And just like that, the end of my beautiful life in Italy was over. It has been three days since I returned home in Philadelphia after living in Italy for 6 months. I cried so hard on my last day in Italy and let’s just say that it wasn’t pretty. I didn’t want to leave. Now that i’m home I can reflect on this experience and realize that coming home is not so bad but it’s leaving all of the people you met behind in a country that lives 6 hours ahead of you that is so much harder. It’s difficult to wrap my head around everything that I did. All of the weekend trips, new people met, amazing food eaten, money spent, how many bottles of wine we went through, and how many experiences and life stories that were made. I’ve said it before, that when I first arrived in Italy I was really scared to be going on this adventure for what seemed like such a long time. In terms of my idea of a semester I said to my roommate “we’re going to be in another country studying for 6 months!” and she responded realistically “Ashley, the semester is only 4 months don’t make it seem more scary!” I think a part of me knew that it actually wasn’t enough time and that I would find a way to stay longer. I remember when I was in panic mode trying to find ways to stay in Italy for a little extra time. I was thinking of being an au pair for an amazing family in Bergamo, I looked into work exchanges where you live in a hostel for free while working their front desk, and I tried to find a way to continue studying. Finally, that ended up being what I needed to do. And after Rome, I made my way to Perugia to continue to study Italian so I could complete my major on time.
It seems that everything worked out the way it was supposed to – something I just told my mom 5 minutes ago while we were sitting at the kitchen table having espresso (because I can’t go back to American coffee). It feels like everything in my life led up to this one giant moment of time. It’s difficult to explain why I feel this way but everything that i’ve done so far in my life – it just seems like all arrows and directions pointed toward Italy! I can’t imagine my life without having this experience, and nothing could compare to my love for this country and how comfortable I felt waking up every day here. Definitely not at first, and of course there were times of uncomfort and rage and sadness for various reasons. Not understanding the language well enough or not understanding some of the culture got in the way from time to time or getting sick because you’re not used to the bacteria here or you’re worn out from all of the traveling you do on the weekends. These were some of the barriers, but in the end none of that gets in the way of my view of my study abroad experience.
Traveling is difficult. It’s really difficult. I found that the best way to travel is with one friend or two, to have a good plan of the places you want to see, but with no time restrictions, and live without expectations. One thing that you don’t really think too much about before arriving is the friends you will make with the locals. My biggest concern when I was about to embark on this journey was if I was going to make friends with the other Americans, if people would like me, if I would have people to go out with, and if my roommates would be friendly. I never thought about meeting locals until I got to Italy and started to make friends! On a side note the Americans I met were great, and I had the best roommates you could have asked for especially considering it was 6 girls to one apartment. I made lifelong friends. Someone told me that it is difficult for Italians to make new friends in Italy because everyone has their groups of friends and there isn’t a lot of opportunities to meet anyone new because they don’t really have university campuses, but what they told me was that a friend that you make in Italy is a friend that you will have for life. I remember going out with my new friends Jeannette, Francesca, and Gisella and thinking “I hope people look at me and think i’m Italian too.” I didn’t want to be the shiny, new American. I wanted to eat, sleep, breathe, and live Italian culture every day.
Pretty soon into the program, I met a group of guys that would become more life long friends of ours. Alberto, Giacomo, and Niccolo became our friends that we would hang out with almost every weekend. And who would have thought the cute Italian boy with a radio show cooking carbonara in my kitchen would become my boyfriend for the past 5 months. We had a beautiful time together and I don’t think anyone would understand our love. The most difficult thing for me wasn’t leaving Italy, it was leaving Alberto. You brightened all of my days while I was abroad and helped me fall love with the culture of Italy and with you. On our last night together we didn’t sleep, we listened to music while walking through Trastevere, I had amatriciana for one last time, and we went to the Trevi fountain so I could make one last wish. I’m not going to say what that wish was but I’m sure you could guess. He showed me Campania and all of the hidden places in Rome and introduced me to his beautiful family. We had so many incredible days together and even when I went to study in Perugia he came to visit me on the weekends, and we took turns visiting each other. Despite a small language barrier we were able to spend a wonderful time together since the moment we met. I will always be sorry for not speaking Italian enough with him, but when I did he corrected me without judgement. Thank you Alberto for showing me what it feels like to be loved, I feel so on top of the world.
Not only did I make amazing friends and connections in Rome but also in Perugia. I met the most genuine people in Perugia and made friends at the tandem language exchanges, it was great. We would go to Karaoke at Shamrock on Mondays just like in Rome when we would go to Karaoke at Scholar’s on Tuesdays. My roommate was great and on nights before an exam we would have potluck dinners at our friends’ apartment. We played endless games of headsup and traveling to Assis, Luca, and Viareggio together all while taking the tours completely in Italian. We connected with so many people and I think that’s what made this experience the best. My roommate Emma once said “a place is only as good as the people in it.” I used to hate when she would say that, but then I realized how true a statement like that is. We needed the people that we met here to have these brilliant experiences. And that’s something i’ve always said too, that we meet certain people in our life and they are meant to be there. We are supposed to meet these people at certain times to learn something from them or teach something to someone else. And when that person is not longer in your life it just means you have nothing left to learn from them. This part is more sad, but I like to think that I can still learn so much from every person i’ve met and that we will meet again. After all, Italians say arrivederci which literally means “we will see each other again.”
After endless acquaintances and friends met, nights dancing until the sunrise, numerous trains and planes for all of our traveling, cups of espresso, plates of amatriciana and carbonara, glasses of wine, and entire pizzas eaten; what seemed to be the impossible happened – my family came to Italy. This was the goal from the beginning if you remember my blog post from December and it was a dream come true. Of course we struggled, it was difficult to walk around with my family and get them adjusted to italian culture. We spent a few days in Rome and then went to Vasto which is the city my italian family is from and I can’t even begin to express the emotions of having my grandmother see her family again after 22 years. Her happiness was what made this trip the most important for me. Our family treated us so well, they showed us everything and fed us the most amazing food. My cousins Luca and Valeria showed my sister and I wonderful nights and we spent our days bathing in the warm and calm Adriatic sea.
This post is already starting to be too long but if I had all the time in the world (and knew my readers did too) I would take the time to describe every moment. I guess you’ll all have to message me and ask me a lot of questions so I can talk about my beautiful life here. One thing I do want to bring up and like I said in my last blog post is how I changed a lot in these 6 months. I think I became a better student, a better communicator, and a better traveler. When I read my posts from before I came to Italy or from the first month in Italy you can see a difference in my writing and in my spirit. I’ll leave that up to you to discover, but I think it would be a waste if I came out of this trip completely unchanged. I’m so grateful for this experience for shaping me into the person I am today, and I realized that i’m truly meant for Italy. I love everything about the culture and their way of life and I never wanted to return home. I cried with every flight take off and landing on my journey back to America and talked to some people who gave me hope that I can come back here. I never grew tired of waking up to caffe and cornetto in the morning, lunches that lasted hours with amazing and large amounts of food, and cena which was a light meal in the late hours of the night. I felt like I belonged here and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that I didn’t. Everyone knew, and I think I even did the impossible for falling in love with someone while I was there. Most people would tell me – why continue something that has an expiration date, if you know you can’t keep it going in the end, and I think those are the people that have never felt such a strong feeling like this and can’t understand the emotions behind it. It makes me happy to think Alberto and I did what seemed to be the impossible. My heart is aching now and even though we don’t know what the future holds we still have hope. I told all of my family in Vasto and all of my Italian friends that I would return in one year after I graduate.
I can’t imagine my life without ever returning. If you told me two years ago “Ashley you’re going to study abroad in Italy for 6 months, learn Italian again, work with refugees, and fall in love while you’re there” – I definitely would not believe you, in fact, maybe I would laugh in your face and think you’re crazy. All of the things I did seem crazy. I traveled to so many cities in Italy while living so fully. That’s why it’s important to be “an explorer, not a tourist” which were words of wisdom from Dr. K. Dr. K was my ‘At Home in Rome’ professor who told us this on our first day of class. I lived this quote truthfully and fully. I didn’t just wake up, go to class, go to American bars, and take selfies at famous monuments. I communicated, I discovered, I found all of the hidden beautiful places, I ate my way through Italy (and drank) and lived the most beautiful Italian life every single day. For a really long time, I had this crazy thought in my head that I wasn’t deserving of good things in life and I didn’t know why any good things should happen or come to me. Now i\I’ve realized that it’s okay to be excited for what’s to come and it’s okay to be happy with good things happening in your life. I wouldn’t change a single day and if I could relive each moment just as it was I would do it all over again. For the past 6 months I didn’t just live in Italy, I LIVED Italy.