If I could, I would pick myself up, and place myself inside the walls of my newsfeed. I would tap into my photo albums and relive each moment. I want to relive, so they do not fade from my memory. To surround myself in the places, sounds, and smells of the places I felt peace for once. I want to place myself on top of the Piazza Del Popolo, Giardino degli Aranci, Terrazza dei Gianicolo overlooking the city. I would get lost again in the cities I did not know. Pretend like it was the first time seeing these places that I found a comfort in after only being there for a few hours. I want to place myself inside the photos of my grandmother. To sit inside her laugh lines and her crow’s feet. To ride the waves of her wrinkles. I swear I had never seen her so happy. I want to be inside an image that I do not have. Something tucked away inside my memory. When I sat around Zia’s table, on the first day I met my Italian family. Sitting with my cousins and making jokes that every time Zia made coffee she would break something. Sure enough, an espresso saucer fell from the shelf and shattered on her linoleum floors. Laughter erupted from all four of our mouths. We could not communicate in each other’s languages, but we were laughing together. Above all, I want to remember my last night at the Trevi fountain. I had fallen in love in more ways than just with the country when I came to study abroad. I made one last wish in that fountain. It was 4am and delirium. Laughter and whisperings. Listening to locals sings songs in a drunken stupor on the steps. I had my last cappuccino and cornetto near Termini station when the sun rose. Filled with the anxiety I had never experienced once in this country – I experienced one of my most darkest moments.I can see it in the photos even though it is not there.
I did not want to go back to America
My home was here.
The hardest part of study abroad is coming home. I struggled for months. They say the heart takes time to heal, for the amount of time you were in love it takes that same amount to get over it. It has been over 6 months, and while the normalcy has returned in my life and I am comfortable being back in America, the experience changed me in so many ways that I could never forget. I think the most difficult part of coming home is when you return and you realize no one really cares. People will talk to you for 5 minutes about your experience and move on because now you are home and they are jealous any way. However, the more time that has passed the more I realized I did not want everyone to know. I spent weeks agonizing over how no one could understand my pain of being back at Arcadia, how no one knew the things I had seen and the love that I felt. That no one looked at me and noticed how much I had changed. I came to realize it was my little secret. Words could not describe my experience, and I did not want them to any more. I know what I saw and I know what I felt when I was there and I guess my only outlet was writing. Something that always saved me from myself. Nevertheless, nothing I say could depict a perfect image of the things I saw and experienced. If given the chance to do absolutely everything all over again, I would do it in a heartbeat.
This was a struggle different from those of my past. The struggle of being self-reliant and the struggle of self-discovery. Through the struggles, the culture shock, the frustration over not knowing the language enough, and the every 2-week study abroad sickness that came from traveling too much and running our bodies down – I would do every weekend trip again. Even those with the occasional missed train and miscommunication. With moving on though, the reality of it is that I am discouraged and frustrated that I am losing all of my skills in the language, and I am even more frustrated that it is so far away.
Like most people who have also studied abroad, I want to walk the streets of the place I called home for so many months again. To see all of the monuments like it would be for the first time. I want to use the currency we joked about looking like monopoly money, and to speak to every restaurant owner in my poor language about my allergies. I miss hearing how the language sounds, even the simplest words, and how they fall out of the native’s mouths. I miss the sounds and feeling behind each pronunciation. I miss the various accents and dialects. I miss the spirit of the locals, and the excitement of watching a “football” game with them. To be in that heat and fiery emotion, to hear them sing the national anthem together and cry and cheer as their team wins. I miss waiting for my train and staring up at the large sign listing the platform numbers. I miss being surrounded by the artwork that is graffiti in this country and the architectural masterpieces around every corner. I feel like my time abroad is time locked. I do not even know how to explain it. I think what makes me most sad is that there are small moments from my time abroad that I remember from time to time that are hidden inside my memory. The little moments that are overlooked or are not saved neatly in a photograph somewhere on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. I want to hold on to those little moments that changed me and made me who I am today. To hold tightly on to all of those people I met along the way.
I read a quote just around the time I was coming home from abroad and it says, “You will never be completely at home again because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place” (Miriam Adeney). I have never read words more true to depict how I feel. Not only in study abroad, but also in my life experiences.
I never knew where my life would bring me until I found my home again in a passing conversation down in Easton café. At Arcadia University. The place where I lived out all of my wildest dreams. Where I took my first ever Cultural Anthropology class and traveled to Cuba on a spring preview travel program and it made me change my major. I went through pages of courses, numerous personality/occupation tests and multiple meetings with advisors before I discovered my calling. International Studies. It sounded so unreal. And to think, I was so stressed out about not graduating on time that I stressed myself with 20 credits each semester in order to do so. I never saw myself getting here. Graduating from college? I barely thought I would get out of high school.
Somehow, you made it through as a warrior. You climbed mountains, quite literally, and the world was yours. It took an army, to go from the girl who never felt good enough, that girl who tried everything to numb her feelings, to the girl who stopped letting others dictate her life. The girl who discovered how to feel, how to understand, how to show compassion, how to be selfish, how to stand up for her rights, and how to show the world that this is who I am and I am not changing for anyone but myself. Full of love, full of purpose. Ready to take on the real world and ready to save it. I can’t tell you the amount of times people tried to fit me into a mold. They said, “Be anything you want to be” and then tried to force science and engineering on you just for money, not because of passions. Although you changed your major, you were still an artist. An artist who was still going to save the world even though the world did not try to save you. You went from that average girl who let her voice falter and stumble when compared to her eloquent male colleague, to the girl who empowered her voice and the voices of other women through activism and knowledge. That girl who did not realize how little she knew until she started to learn. The girl who was finally able to stand on her own. That average girl with all of the scars is maybe not so average anymore. You evolved. You were the fairy girl, that weirdo loser girl, the wannabe girl, and the cheerleader girl. You were the emo girl who listened to music too loud through the high school hallways, the scene girl, the indie girl, and the hipster girl. You were that hippie girl who tried to fill the void and hide her emotions through crystals, astrology to cover up the pain from bad experiences. You grew. You are the hoop girl who was able to find happiness and self-love through dance. You are the girl who truly found herself. You were the girl that was so afraid to be an artist by not feeling good enough, yet became one anyway. The girl who overcame anxiety through yoga and could now finally make relationships with other people and not fear judgement after years of just that. The girl who was able to stand up to the people around her about who she is and who she wants to be. The girl who endured political conversations only to be told that she was a “young, female, college student, liberal, millennial that does not understand the real world yet.” Yet you worked your ass off in all of your course in history, anthropology, public health, human rights, politics, and international affairs. The girl who discovered the world, who fell in love in many ways, who formed relationships with the people around her, who found a home in her friends, in other countries, in her family, in the LGBTQ+ community, in Italy, and in Arcadia. Just the average girl who can now show to herself, when they call her name at graduation, that somehow she made it out and she survived.
I would not be where I am today without the all-nighters, the existential crises, and panic attacks. Without the friendships I made and the families that I discovered. Without the people that I learned from, the bad experiences, and the acceptance I found within myself when I was constantly looking for it in other people. I was so afraid of the uncertainties, of not being good enough, of traveling because of my allergies or money or fear or not making relationships, fear of not being liked and accepted. Because of my travels and my experiences in college, I’ve been able to overcome those fears. Of course there are still struggles, and there always will be. Graduation is almost here and I have an application sent to return to my country, my home, my Italy. Until then, I have been able to find myself finally comfortable within. And within my groups of friends, within my family, within Arcadia. Who would have thought I would find my way back home?