Saint Augustine once said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
One year and one month ago I departed for the journey of a lifetime. Never would I ever have imagined that I would be living in the heart of Florence, Italy for four months. It was during those four months that I realized I had been stuck on one page of the book of my life for 20 years. I had extremely high expectations before studying abroad, but the experience managed to significantly exceed those expectations. While living in Europe, I experienced emotions that I had never felt before, cities that only previously existed in my dreams, people that showed more love for the world than anyone I know, and a newfound understanding about myself.
I escaped the bubble that I had been living in all my life. Sure, I’ve traveled from state to state, but it’s not until I went halfway around the world that I was able to truly grasp the beauty that this world has to offer. I learned a lot while studying abroad.
I learned to accept and appreciate an entirely different culture. Florence is known for its beautiful art and architecture. Living just a block away from the world’s famous Duomo (Florence Cathedral), I was lucky enough to wake up to that every day. What really perplexed me was how old some of the statues and buildings actually were. While most dated all the way back to the Renaissance in the 14th century, others were built even before that. I obviously was not used to that being from America where everything is pretty modern.
I learned to never take anything for granted. Before going abroad, I made a promise to myself to notice the little things. Every day, on my way to class, I would catch myself smiling uncontrollably; whether it was at the Italian men in the middle of each piazza singing to the top of their lungs, the smell of fresh pizza right out of the oven with every restaurant I passed, the uncountable amount of dogs walking through the streets (I know, I was surprised too), and much more. The fact that I was able to experience this all within a 10-minute walk was incredible.
I learned to live every moment to the absolute fullest. Sometimes we don’t take advantage of the time we are given, and studying abroad made me do so. A lot of the time, I couldn’t wrap my head around where I was and everything I was experiencing. I would stop myself in my tracks and just take it all in. Instead of using the weekends to relax and sleep in, in my cozy Italian apartment, I booked a trip to another country or city every weekend instead. Because of this, I was able to visit 10 countries and 23 cities in a span of four months.
I learned that education could actually be fun. My classes consisted of learning about European sports dating back to B.C., visiting a different museum or church every Thursday, and learning about the Italian food culture. The best part about that was the free bread and chocolate samples! These classes taught me so much about Italy that I would’ve never known if I was just on leisure visit.
Most of all, I learned how to be independent. Not that I wasn’t independent before, but living in an apartment as a college student in the middle of a famous city halfway across the world was definitely something new. Without anyone telling me what to do, I learned to navigate around without help. I was constantly choosing the next path I was going to take to make my experience everything that it could be. With this independence, I gained trust. I now trust myself when it comes to finding my way, and I also trust others to help me when I need it.
Soon I’ll be tied down to a day-to-day job with no more than a few weeks vacation time in the real world. While sitting in my future cubicle, I will always think back to the four months that changed my life and smile at the fact that I was able to take advantage of the time I had. Travel while you can, because one day you’ll wish you had.