It’s about that time!
I know that my last few posts have kind of felt like some sort of countdown to the end of the semester, and I guess in some way, that’s right. I liked keeping a good awareness of how much time I had left in Italy, just to make sure that I wasn’t letting the time slip me by. I didn’t want to wake up one morning and realize that I had to get on a plane home without having done things that I’d always wanted to do. I wanted to have this good balance between living in the moment and being aware of how much time I had left without having some sort of panicky, internal clock that ominously ticked each second away. I have to say, writing the blog posts really helped! Even so, it really does feel like the end of the semester came out of nowhere. Here I am, doing my final projects and making farewell plans with the friends that I got used to seeing every day. It’s kind of incredible that this semester has felt both like several lifetimes and just a few weeks. So in classic Katie fashion, I think I’m going to take this time to think back on my semester.
I like to think that no experience abroad is a wasted one. Just getting out into the world and immersing yourself in a different culture is what makes it worthwhile. You don’t have to visit seven different countries or go out every night or be fluent in three different languages or anything! You really don’t have to do anything to learn more about what it’s like to live in, you know, not the U.S. Florence is kind of magic in that way, if you take the time to pay attention. I’ve learned to appreciate a lot of the things that had me so homesick at the beginning of the semester. I also learned to look past those things and find love for the city I was visiting. It slowly felt less and less like I was an intruder and more like I was just a person experiencing the world around me.
For example, instead of feeling shame for not being able to understand the conversations around me, I learned to appreciate the multitude of languages spoken in one place. I’m not from a big city, so this level of diversity when it comes to people is incredible to me. And not to mention, hearing Italian conversations works great for homework background noise. It’s easy to get distracted by listening in on strangers’ conversations, but you can’t do that when you don’t understand them!
Things became better as I went through the semester. The people and events and food and everything that I felt like I was missing out on eventually became chances to experience new things. Not having my favorite brand of fast food gave me the chance to try new recipes with my roommates. Not having a play to work on gave me the chance to go and travel with my free weekends. Not having my close friends to always text and hang out with gave me the chance to put myself out there and learn to make new friends, friends who I shared incredible experiences with. I felt like the longer I stayed away from home, the more I became a version of myself that I hadn’t met yet. A version of me that wasn’t influenced by my regular sense of obligation or environmental stress or social pressures or anything. I was just being myself trying to navigate in an unfamiliar environment. You never really experience this level of freedom at home. This feeling that you can just live for you because that’s what people expect you to do. Everyone here is just waiting to hear or tell about their latest adventure. Italy in particular has this completely upside down mentality from what I’m used to. A mentality where their priorities lie with overall life enjoyment and meaningful relationships with others rather than staying unnecessarily busy to fulfill superficial measures of life success. I’m definitely going to miss that.
I’m the type of person who loves to stretch themselves too thin. I want try everything, but I don’t just want to do it, I want to do it well. Some might say I’m too competitive or I just need to learn how to prioritize. Sure, I’ll learn to find some balance, but there’ll always be an endless list of things that I’d love to learn how to do in the back of my mind. I think Florence satisfied my desire to constantly add to my life while also taking it easy. I kept thinking this whole semester was an “easy” semester for me, but I was still doing so much without even really thinking about it! I was taking three studio classes, doing two internships, designing a show at my homeschool (yes, I had to have skype meetings), and traveling to my heart’s content! I was seeing the world while getting work done and eating good food and hanging with awesome people and just appreciating myself and what I bring to this world. It’s a kind of blissful way of living that I’d had yet to experience in my twenty years so far.
I remember writing a scholarship essay over the summer to try to get enough money to live comfortably while abroad. I was so passionate about being able to articulate how badly I wanted to wake up every day in a city that breathes art and culture. How I wanted to walk among new people with every street I crossed, how I wanted to grow into a version of myself that I didn’t recognize, but was proud of. I’m used to being let down by reality, it’s one of the few downsides of being a dreamer. This time was different though. Sure, there were times that I hated it. There were so many times that I wanted to cry until I exhausted myself, fall asleep, and wake up in South Carolina. Those times were just a part of the journey. It was so worth those few moments to experience the awe of just being where I was and seeing what I saw.
So if you’re stuck thinking about all of the bad things that kept you from really enjoying your experience abroad, just try to think about those few moments the you’d never experience anywhere else.
I’m personally extremely thankful for the people that I met here. New adventures are made truly incredible by the people you share the experience with. My roommates are incredible, not only for being there when I vented or cried, but also just because they’re fantastic, talented, and amazing people. My chatpal was so incredibly patient with my Italian, and also just a funny and sweet girl who showed me some hidden gems of the city. My travel week buddies started off this whole semester on a fantastic foot. I don’t know if I would have had the confidence to explore as much as I did without you guys to push me and show me how to really have fun. My professors not only showed me new skills, but new ways of thinking. My internship friends showed me to appreciate everything and enjoy talking to everyone. And my SAI office folks, you guys were always there whenever any of us needed you.
I don’t think I could say “thank you” enough to everyone I met here. And I know for sure that I can never thank Florence enough for changing my life. This city is really something special, and I’m so glad that I got to be here at the same time as so many other incredible people trying to find their place in this world. I’m sure I’ll have even more thoughts and feelings after I finally get home, but even now that I’m still here, I want to say: “Thank you for everything. I’ll miss you, and I’ll do my best to come back one day.”
And I think that about does it for me. I hope those of you who read my blog enjoyed the journey, and I hope you enjoyed your own time abroad even more. Good luck with finals, have safe travels home, and finally, arrivederci!
Katie is a fall 2018 SAI Florence student from Clemson University. Her blog can be found here: https://introvertabroadblog.weebly.com