Month: January 2013

Time Commitments

When one (unfortunately) arrives home once again and is greeted by armful by armful of happy friend, one is bound to come across many people who will say, “Yes, I did that too, during my summer session abroad!”

Wait… your summer session? Now, I totally understand if you have time commitments for the semester, financial problems (although from what I have heard, most people spend almost the same amount during their summer session as they would during a semester abroad, but that’s another odd issue entirely), or familial issues, but honestly, it seems to me that a summer session just means this – you got jipped.

If you’re not aware, a summer session tends to run about three to four weeks, sometimes going for as long as six, while study abroad sessions usually range from thirteen to sixteen weeks. Sounds like a big difference? That’s because it is. A summer session is a vacation. A long vacation, but a vacation at that. A semester abroad is an attempt at life.

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I remember when four weeks passed during my time in Florence (I happened to be at Oktoberfest at the time, if I remember correctly) and I looked around and said to myself, What if I had to leave right now? What if at this moment, I was packing my bags and being shipped back off to the Jerz?

At four weeks, one is barely adapted to life in another country, another world. One is still a stranger (and probably is still one at the three-and-a-half month mark, too). Many people subconsciously see this as a good thing- they don’t really want to totally assimilate. They don’t want their own habits to have to change, they don’t want to step too far outside their comfort zone, they just want to see a little bit just in time for them to get homesick and get back on the plane to be greeted by a tearful Mom.

When my own friends left for their summer sessions, a few weeks before I left for my semester in Florence, I was a little jealous. I was scared to go away for so long. Petrified, actually. It was like taking a too-big bite of cake when I should have only had a spoonful and now it was falling embarrassingly out of my mouth and everyone was staring. Even when I first got there, in between the moments of extreme excitement, I thought to myself, What have I gotten myself into? What planet do I live on? 

But just like anything else, we all get used to our new surroundings and we learn to adapt. We create our new selves and new homes, and when it’s time to leave, we will reach for our armfuls of our new friends too.

La Famiglia e Tutto

Today I had a meeting to go to (shocker). And as with most of my meetings, I didn’t really feel like going, mostly because I would just rather be in my room pinning things on Pinterest. However, also with most of my meetings, I still showed up.

However this one was a little bit different- a study abroad luncheon for my Italy group, in the exact same room that we all sat in about six months ago, when we were complete strangers. I remember trying to be a brave and sitting at a table with the girls, none of whom I had ever seen before or even knew what to say to them. I sat there and quietly ate my free sandwich (I did show up, didn’t I?) and got out as soon as I could. Thinking of my upcoming semester in Italy, I never felt so scared and unsure in my life. Looking back now, I’ve never been so confident and proud of any other decision I have ever made.

Funny how this time when I walked into the room, I was greeted by smiling faces of all ages and from all different backgrounds, all of whom I had only ever known within my ancient city of Florence. Odd how things change. To see all of us out of our elements, struggling to fit into what feels like this new culture, was scary yet comforting, knowing that once again, we weren’t alone.

And just like now, we weren’t alone the first time we set off to meet a new culture in a new country, either– we had each other. To think we will always be as close as we once were is pretty ridiculous, but I don’t think that really matters. No matter how much time goes by and how long we stay best friends with our childhood neighbors, our kindergarten playmates, our college roommates, our high school boyfriends– they will never have what we all had together. Strangers who, in relying on one another as family, friends, and comrades, became a little globe-trotting family.

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How To Live

So right now I am in my NEW BED! Well, not really new. Actually it’s borrowed from our realtor but whatever it’s new to me. The point is that I have moved once again, but this time it’s back to school for my LAST SEMESTER! Great now I’m depressed.

Anyway, as I was moving in, I looked at the piles of junk that my mother and I deposited on my bed. Bags and bags of clothes, printers, fans, jewelry boxes, backpacks… and two lone suitcases. The two suitcases that I was allowed to bring for my semester in Italy. That’s it. Two suitcases.

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And you know what’s funny? As I looked at this giant pile that was ever-growing on my bed, I wondered how much of that stuff I actually really neededI went to Italy with two suitcases, and never missed a thing. These new perfectly content suitcases that had the chance to see the world. I visited seven other countries during my semester abroad and 15 Italian cities and had plenty to prepare me for the cold, the heat, and the ugly. So did I really need all of this stuff? No. I didn’t.

Am I going to send it back? Uhh, no. As I explained to my mother I had already spent a semester wearing the same shirt basically every day and that was just fine but I like having my closet back. But looking at that pile and sorting through my junk, it became clear that although travel teaches you how to deal with new people, new cultures, and new habits, it also teaches you how to live.

Home is Where… You Are.

Okay, don’t laugh, but throughout my entire life, I have been telling myself that I will probably live in New Jersey. Most likely, I would live in the tri-state area, work in New York City, all the meanwhile staying near my family and friends and college. Doesn’t sound too shabby, right?

WRONG. Well, maybe for me. Studying abroad does a funny thing to you (among many others)- it teaches you that you don’t have to be anywhere. The world does not crumble away to nothing when you leave, and even your mother will get along just fine without you. All of a sudden, the world feels much more accessible.

And this leads to the prospect of being able to live anywhere. Spend a few years hanging out in Dublin? Why not. Working out of Madrid for awhile? Bring it on. Chill in Portugal for a little bit? Can’t think of a reason not to.

On the one hand, this is a scary thought. Suddenly, there are an obscene amount of options and things to do and you are no longer limited by something as mundane as a country boundaryFrom now until forever, the world will be yours, not only a place to visit, but a place to  live.

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Let’s Always Be Friends.

Since winter break kicked in and Italy booted me out back in December, my world traveling has unfortunately hit a standstill. For quite some time, there will be no European cities to conquer, no wild beasts to tame, and no languages to grasp. This is kind of depressing. But at the same time, I have realized that sometimes, here in the Middle of Nowhere, New Jersey, you can still have… fun?

The other night, I went bowling with my friends from high school, having connived my dear friend Paul to drive me the thirty minutes in exchange for a box of Christmas chocolate. We drove throughout the tiny back roads before we got to the bowling alley, where we drank White Russians (The Big Lebowsky), made fun of Dan’s dilapidated bowling stance, mercilessly harassed the other team, and scored less than 70s.

Is this hiking the towns of Cinque Terre, hovering on the edge of cliffs? No. Is this exploring the dark ruins of Pompeii? No. Is this running around Paris as it snows with a beret on your head? No.

But you know what? It’s not half bad, either. Can you have fun traveling alone? Yes, of course you can. But doing ordinary things with extraordinary people makes you remember that you don’t need a plane ticket to have an adventure. Go to trivia night. Go to the lame bowling alley. Show up for half price apps, even if all you order is a water because you’re still just as cheap as you were in high school. You don’t need a suitcase or a ridiculous budget or really anything else, for that matter. You just need a couple of friends. And this is what makes you richer than any world traveler.

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So is Culture Shock What They Call It Now?

Upon our university orientation to our semester in Italy, a few very misinformed school employees told us about a phenomenon known as “culture shock,” which basically are feeling of sadness, frustration, and anxiety as one attempts to assimilate into life into their host country. Being that Florence is basically America, I feel that “culture shock” didn’t really exist for us. Maybe if one of us spoiled New Jerseyans was studying abroad in Gambia, but we’re not. It’s Florence, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

However, “reverse culture shock” is another story entirely. While we all fit in quite nicely, albeit for a few small frustrations and discrepancies, into our new pseudo-Italian lives, getting back into our lives as over-indulgent Americans was a little more of a struggle.

When I first got back home, I was excited! Overwhelmed! Joyful! at finally being back at my nice quiet home, where I could eat buffalo wings and donuts for a buck and ride in a warm car to get somewhere. However, this joy was short-lived… which wasn’t surprising since it mostly revolved around American bacon. Soon enough, I was looking around every aspect of my old life, which was now my new life, and wondering… Why?

Bacon Flowchart

Exhibit A: Yesterday I drove from a Kohl’s to Target, probably about a mile from one another, although on a busy road. As I got back in my car and didn’t even turn on music for the ride, I thought to myself… if I was in Florence right now, I would be walking. And that would be okay. I wouldn’t be releasing poisonous fumes into the air or wasting gasoline, but I would be getting a bit of fresh air (although cold) and that would just be life.

Exhibit B: Once at Target, as I tried to buy some food for my mother, I literally felt so overwhelmed I almost had to leave and I was enormously thankful my mother also showed up around the same time. With my little hand carriage sitting beside me, I was wondering why I didn’t get a cart. What size milk I should get. Why there were so many goddamn brands of bacon. How do people do this? If I was in Florence, I would have walked into a store the size of my room, got everything I needed, and I would have been able to fit it into my backpack. Probably would have made a few friends, too.

Me, Food Shopping

Exhibit C: Yesterday, I drove in my car about 30 minutes to get to the mall. If I was in Florence, there would be nothing that I needed that would have been more than 30 seconds away. Yet here, everything is so incessantly spread out, probably so some rich CEOs in their mansions can have some breathing room.

I could honestly go on about these instances forever, and I could even limit them to my experiences on that boring Friday that was yesterday, but I’m guessing you would be pretty bored by then. Now that I am back home, I look around at this disease of over-indulgence and I just wonder…why? What are we getting out of this? I don’t want to get too political here because that’s just not my point, but this country is in 16 trillion dollars of debt, 28 percent of people are obese (which is the second highest rate, behind Mexico, then all other countries), and we take up five percent of the world’s population but we use 20 percent of the world’s energy. I think it’s pretty obvious something is wrong here.

That’s not “reverse culture shock,” people. It’s more like having your eyes open, for the very first time.