Grow Through It

I have always loved flowers, ever since I was young. Whether it was my nana singing me a song about sunflowers as I sat by her side as a toddler, or being given roses by my dad when he was promoted to Admiral in the Navy, or receiving a Hawaiian lei on preference round of sorority rush and knowing I had found my home away from home at Auburn, flowers have always been something that have appeared and grounded me in the big, small, and in-between moments of life.

One of my favorite sayings comes from the Les Miserable musical – a full song dedicated to a message about rain making the flowers grow. I have found that it is the hardest, most mentally, emotionally, and/or physically trying times that are the ones that teach me the most about myself. The last time I was in Europe, the only time I had ever been, was when I was eleven. Traveling to study abroad in Italy one decade later had me realize that my passion for the meeting new people, exploring new places, and seeing new things has not wavered. While it has only been a month since I arrived here in Italy, at times, it feels like a whole lifetime has passed.

The adapting process in the first few weeks was one of the most surreal, challenging periods for me and when I finally was feeling ‘settled-in’ I thought that that would be where my discomfort ended. Obviously, that was not the case! Studying abroad is an experience that really pushes you beyond what you truly think is possible, and through the moments when I thought to myself “I can’t” I knew I had to at least try.

All of the things I thought myself unable to do, like traveling to a foreign country with 21 strangers, being able to communicate with small-town Italian locals when I knew no Italian besides “Ciao” (Hello/Goodbye) and “Grazie”(Thank you), going an hour without calling or texting my mom, not going on TikTok or Youtube for days at a time, overcoming group tensions and travel conflicts, living without substitute milk options, and even learning the Roman metro and train system, have all been things that I have overcome since I’ve been here. I know that our lives are captured on the highlight reels of social apps and that my friends are keeping up with me through my Instagram posts, and while those have been some of my favorite moments of my experience here and I will always cherish them for the rest of my life, it is the moments that I do not post that are the ones that are shaping me and forcing me to grow beyond who I was prior to stepping off the plane in the Fiumicino airport.

Although the rainy days come and go, I try to remind myself that sunshine is always ahead and that without the rain I wouldn’t recognize the moments when I really start to flourish the most. Through all the rain that I know is ahead of me, I plan to grow through it and focus on the remarkable experiences that are blossoming before me. I hope you are able to do the same, wherever you are and in whatever season of life you are in.

Much love,

Sara Kunkel

This was taken during my first week in Italy, at the Campo de Fiori market at a flower vendor booth. This was one of my sunshine moments because of the massive array of beautiful, fragrant flowers in juxtaposition to the hustle of Rome’s city-lifestyle and busy market hours.