Month: May 2013

Fly Away Home

When I sat on that eight-hour plane ride home from Italy back to America last December, wedged in between a 300-pound man and some guy designing Nike sneakers on his laptop, I took a deep breath and I did the unthinkable– I finally added up my expenses from my semester.

Luckily, I took note of every dollar and euro I spent in my handy notebook, which most inconveniently, took quite a while to get all in my calculator. Watching those numbers add up, and up, and up, feeling my brow chilling, and finally seeing that final number, I realized… I didn’t really spend all that much.

I was pretty proud of myself, looking back from that moment, patting myself on the back for refusing to buy the beautiful clothes, some of the more expensive meals, the extra glass of wine. Actually, the only things I really did bring home were bottles of wine and olive oil for basically everyone that I know… and one Italian leather bag, that I bought for myself. I came to regret this sole purchase as time went on and I realized that all I spent the remainder of my money at home on were uglier clothes and sushi.

Unfortunately, my beautiful leather bag soon broke, its strap coming unhinged from the bag itself. I tried stuffing the strap back in myself, gluing it, and many other temporary solutions that would mostly last a grand total of five minutes. So today, on this rainy, miserable day, I brought it to Johnny’s Shoe Repair, a dilapidated hole-in-the-whole semi-apartment I found on the Internet.

I was pretty surprised to walk in and see not even what you could call a shop, but more of just Johnny himself, a squat old man with glasses, holding up one shoe amongst the thousands that were hanging from the ceiling, sitting on the floor, sitting on the desks, all intermingled with one another. I handed him my bag and explained what happened to it and went through my long list of ways I had tried to fix it, in which he just looked it at me like a disappointed father, telling me that if he fixed it, it really wouldn’t look as good as before.

“Look man, I really don’t even care if the button doesn’t look the same or the strap doesn’t move or any of that stuff. See, I studied abroad in Italy, and all I brought back for myself was this bag–”

Apparently, that was the game changer. All of a sudden, Johnny understood. He asked me why the hell I ever left Italy, because it was the most beautiful country in the world. He told me about he and his wife were born and raised in Calabria, and a lot of his family still lived there, and would always live there. I told him I was Sicilian, and he pulled me in and smiled when he whispered, all of his wrinkles crunched, “We’re neighbors.”

At that point, Johnny told me to come back in two days for my bag. He didn’t need my number, he didn’t even need my name. He said it would cost three dollars, and it would be beautiful again. Because that’s what neighbors do, no matter how far from home they happen to be.

La mia casa è la tua casa.
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Oh, the Places You’ll Go! Eventually.

Seeing as I am currently sitting in my childhood room painting my nails pink and watching the Sex and the City movie, I guess I can’t really proclaim that I am a part of the “real world” quite yet, although the “Graduate of the Honors School” medal and my golden, red, and blue cords hanging on my wall as a result of my Wednesday graduation would say otherwise. However, even though the actual reality of graduation hasn’t really hit me yet, there have been a select few parts of the whole debacle that have squirmed their way into my head.

During my sophomore and junior years of college, I actually wasn’t really sure if I wanted to study abroad. I was afraid to leave my friends and my family, and as silly as this sounds, I didn’t know if it would be worth it to miss out on all the shenanigans of one of my precious last few semesters at school with all the people I had grown to love. It definitely wasn’t one of my deciding factors, but one thing that people (okay, older people) would always stress was, This is the only time in your life you can do something like this. 

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To me, this sounded so sad! So negative! I knew what I was doing– I knew that upon graduation I would be gainfully employed with a fantastic job, traveling the world and writing, basically living the dream– and why not? I was great!

Ha. Ha. Ha. How sweet. I’m actually glad that no one told me what an idiot I was being because it would have really just made me sad before I really needed to be sad. Now I am a graduate, and I’m slowly but surely realizing that yes, I have a nice resume, but so do eight million other people in the world competing for the exact same entry-level job. Not so sweet. I don’t mean to come off too negative here, because I’m sure things will work out eventually, I just don’t think that time will be when I’m 22 and living in a house with my mom in a town with one traffic light and a general store.

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However, being back here, surrounded by lots of other hard-working people down on their luck because of the economy, does make me appreciate the small parts of the world that I have had the pleasure to venture to. I used to silently scoff to myself when people would tell me that they just couldn’t wait to go on their next trip to Point Pleasant or the Poconos. Now, I realize what they were doing. They were doing all they can. With a smile on their face, they’re doing all the traveling that their wallets and their work schedule will allow. Maybe they’re sad they’re not headed to Bali or Vegas this summer, but they’ll never tell you that. They take what they can get and they aren’t bitter about it one bit.

And you know what? I think that this is what a true traveler is. They aren’t someone who necessarily has a bottomless wallet or lives a glamourous life or has their father’s name on their credit card. They aren’t necessarily someone who can boast they have hit every continent.

Instead, they do what they can, and they do it with integrity and dignity. They may be crammed back in their boring hometown where the closest gas station is 15 miles away, and the only vacation they may be able to take will be a three day weekend on their old roommate’s couch. However, this isn’t the point. The point is they’re going somewhere, they’re doing something new, and they’ll be damned if they’re not trying their hardest.

Point Pleasant today, Bali tomorrow.

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The Surreal Life

I feel like I was never there. 

Before I studied abroad, I’m going to assume I heard this statement a lot, although I don’t remember it. The only reason why I’m figuring this is because I’ve said it at least five times in the past week, and I’m not the only one. Every person I know who goes away comes back and says, I feel like it was just a dream. 

Today I saw a friend who graduated a few months ago who went away during his sophomore year of college, quite some time ago, and one of the first things he asked me today was “How was your time abroad,” odd since I came back six months ago and most people don’t casually ask about it anymore. As always, one of my first statements was that the whole thing felt surreal, which usually pours out of my mouth when I try to sum up my experience and I realize that I just sound like a blubbering idiot.

I’ve heard it a lot (as stated before), but my old friend put it in a way that was a little odd to me, more than just “Wow it was so awesome to run around a random country for three months!” 

He said, “When I came home, it took me a solid year to come to terms with what I had done and what I had accomplished. It wasn’t that it was dreamy or incredibly amazing, it was just so surreal.”

He continued to explain that he studied abroad through his community college, not the university that he later attended and where I met him. Obviously, since community college isn’t your typical study abroad outlet, he was the only one to participate in the program that semester at all. The nervousness that goes along with this was only accentuated when the school called him up and said he had been accepted into the program, however, they didn’t have housing for him, and instead, handed him a list of people to call.

When he got to Australia, he called up one of the people on his list, and sure enough, one man had actually stayed home to take his expected call, something unheard of in America, and had space available for him to rent. The 6’5 rugby player also didn’t mind lending the 5’5 skinny pre-med student some clothes when the airport lost his luggage for ten days.

My friend stayed in Newcastle, not Sydney, which is a lot rougher of a town than beautiful and touristy Sydney is since it is a coal-mining town filled with blue-collar workers and some accompanied crime. Him and his landlord friend also housed various couch surfers throughout the semester who cooked for them and took them out on the town, being as thankfully, Australians appreciate the joy and beauty of travel and they don’t mind helping out a fellow traveler in need.

Study abroad shouldn’t only consist of drinking, asking people what the WiFi password is, and figuring out what countries have the best clubs. It’s not an experience that should necessarily mark “the best time of your life,” but perhaps, the most exciting and the most wrought with change. This is what makes study abroad surreal- not the parties and the people you meet who happen to live in your state. Instead, it is the unique life that you undertook for a dramatic, outrageous, and unreal time of your college years.