As we enter into single-digit days of our time left here in Italy, we are often asked these questions…
What was the coolest thing you did?
What was your favorite place you visited?
What’s the craziest thing that happened?
I feel like I speak for everyone when I say that when someone asks one of these questions, my brain kind of freezes. I want to give them the intelligible, wonderful, unbelievable answer they were looking for. I want to tell them about how Prince William met me in a bar in England and swept me off to his palace and I want to tell them about how I fought a band of thieves in Istanbul and returned unscathed with their loot and I want to tell them how I saw the Loch Ness monster in Scotland and got some great pix that they just have to see.
Unfortunately, as you are probably guessing, none of these things happened.
So, when someone asks me one of these questions, I can feel their disappointment looming as I say that although cliche, I loved almost everywhere that I visited, and picking a favorite city is like picking a favorite child. When I tell them that just the prospect of being here the craziest situation in itself, I can sense their interest fading as they reach for their drink.
Which is why I want to stress that a semester abroad, isn’t, and shouldn’t be anyway, a time that can be summed up in one experience, one country, or one person. It isn’t something that I can explain away by telling someone about the breathtaking and unscathed beaches in Croatia, the dark and ominous Cliffs of Moher, or the bustling lights in Istanbul. None of these really captures anything at all, and if I try to explain it, I end up feeling like I just shortchanged my semester anyway.
Instead, a time abroad, a time away from the daily bores and people and errands of ordinary life, is made up of many small experiences that only you will ever know. No, you didn’t meet Prince William, but you did meet the cutest little old man on the airplane to Austria who told you about China and how he scuba dived in the Galapagos Islands and how he really thinks you’ll be great someday. No, you didn’t get a picture of the Loch Ness monster, but you did get some beautiful shots of the Eiffel Tower as it sparkled on the dot. No, you didn’t fight a band of thieves in Istanbul, but you did put on your game face and visit a city alone that frightened you to death, yet you went anyway with five other random strangers and stepped on the soil of Asia and ran amok Taksim Square by nightfall.
Just like all other things in life, a semester abroad isn’t a single experience that can fit itself into a standard refrigerator box. Instead, it’s a pile of knickknacks on the floor that you kick under your bed when you get home, but when it’s getting dark out and you find your mind racing, you pull one out and remember how sick your life really is.