful for my professors and the staff that constantly broaden my knowledge along with perspective in new ways each day. I am grateful to have friends and family that miss me, while wanting to hear all about this adventure. I am grateful for God and that He has sent me down a path that has lead me to so many places.
- Do one thing a day that scares you. My mother has told me this phrase too many times to count, yet I never really lived by it until I was abroad. Each day, I am presented with a new challenge. Navigating new cities, practicing a different language, and interacting with other culture has been exciting, yet also scary at times. Tackling these fears head-on is what has truly made me learn and grow as a student, traveler, and person.
There are no words that can fully describe this experience. It is humbling, rewarding, challenging, riveting, and so much more. I have gained a true appreciation for my home and my family, but also all the different types of homes and families that cover this earth. I have seen and experienced love, passion, and art in so many ways. Perhaps I did begin this journey a little risky, a little overambitious, and even a tad bit crazy. Yet, I will be leaving this journey crazy in love with Europe along with everything, everyone, and every experience it has given me.
Judith and I enjoying the beautiful view on top of the Duomo in Florence.
A few weeks ago, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Pairs, France with five other JSB students. This was a personal weekend trip that we planned on our own. I went into the trip a little more nervous than usual. Since, several large terrorist attacks had already happened while in Europe. These recent attacks were the Arianna Grande concert that was bombed in Manchester and there was a shooting on the London Bridge. Part of me wondered if the next big disaster would be in Paris. I had worked myself up to be almost sick in fear of something that could occur while we were there.
I called my mom the night before we left, and I expressed how frightened I was to go to Paris. That was when my mom gave me some of the best advice I have ever heard. She told me, “Lane, stop worrying. When we completely uproot all of our plans and change our daily lives out of fear, that is when the terrorists have won.” This little nugget of wisdom really resonated with me. I realized then that I cannot live my life in constant fear of something that has not even occurred.
Ever since I took this to heart, it completely changed my outlook on life and the rest of this trip. Now don’t think I have changed into a complete thrill seeker or stopped using good judgment. I have, however, made a conscious effort to stop letting fear define my life. I understand that I will probably never have the opportunity to travel around Europe this freely ever again. So I decided, then and there, that I am not going to let a few crazy people in this world dictate how I spend the rest of my summer.
All of this being said, I went to Paris and had one of the best trips of my entire life. We did everything from shopping, to eating macaroons and taking selfies with the Mona Lisa. One of my favorite things we did was eat a picnic under the Eiffle Tower. Before this trip, I would have probably kept my distance from a crowded, touristy spot like the Eiffle Tower because it seams like the perfect spot for the next disaster to happen. However, I am so glad I didn’t let fear stop me from going. My friends and I sat for two hours under the tower watching the sunset, having a great conversation, and eating some of the best cheese and bread I have ever had. I hope to make many more incredible memories like this one as the summer continues.
This picture was taken during our picnic under the Eiffle Tower.