It’s hard to believe that my journey is almost over. It has been more than three months since I first arrived in Florence. At first, adjusting was hard both socially and emotionally; there were many times where I was so homesick that I thought I was making a huge mistake by coming abroad. I realize now that this experience has shaped me into a different person. When I look at myself in the mirror, I see a stronger person than the girl who got off the plane on that first day. It feels good to know that I’m not as helpless as I once was. I can now take care of myself better because I know how to cook, and I am more confident finding my way around an unknown place. Little changes like these have made me more independent.
I’ve realized also that I can look at the world from a different point of view. After the Paris attacks, my friends and family went into a panic and for days, I got calls and messages to see if I was all right. Never once did I ever feel threatened and never did I panic. I was in Barcelona the weekend the attack occurred. My friends and I were laughing, talking and sitting on the beach outside a club late at night when a friend updated his Facebook and reported the news to us. At first we didn’t know how to handle it. Everyone was silent for a moment. I wasn’t scared for my own life like many of my loved ones thought I would be. I had traveled so much that I felt secure if ever I was in danger. Since I’ve been abroad, I’ve been more aware of my surroundings and more aware of where and how to get help, even in a foreign country. No amount of classes or orientations while abroad can teach you how to look out for yourself. The only way you can learn to be aware and cautious while abroad, in my opinion, is traveling, especially traveling by yourself by plane, train or even walking around alone.
Before going abroad, traveling felt intimidating and unsettling to me; but now it’s like getting on your community bus at home. When I returned to Florence, I got massive amounts of emails from Fairfield with information on where the embassy was. If you come abroad, I do recommend that you find out where the U.S. embassy is in case of any emergency. The thought of a terrorist attack in Europe while we were all abroad was the last thing to come to mind. It was shocking for us all. To be honest, at times the after-effect made me want to go home, not because I was scared, but because my family and friends were completely terrified for me. At the time of the attack, I was still planning on traveling in the weeks following to Dublin, Prague and Switzerland. All of my trips were extremely beautiful and successful. I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy any of my weekends had I not acknowledged the Fairfield emails sent abroad regarding security.
Shortly after the attack, students received multiple emails from the Fairfield’s programmers requiring that students respond if and where they were planning to travel. I’ll admit at times I forgot to check my emails and on Thursday afternoons, I would have missed calls and texts from the office asking where I was going to be. Fairfield took care of us while the wound was still fresh. Walking to class, I would see and still see Italian police everywhere. I feel so much safer here now after the attack than I did when I first arrived.
Despite how safe we were, some students still decided to go home. The school couldn’t stop us from leaving due to the event in Paris and the threats in Rome and Brussels. To my knowledge, eight of us went home and were allowed to take their finals at Fairfield. I had the choice to go home, but a part of me felt I needed to stick this out to the end no matter how much I missed my family and friends who were so worried about me. However, had I not stayed, I would have missed memories like having my Thanksgiving away from home in Prague. We found a pub that had cooked us an American Thanksgiving dinner, a great memory I now have that I wouldn’t have experienced had I left Italy a few weeks early.
I’m going to miss being a temporary resident in this country after I leave. I feel confident and cultured since I’ve been here. I’ve learned to cook, to ski, to travel, to swirl wine properly, to forgive, to forget and to take life by the reins. Even though I will leave this country, a part of it will always be with me. I’ve lived as an Italian for three months and chances are that I will be taking some of its lifestyle back with me. For example, I honestly don’t believe I can drink coffee after three any longer because in Italy it’s unheard of. There’s no true way that I can thank Italy for shaping me. What I can do from now on is to convince those thinking of going abroad that it’s a life changing experience. You can read every blog, article and book about it, but you won’t get a taste of the world until you actually see it with your own eyes. Only then will your perception of the world truly change as well as your own self.