Stuff That I Learned on a Bus

I probably say this about eighteen times a day (rough guess) but I literally CANNOT BELIEVE that I really only have a few more weeks here. Before getting on my plane to Italy, as my mother cried at the airport, I thought to myself, Wow, a semester. That’s a long effing time. Guess what. It’s not. Not in the least. In a few short weeks I will be sitting on yet another plane, waving goodbye to beautiful Italy and saying hello again to my New Jersey, praying that it is still in one piece and that the world doesn’t end in December. Anyway, having been here a fair amount of time thus far, I thought I would share with you some things that I have learned as of now, mostly which I have mused on while sitting on six-hour bus rides to random places. I really hope this doesn’t sound like mom advice.

1. Sometimes, you have to hunt for reasons to like people. When you’re studying abroad, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll be with a group of other kids from your University. And, inevitably, you will find reasons to dislike some of them. Well guess what. Unlike being at school, you can’t just avoid these people. Whether you like it or not, this is your family for the next three months, and you better get used to it. With this in mind, and knowing there is no option to make someone disappear from your life, you’ll find that it’s actually pretty easy to find reasons to like anyone. And not only will this make your whole experience less stressful, but it’ll make you find values that you want to create in yourself. BOOM.

2. Nobody’s way of life is better or worse than yours. Being that the only place I have ever lived is the United States, I was under the extremely ignorant impression that more or less, everyone kind of does things the same way. This is not true. Depending on what country you’re lucky enough to call home, I’m guessing you’re drastically different, solely from the point that you live somewhere else. And this doesn’t make your way better, or their way better. It’s just another way, and just as your way is second nature to you, so is theirs. When studying abroad, there is a lot of talk on having an open mind, which makes you watch cultures intently instead of just shunning them.

3. Don’t stress the small things. Think of your last trip. Think of all the ways that you messed up, all the little things that make you go UGHHH because you wished you planned a little better or did something differently. Now multiply this by fifteen weeks of a semester, and that is studying abroad. When being in another country, it’s easy to want to get frustrated enough to want to punch a baby because you’re lost, you can’t figure out where the bathroom is, you haven’t eaten in sixteen hours, you missed the plane… well guess what, people. THIS STUFF HAPPENS. And if you let it get you down, it will kill you. Best to just be happy you’re there at all, sick and covered in odd red hives or not.

4. You are so obscenely lucky. All throughout my life, I kinda felt like I was getting screwed over. I always felt like I was working so hard and still not getting the respect I thought I deserved from my peers, my professors, my bosses, my family. I always felt like I was getting the short end of the stick and it just wasn’t fair. Now when I walk down the street from my class to my apartment and see this view, I am so humbled that I want to cry. I literally cannot believe how blessed I am to be here and I wonder why the hell, out of all people, that I was given the opportunity to live in such a magnificent place. This is how you should feel no matter where you are.

5. You don’t always have to be on the verge of an anxiety attack. Speaking of working my ass off, I am always working my ass off. This is a fact. And now that I’m here, where people eat three hour lunches and bike to work and fall asleep at 2:00 pm, I feel like an idiot. Not that being a hard worker is entirely bad, but if you stop working at 11:00 pm and get up at 7:00 am just to do it all again tomorrow, there may be a problem. Life is short. Chill out. Sit down.

6. Make the most of it. It’s easy to hear those dumb quotes at home like No regrets. Live your life. and it’s also easy to abide by them… from time to time. Unlike life, though, in study abroad, you know your expiration date. This makes it much easier to say, Okay. I have six more weeks here. That’s it. Better make it count. Now if only we could say that in the grand scheme of our lives.

7. Wherever you are, be all there. Even though I love Italy with all my heart, sometimes I get a little homesick. Sometimes I miss my friends and speaking English and feeling not so much like an outsider, and I think to the day when I get back on my plane to New Jersey (provided that it’s still there, thanks for nothing Sandy). But the truth is this- you can be miserable no matter where you are. You can wish you were doing something else or being someone else or with someone else. This doesn’t make where you are any less of a reality. No matter what you do, whether it’s cry to your mom or go out and get smashed with your new friends, you will still be home the exact same day. This is a promise. So… what do you want to do?

8. Spend your time (and money) doing things that matter. When abroad, it’s pretty easy to piss away your budget on badly mixed drinks and gelato. Trust me, I am well aware. But, when standing at that counter, slurring your words to the bartender, hopefully you can think ahead to where else that money could be going. So, when home, before dropping dollars on a new pair of shoes the second you get your paycheck, look at the big picture. See beyond the obvious so that you can do something worthwhile.

That’s all I have for now. I wanted to get to ten but I couldn’t really think of any more right now and I really should be packing for my trip to Ireland tomorrow. LEARN SOMETHING PEOPLE! Knowledge is power!

Just a Weekend at the Beach…

Early on Saturday (and when I mean early, I don’t mean MY early, i.e. 9:00 am. I mean actually early) at 5:00 am, I unfortunately had to wake up to drag myself to a bus in a place where I had never been before to go to the French Riviera. Somehow, myself, Andrea, and Juliana (my two other roommates) made it to the little square and sat on the bus for about five hours to get to our first stop in Monaco, on the French Riviera.

Personally, I think Monaco is pretty cool (but I am a huge nerd, as you will soon see). Monaco isn’t really a part of France, it’s its own principality, its own state. If I was to be princess or duchess or whatever you want to call it of a place, it would be Monaco. I mean, how many problems can the second-smallest state in the world (only second to Vatican City) have to deal with?

Monaco itself looks like a place out of a storybook, very reminiscent of Cinque Terre on the coast of Italy with its pastel buildings and quaint fountains and views. The second we stepped off the bus, we climbed what felt like a mountain to old city Monaco, where we passed the Cathedral and the Palace of Justice before watching the once-daily changing of the guard right before noon.

After Monaco, we headed right to Nice, where we were staying (thank the Lord). Nice has much more of a big-city feel than Monaco did, with huge towering buildings (still in their pastel colors) and people that actually live there, jogging getting ready for the marathon that day and walking their dogs. Andrea and I missed the tour (what a surprise) so after miraculously finding Juliana and Nicole, who were also lost, we gave ourselves our own little tour and snapped pictures of the buildings that looked like they were probably something important.

As the sun went down, we finally neared the beach, which had a few sets of couples making out on the rocky beach itself as the waves crashed in. It was pretty cool to look out from the coast to see the rest of the French Riviera and Nice, sparkling in all of its rich glory.

That night, we stayed in actual hotel rooms (!) and had a free dinner sponsored by the tour itself, which was hosted by my study abroad school, Lorenzo de’ Medici, and paid for by my University back home. We once again had to get up at an ungodly hour (7:00 am) for some breakfast before getting back on the bus and heading to St. Paul de Vence, a medieval town sitting atop a hill which boasts the best views of the Riviera and the surrounding countryside.

The town itself, which resembles Siena of Italy, remained closed for most of the time we were there because it was a Sunday morning, but it was actually kind of nice to wander the abandoned streets and look out at the land with drifting clouds and fog hanging overhead. Looking out, I wondered who owned the beautiful mansions that dotted the land, what movie stars had the chance to spend however long they felt like here.

Then, we went to Cannes, which honestly sounds a lot better in theory than it is in person. Maybe because it was raining. Maybe because there were no movie stars in sight. Whatevs. Anyway, when we got there, we strolled the streets for a while, glancing at the big-name designers that crowd the road that lines the water, before hopping onto the actually sandy beach and gazing over the water and down the coastline of the rest of the Riviera.

In its Wake

When studying abroad, you often hear a lot of talk that sounds kind of like this–

“I am never going back.”

“America sucks.”

“I don’t miss anything about home.”

And I won’t lie, either, sometimes I say these things too. Maybe sometimes others feel differently, but I get the feeling that a lot of this kind of talk is a little dramatized. Okay, yes, I get it- Italy is awesome. Trust me, I am well aware. But when it comes down to it, we have only been here two months. I can barely say a full sentence in Italian and I go home in a month, so I think this keeps Florence outside the realm of my home. Because my real home, as always, will lie on the coast of New Jersey.

Last Monday, Hurricane Sandy kicked the shit out of New Jersey and New York. The largest hurricane to ever hit the Atlantic coast, it has caused $50 billion in damages, according to cnnmoney.com, and killed 88 people in the United States and 68 people in Cuba. Moreover, it has wiped out legendary landmark cities like Seaside Heights, Atlantic City, and Ocean City, and has devastated countless other towns that sit along the coastline like Long Branch, Brick Township, and Asbury Park.

As you sit at your computer and read this, these stats sound very distant from you. I’m sure that you do not hear, behind these figures, the sounds of people crying because everything they have ever owned is gone or because their boat sits five miles down the street on top of someone’s garage. I’m sure that you do not see people waiting in lines for gas for three hours or hear the beating in their hearts the first time that they step back inside the homes they had to evacuate last Monday.

Most of the time, when I hear about disasters like this, I feel the same way you do. I listen to the facts and the stories, but the truth is, I don’t know these people and I never will and I have no idea what the hell $50 billion in damages even looks like. When the tsunami rocked Japan in 2011 or Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans in 2005, I felt bad and all and would maybe drop some change into a collection jar outside Shop Rite, but I didn’t give it all too much thought. This time, though, it isn’t someone else’s home city that was destroyed.

Right now, my home University, which sits on the coast of Monmouth County, has been closed from last Monday (when the storm hit) to this coming Monday, as about 1,000 people take shelter in our Multipurpose Activity Center (which is currently being used as a state shelter) and the University itself remains without power. Thousands of students will have nowhere to go home to once school starts again, and it’s a miracle in itself my own apartment, only a feet away from the boardwalk (which lies in ruins) will even be livable upon next week.

Just like anyone else, I have visited my friends’ beach houses that run alongside the bay in Tom’s River next to Seaside Heights and we danced with their neighbors and biked to the bay when the sun was setting. In Wildwood, I rented hotel rooms with my friends and we hung out on balconies and cruised the sketchy boardwalks at night, playing Frisbee and going in the ocean even if it was raining. I have run the Long Branch boardwalk, alongside couples holding hands and kids riding their skateboards, probably more than 150 times. None of this exists anymore. It is simply not there.

To love a place so dearly, as one loves a home, and then have it disappear, is unreal. It’s just gone. That’s it. And as of now, I can only sit across the Atlantic Ocean, typing on my computer, stalking this freakshow that is Hurricane Sandy on the Internet. Please God, let there be a place to go home to.

To donate to relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy, you can visit the American Red Cross website for volunteering efforts or visit the iTunes Store homepage American Red Cross link, both of which give 100% of the proceeds to relief efforts.