Well. This post is long overdue. And I can’t explain how many times I’ve opened up WordPress only to leave the tab open on my computer all day before quietly closing it. I didn’t want to write this post. Because how do you put into words an experience like I have had the past four months? It is impossible to explain how different I am and at the same time how unchanged after 108 days abroad. Even worse, I’m tired of trying to answer questions when I can’t even grasp what I’ve just been through. My favorite city? Favorite memory? Best thing I ate? What do I miss most? I’m sorry to those who have asked these things, but I have no concrete answer to any of those and I’d appreciate not hearing those questions for a while. I can tell you what I loved about Rome, Munich, Paris, Copenhagen, Naples, Venice, Barcelona, and even London (despite all the things I didn’t like about London). I can tell you about this amazing risotto I had or the best wine I tasted on such and such day. But I can’t tell you overall what was the best meal, because how do you rate these experiences? You can’t. If I simply said I liked London the least then no one would ask me to explain all the parts of London that I did enjoy. So for that reason I don’t like questions about “best” or “favorite” because every day I was abroad I experienced the worst and the best moments and I’m grateful for every single one of them. Instead, I’d like to discuss what I have learned. I wanted to do a list (as much as listicles suck) of 108 things I learned, but I think that would be exhaustive to readers. In keeping with what I’ve already explained above, I am instead going to say what I learned from each place I visited. Because every city has it’s undiscovered lessons and I would like to think that I learned something, even if it’s as simple as how to cheat the pay for the bathroom system, in each one. Enjoy. I couldn’t have learned and experienced all of these things without my supportive friends, family, boyfriend, and the values I’ve grown up with. So this is for everyone who has touched my life in so many ways. I hope that my experiences inspire you to explore the world around you. I went into this (as I’ve described) without friends, a plan, sufficient money, or any clue what I was doing in Italy as a Spanish minor. I left with assurance that this was the right decision, with many new friends, an empty bank account, and a new outlook on life and even an appreciation for American customs which I’d expected I’d despise upon my return. With that, here are the things I learned across Europe in each city. 1. Nemi, Italy One of the stops on our Orientation weekend. In Nemi, I learned that joy is rainy skies, the best strawberry gelato, messy hair, sleepless eyes, and new friends. At this point I was still very unsure about myself and how these four months were going to go. I put my all into that gelato because I was afraid of letting any of these experiences go to waste. Even in the rain, Nemi was a beautiful town and cultivated my interest in products of Italy. One of the best parts about Italy (and much of Europe) is that each region has particular food products which are the best. So, Nemi’s “best” was strawberries. And I learned quickly to try these bests, because they are labeled as such for a reason. 2. Salerno, Italy We went to Salerno for our Orientation trip the first weekend, before classes began. Our stay at Lloyd’s Baia Hotel was one of the weirdest because you had to go underground for every floor. The place was beautiful, and the view out the window was as well. I learned the danger of being alone as a woman in Italy. One of my friends and I walked back from downtown late at night and had men stop and try to convince us to get in their car, on a BUSY street. Back in Chicago this stuff happens, but at least I know the language and can use my assertive energy to say no. Italian men do not respond the same and this was a jarring but important realization. 3. Venice, Italy I travelled to Venice twice, actually. Once with friends and then later with another group of friends for Carnevale. What I have taken from these experiences is that the weather does matter and that Italians are willing to let a flood plan their day. I still remember how shocked I was when one woman told us to wait “a few hours” for the tide to go down so we could get to our hostel because we didn’t want to “ruin our shoes”. Only in Italy do your shoes’ health matter so much that its acceptable to stand stranded on a bridge for hours. The Italian way of life, often “lazy” upset me in many ways. However, I think we could learn a great deal from this as well. I was ready to take off my shoes and run through the dirty water because of my impatience. Americans focus so much on the value of time that they don’t see the consequences of actions, and its true that I would have been upset if my boots were ruined or I got some weird disease from the water. While this woman’s remarks seemed shallow at the time it did reveal insight which we often ignore because we think that we know better than others. This experience taught me the value of patience and evaluating the situation before acting. 4. Naples, Italy I loved Naples, simply put. Our hostel owner, Giovanni, was one of the sweetest and most hospitable people I’ve met. From this, I learned the value of taking care of others and showing appreciation for their company. He cooked us pasta the first day, made us espresso every morning, taught us about nighttime safety, and made me feel the most at home possible 4000 miles from my true home. I am so grateful to have met such an amazing man and to have seen the way of life characteristic of Southern Italy. What better weekend to experience this than Valentine’s Day. I was very upset, naturally, because of being away from my boyfriend, but Giovanni helped make me feel loved and appreciated in a paternal way which I desperately needed at the time. I hope to come back some day. 5. London, U.K. Well. I’ve already listed all the things that annoyed me about London, but I did learn compassion. My anger at the manners of the British helped me to appreciate some of the qualities of those back home. True, Americans are “rude”, but I’ve never felt so unwelcome as I did in London and I yearned for the Midwestern comfort I was used to. While in London, I was able to learn something about perspective and just how wrong it can be. I assumed that I would feel most at home in an English speaking country, but I was so wrong and I learned not to rely on my expectations. I also got to see the Harry Potter set, so that was dope. 6. Paris, France I arrived in Paris on my birthday and learned the value of love in this beautiful city. I’ve already discussed the couple we met, but the similarities to Luke and I’s own relationship solidified my belief in making it work. Regardless of age, distance, or other people’s opinions — let yourself love and be loved. I’ve also tried (honestly) to not be one of those people broadcasting my relationship on social media, but why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t anyone? If you have love in your life, from parents, siblings, a significant other, why should you ever keep that from the world. As cliche as it is (and this blog is filled with cliches), life is short and I plan on filling mine with as much love and happiness as possible. Their story made my time in Paris and what better time than when we went up in the Eiffel Tower? 7. Versailles, France I learned the value of fighting for what you deserve. Because we didn’t. Using our student visas should get us free entrance, but the woman behind the counter decided to be nasty and not let us. I was out 15 euro because of her decision, which put a bit of a damper on the experience. Again, what better time to realize the nastiness and stinginess of others than when you are visiting the home of the Queen of Stinginess herself. Whattup Marie Antoinette, I hope that cake was worth it. 8. Munich, Germany Finally over my stomach bug, I was able to enjoy beer and food in Munich. What stuck with me the most from this trip was the importance of meeting other people and letting your judgments fall by the wayside. It’s true, living in Chicago the past two years I’ve become accustomed to judging others for my own safety and in order to make my L rides a little less “crazy” filled. But it’s important to give others a chance, which further set in when we had a lovely afternoon with two men in their thirties. Typically, this would be seen as a bad idea. But in Germany, why not spend your afternoon in a beer garden with a married Chinese man and a Canadian bachelor? I enjoyed speaking with them and gaining perspective on two other countries in the world, while they also gained perspective on America – different from the media’s interpretations they relied on just as we do for others. 9. Copenhagen, Denmark Woo hoo was I excited to go to the Homeland. There were many lessons learned here, not including seeing someone smoke crack on our street in the middle of the day. But mostly, I gained appreciation for the hot dog. I lived on hot dogs for three days because of how expensive Scandinavia is, but damn were they good. I also appreciate how active people are in Denmark, but I’ll just stand by the marathon runners and eat my hotdog and drink my liter beer. I couldn’t find a picture of my hotdog, so enjoy NyHavn instead! 10. Tuscany (region), Italy Tuscany, obviously, taught me about wine and food. The beauty of this place is something that no photograph or account could ever reveal. What I learned here is to value simple experiences. I’m notorious for wanting my wifi at all times, which I don’t think is a bad thing. But going for three days without it taught me just how attached we all are to the Internet, always needing to know everything about everyone at every second. I learned so much at the pig farm because I didn’t tune out the farmer and Google things I wanted to know, but instead listened and allowed him to tell us the important things. There is value in active listening and learning through the senses, which is often neglected for quick answers via search engines nowadays. I’m glad I learned this bit and got to taste some amazing foods and products. 11. Barcelona, Spain In Spain I learned the value of standing up for yourself. When on the beach, some men left a drink for us and came back later trying to get us to pay for it. I argued with them for a few minutes saying in Spanish that we did not order it and would not be paying for it. I held my ground and we all stood up, shaking off our towels, and gracefully exited the situation. No harm done. I think as Americans we are hesitant to fight against others even when they are wrong for fear of confrontation. But I have learned the importance of speaking out and speaking up and knowing that we will be viewed as weak and manipulable because we are Americans. By the time I arrived in Spain, I knew this, and I knew how to challenge this stereotype and escape unscathed. 12. Rome, Italy It would be unfair to name only one thing I learned from my home for the past four months, but I recognize that I don’t want to weight the importance of what I learned here. Rome was my home, most importantly. I valued returning here after weekend trips, and I began to see how important it is to have a distinct physical home while you are abroad. There were nights where the bus wasn’t coming and I would have given anything to be in my small dorm back at JFRC. I never thought I would end up in Italy, especially as someone studying Spanish, but I am so thankful I did something outside of my comfort zone. I never wanted to learn Italian, either. I sat through class the first few days dreading it and thinking it was pointless information I would throw away when I returned to America. But now I find myself listening to Italian songs, remembering little phrases, and saying “Ciao” to my family. I’m sure I’ll always say Ciao now, as habit. For this, I am thankful for JFRC, for Loyola’s program and wonderful professors, and for choosing an option which wasn’t “ideal” for myself. Studying abroad is about learning and choosing any comfortable option cheats yourself from the experience. I have a new appreciation for the Italian culture, language, and cuisine. Thank you, JFRC, for everything you have exposed me to and for all that I have learned. You have taught me that every person, place, and experience holds value in my life and that I can learn from them.
I don’t know that I will ever recover from this experience. I am forever split into three between my home in Edina, in Chicago, and in Rome. (As well as all these other places which have touched and affected me.) I will return someday, I am sure of it. This experience has changed me in so many ways. But it has also taught me a greater appreciation and sureness of who I already was. I wouldn’t change these last four months in anyway. Spero che ci vediamo presto 🙂