The Wonders of Sobriety

Being that most people who study abroad are juniors in college, many of them haven’t hit the much-coveted 21-year mark yet and feel the need to milk the bars in Europe for all they’re worth, blowing their money on beers before they are shipped back to the States and they have to go back to overcrowded frat parties and badly mixed drinks for a few more solid months.

Since I’m already 21, I don’t fit into this category (anymore). Don’t get me wrong, when I was 20 I would have killed (literally, actually killed people) to be at the bar with all my friends, where I heard, from my good 21-year-old friend Jesse, that “everything you could ever want is there, from rainbows and unicorns to all the best loot you can imagine.”

However, I’m grateful to have already been 21 for a good while before coming here, because I feel absolutely no impulse to blow all my money (and time) on getting drunk. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for going out and having a good time… on the weekends. When I have nothing else of value to do. But when it’s Wednesday and I have class at 9:00 am the next day with my crazy Italian professor, then no, I don’t really feel like going to the bar with you. Sorry.

I totally understand that people come abroad for different reasons. Some people come to solely travel, like myself. Some come to live; to learn the culture and go out to eat and study Italian. Some come to shop and come home with a coveted new Italian wardrobe. And others come to party. This is okay.

But before you choose to spend yet another five euros at the bar (for the first twenty minutes…) think about this- all that spent money on shitty drinks on Monday nights could have gone towards your trip to Switzerland, a beautiful steak dinner with your new Italian friends, or a pair of fancy Italian leather boots bargained for at the San Lorenzo market. Your memories of Florence don’t have to be a haze for you to know that you had a good time. A balance exists, you just have to find it within the piles of pasta and gelato.


Everything I drank for this night I did so in the comfort and cheapness of my own apartment. WIN.

Repeat This.

Out of the zillions of things that I kind of wish someone would have alluded at to me before I stepped onto a plane (“Maybe you should bring more than five shirts.” “An extra charger will be useful for when you blow them all out.” “You should really be working more in the summer before you leave instead of spending so much time at the beach bar”) one of them that was mentioned to me which has remained true is to keep an open mind. 

This struck me the most when my friend visited from back home last week, who had a hard time with the various eccentricities that cloud Italy like:

1. How my apartment’s electricity switches off at least twice a day

2. Some people get drunk and run around screaming on all the days that end in “y”

3. Any listed times for public transportation have a buffer period of like a year

4. You will get whatever food the chef feels like making

When these, and various other things happened to us, she asked me, “Doesn’t this bug you?” when I realized, no, it actually doesn’t. If I was a random visitor and not well prepared, if I was me three months ago, then yes it would.

But thank you, advisor, for really stressing me to actually keep an open mind and not wholly freak out every time things don’t go my way. This truly is the most important thing in study abroad and perhaps in life: it is very easier to get frustrated, angry, irritable, and downright aghast when things don’t go your way. But if you stop for a second and think to yourself, Okay, what is the other side of this? What are these people thinking? your experience is going to be a whole lot happier.

For example: Those girls who drink every night? Maybe they don’t have the money to travel every weekend like you do, so they’re making up for it by having a good time when they can. That chef who gave you the wrong order? This is his favorite dish and he knew you were going to like it. The fact the bus is like twenty minutes late? Maybe this is teaching you that you need to walk a little faster and stop buying so many cannolis when you should be at the bus stop already.

So spend an extra five seconds thinking about the situation. Take a breather and a laugh after you realize you are lost- again- and yes, the tour group has already left you behind anyway so you might as well begin that self-guided tour now and make some friends. Trust me, having an open mind here in Italy, as well as back in America where you can argue your way out of anything, will take you farther than any plane will.

Nomad Couture

“I don’t know anyone who breaks as many shoes as you do,” says my boyfriend, after I tell him that I broke my fourth pair of shoes this semester.

Which, may or may not be a valid observation. Studying abroad, aka traveling more than you most likely will travel in your entire life ever again within a three month timespan, takes a lot out of you, and a lot of out your… stuff. For example: I often find myself silently praying not that I have a safe flight or that the bus is on time, but instead that Please, PLEASE let my backpack make it, just one more week. That’s it. I promise I will stop drinking so much beer. 

And it doesn’t stop there with my backpack. Mostly, this applies for shoes, since those (and, come to think of it, basically everything I own) cost less than $20 and has the quality to reflect that. Not only do I just happen to break many things, but I also walk a lot and get lost a lot and lose my stuff a lot. SORRY OKAY!

Anyway, the great thing about studying abroad is even though you started accidentally dressing like a gypsy, you’re basically a nomad anyway so it’s kind of acceptable. (“This ten-year-old backpack is so handy.” “This shoes with these ginormous holes in them are so comfortable and it’s easier to tell when it’s raining.” “I love this big ugly jacket that some idiot must have accidentally left in the dumpster.”)

Now that I only have two pairs of shoes left when I came here with literally like ten, everyone keeps telling me that I have a great excuse to buy some nice Italian leather to take home. But what I’m really thinking is I could get myself a really nice steak with that money instead, and I’m gonna need the space in my suitcase that those shoes would have taken up since I plan on taking home a hell of a lot of four euro wine.

Also, this thought process makes you see that things are just that- things. Italian leather boots are still just a pile of leather you’ll be sick of in a few months, and a beautiful patterned jacket is just something you’ll need when it rains. Instead, the only thing fashion matters for when you have no money and no space in your suitcase is if your Facebook pictures will still look okay so all your friends can be jealous of all the fun you’re having.

So now, when my shoes break at the airport during the security check I’ll actually be glad, because this means I can take out my spare pair and that’s one less thing I’ll have to carry on my back. Will I still look like a crazy bag lady when I get back home and have my wonderful closet back? Probably not. But for now, it’s kind of nice to jump in the mud puddles, get soaked in the rain, and leave clothes in the hostel that you’ve been wearing for a week straight.

I Think Romance Missed the Flight.

Today over some wine in my Pairing Food with Wine class (thank you, study abroad), I overheard this conversation, which really isn’t very out of the ordinary:

Girl 1: “I don’t do very well in relationships because I’m just like ‘The Man.’ He will always be texting me and I’m just like, ‘I don’t care.'”

Girl 2: “Well I mean, like, the only reason I said yes to my boyfriend because he was just like, ‘Everything is gonna stay exactly the same while you’re in Florence. Just email me like once a week to let me know you’re alive. ‘ Which is great for me because I just want to do my own thing.” (Also, to note, this girl also said that this boy surprised her by flying out to Florence to visit her and bought her a ticket to Paris and then asked her out on some famous bridge).

Girl 3: “I just want to be single because c’mon, I’m 20-years-old. I don’t want to be tied down because who knows where my job will take me? Or graduate school? My mom always says that a boy can follow me around if he wants to as I travel the world, but I better follow my own dreams.”

Fifty years ago, this conversation would have been jaw-dropping! Unbelievable! Coming of age for its time! And yet today, in a world where women rule anyway and the only thing you need a man to do is… well, nothing, it really just sounds a little silly to me.

Here’s the thing. I totally get that you want to be independent, free to do anything you want, go anywhere you want. But at what point did this mean that you had to cut any sort of romance out of the picture? When did romance lose its fun and just gain a hell of a lot of anchors?

I don’t think you have to be a bitch to be independent. I don’t think that you need to declare that you’re swearing off men because you want a career, or decide that you’re only going to do random hookups or pretend not to care about anyone because you don’t want to end up like Your Friend’s Mom’s Best Friend who got married at 21 and had five kids and now spends her days crying, watching soap operas, and doing laundry.

Being in a relationship or admitting to actually like someone isn’t what makes you uncool. What makes you uncool is when you stay holed up in your room all day Skyping your boyfriend and writing sad emails to your mom when you could be out exploring this beautiful city. Fortunately, the amount of these people is rather limited, so I think you can all stop declaring what awesome bitches you are and instead admit when you actually like someone because guess what? “Liking” is a natural human emotion. Who knew?

Now later on in the conversation, I heard this one:

Girl 3: “We were both so whatever about it, that now me and my guy back at home have been hooking up for like a year and haven’t done anything about it. I’m kind of over the random hookups and I got that out of my system freshmen year, but it would be weird to try for anything with him now.”

Girl 1: “Yeah, I get you. I have been hooking up with this older guy for a long time, but he has already graduated and has a job and I want to live in Chicago, so it’s a little late to try for anything.”

So, now the truth creeps out, just a little bit. What is odd to me is that these “empowered” women have no problem fighting for their careers, but yet they are so willing to let guys who they have come to care about actually walk on them a little bit by making them feel like a random hookup is all they can ask for if they want to have fulfilling lives outside of a serious relationship.

Guess what, ladies? You CAN have it all. The great thing about being an empowered woman in 2012 is that not only can you have a fulfilling career, caring friends, an extraordinary education, and a great family, but you can also have a dude alongside you that also serves as a best friend. A man doesn’t mean staying home and cooking and doing laundry anymore. It means another person, among many, to care about. It doesn’t make you lame or “tied down” or anything other than the person you already were, if you don’t choose to make it that way.

And this exactly qualifies for your time abroad, too. Okay, yes, if your boyfriend is getting pissed you can’t text him when you’re at the Florentine soccer game for one hour, that is a problem. A major problem. But no one ever said that because someone kind of likes you who happens to be 3000 miles away at the moment, you have to stay holed up and be lame. There are lots of secret American girlfriends, all over Florence, who have someone waiting for them at home and can still go out and get just as smashed as you. Trust me.