Today, May 21, marks a year from the day I embarked on a journey that has surely changed my life forever. It is hard to believe it has only been a year and at the same time, it seems as if I boarded that plane bound for Rome, Italy ages ago. So much has happened since then. So much has changed, mostly for the better, I believe. Traveling. Something I have always loved doing, even though I never left the North American continent. Which is fine. The U.S. alone has more than enough to keep any traveler busy for years.
The idea to study abroad was pushed on me when I first started working in the admissions office at Embry-Riddle my freshman year. The guy who sat at the desk next to me day in and day out (when the admissions desk and study abroad desk were next to each other still) continually told me I needed to study abroad. Anywhere. It didn’t matter where. And as much as I loved the idea of traveling, I was hesitant to really become interested in going off to another country on my own when it seemed being away from New York was hard enough at times. On top of going off to another country with no one I knew and a completely different culture, I barely had a grasp on any language other than English. I couldn’t live in a country – even if it was only for four or five months – that I didn’t know the language. It was preposterous!
So New Zealand came up. The student assistant working there gave me a whole bunch of information, begged me to do some of my own research, and continued bringing it up as days turned to weeks and then into months. But by day four, I was hooked. How awesome would it be to go to New Zealand? But I had a dilemma. New Zealand was far. And five months was an extremely long time for me after just leaving home for the first time four months prior. But it seemed worth it. I talked to my parents about it and they seemed to be interested in the idea, but unsure. My sophomore year came and a new student assistant was brought in, as the first one had gone off to Paris for the dual degree program Riddle has. He wasn’t quite so intense on pushing the idea of studying abroad to me, but I was still interested.
Second semester, the first student assistant was back. He wasn’t working in the office anymore, but he would come by to visit every now and then. After briefly catching up on life for the past six months, he again started pushing the idea of study abroad. Talking to him, I told him how epic I thought it would be to study abroad in New Zealand, but it was far and too long for my comfort zone. And that’s how summer programs came up. One month to explore another country. I could go for that. I looked around and then the ad caught my eye to go to Siena, Italy. Italy! After gathering all the details, I called my parents and discussed the idea. What about New Zealand? Did I want to do Italy instead of New Zealand? It was legitimately a question my parents had. The idea seems amusing now, but wow. For whatever reason, going to Italy seemed to have more of an appeal than anything else. Perhaps because it was sooner than later. It was more of a sure thing and it wasn’t as far or nearly as long as a semester in New Zealand would be. But going was the only thing on my mind for quite a while after I did a little research on it.
We had a few meetings prior to departure, but in no sense did I really know anyone going. We exchanged a few e-mails here and there and discovered that I would be on the same flight as another member of the group. I remember like it was yesterday. Meeting her at JFK and then talking for several hours non-stop as we waited to board our flight. Even though we had just met each other, I knew we were going to be extremely close. Afterall, she was a Disney fan! The flight was long. Extremely long. I had never flown out of the country before. I was naive enough to think I would sleep. That was ridiculous. I was way too excited to sleep! A few hours into the flight, I remember opening my window shade to the dismay of a flight attendant. I didn’t care. The sun was just rising and we were flying over the Swiss Alps. THE SWISS ALPS! When we landed, we were excited beyond belief. Quite possibly delirious, but excited nonetheless. “WE’RE IN ITALY!!!” was said too many times to actually count.
The excitement of being in Italy NEVER died. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of something from that experience. Going to Italy opened my eyes to something completely different. I always thought I was fortunate that I grew up in New York. I was definitely exposed to some things I doubt many people ever will be. I still do believe that. But Italy was so much more to me than a month to discover a new culture and whatnot. Going to Siena, meeting and getting to know everyone from our group of nine, exploring Italy and Lugano, Switzerland, everything about the trip changed me. I fell in love in a way that I can never explain. Aside from the amazing bread we got fresh nearly everyday, the specially made pizzas, the croissants, the gelato (sometimes twice a day [= ), and all the other AMAZING food, the city itself was charming beyond what is comprehensible in the U.S. There is not a city like it anywhere in my opinion. And especially not with the same experiences.
Our group was small, but I definitely preferred it that way. I was never a fan of large groups. Even at first I was slightly intimidated. But it is amazing what fish out of water can do. We were all in the same boat and none of us really knew each other, which made it easer for us to bond as a group. And that we did. Of course we had our pairs and trios here and there, but for the most part, we were together. These eight other people grew to be my family. People I would have probably never even associated with prior to Siena are people I care about immensely. More than I ever thought possible. These people are what made the trip so remarkable. Everything we saw and did was amazing in itself, but singing Disney songs while attempting to find chessboards in Venice and renting kayaks to find our own private beach was all in the people. I miss them everyday, even if we don’t get to talk as much as I would like to anymore. I was able to truly be myself around them in an extremely short amount of time, something that is definitely not an easy thing to do for me. I know I annoy people sometimes with the excessive chatter about Italy all the time, but I can’t help it. To experience what I experienced is something I am grateful for and wouldn’t trade for anything – not even to go to space. And that is saying a lot coming from me. Aside from that, Italy made me aware of the world. My perspective on a lot of things shifted.
A few weeks after leaving Italy, I applied for a few internships here and there. I didn’t think much of them as it was already the middle of summer and I doubted there was any chance I would get selected for anything for the fall. A few days after I submitted my applications, I received an e-mail from one of the companies I applied to. I corresponded with them for a few days until I received a phone call offering me the internship. I hadn’t even told anyone I applied for it, but I was keen on taking it. The internship, as many of you will know now, however, was in Munich, Germany. So I called the parents and after convincing them it was an opportunity of a lifetime, I accepted the offer and started packing my things to head back to Europe. There was so much to be done in that time, but somehow I managed. Regardless, I know if it had not been for Italy, I would have NEVER even considered accepting the offer. Sure, I may have applied, but actually agreeing to move to Germany? To a country I had never been to, a place where I couldn’t speak the language, or know anyone? I know the experience in Italy is what made that decision as easy as anything else.
Since my internship ended in February, I couldn’t go back to Riddle for the spring semester as it was too late, but that has essentially brought me to New Zealand after all. Isn’t it amazing how things work? Sure, I miss home sometimes. I still feel New Zealand is extremely far for comfort here and there. But I know I can get through any and all the downs because of Italy. I have always been confident in myself, obnoxiously so sometimes even. But the Italy trip instilled even more confidence, individuality, life in me than anything else.
White Knight, Sandman, Circle, Mom, Blondie, Mistress, One or Two, Rummy, Mother Goose: what an amazing time we had. Most certainly the best experience in my life and I thank you all for bringing your cards to the table. I love you guys. Thank you for everything. And never forget: “You don’t even know!”