Italia, ti amo

Jessica Costello

Every time someone asks me about my study abroad trip to Italy with the College of Communication and Information, I subconsciously roll my eyes. Not because I’m sick of talking about it or because I hate reflecting on it, but because I’m annoyed that I haven’t come up with the best answer yet.

“It was great!” or “time of my life!” or even worse: “It was really awesome!” What a lame answer. Unless they have the better part of the afternoon free and the thirst for a half dozen cups of coffee, those words are the best I can do. Where do I start? The weekend trip where my new friends and I slept on the beach? Or the time we missed our flight back from Dublin? It is impossible to explain emotions of living in one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

Every time I look back on pictures, my eyes fill with tears. Not because I’m sad I had to leave, but because of my overwhelming happiness and gratitude for every single moment I spent in Europe. Not everyday was a fairytale. There were days where I didn’t feel happy or I wasn’t having fun. But everyday I was challenged, and for that I was grateful.

Arriving in Italy is still foggy. I was tired, it was hot and as I looked around, it resembled a dirty American city. The entire taxi ride to our apartment I couldn’t help but think, “This is it?” Then as our taxi driver headed straight to the city center of Florence, I saw the city’s largest cathedral for the first time: the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. Every negative thought was completely washed away. Seeing that cathedral for the first time took my breath away, and I knew from that moment, Italy was going to capture my heart.

Our apartment was just a block behind the cathedral. We could see the dome of the cathedral from our kitchen window and hear the bells every morning at 7 a.m. Making the hike up three flights of steep stairs to our ancient apartment every day was a workout, but it was worth it.

Below our apartment, the constant clanking of dishes and people talking in a restaurant was like a lullaby. The Italian language is so beautiful, everything sounded like a song, not to mention the chef who would sing in Italian at the top of his lungs on a daily basis. Coming from a small town, I’ve wanted nothing more than to live in the heart of a city and be completely surrounded by noises, smells, and conversation (whether I could understand it or not). I couldn’t even think about leaving this place.

By day three, my friends and I knew the city back to front, side to side. We had spent the first week walking the whole city from morning to night, most times we weren’t headed anywhere particular. If I wasn’t up by 9 a.m. and out all day, I felt like I was wasting precious time.

On our fifth day my roommate Ally walked into my room and said, “We don’t really have any where to stay, but we’re going to the beach, do you want to come?”

Naturally, my first reaction was “you’ve got to be (beeeepin’) kidding me.” At the same time it was an instant adrenaline rush. I was scared, but I knew I had to step outside of my comfort zone and push myself. That is what I came to Italy for.

So there we were, all 10 of us, standing in the Florence train station asking for tickets to the nearest beach. No reservations, no clue where we were going … most of us had never even been on a train, let alone traveled our way through a foreign country.

We arrived in Monterosso, which is part of Cinque Terre, meaning five cities. We just made last call at the local bar and had some laughs with a family from Great Britian. We spent the rest of the night playing in the ocean, climbing rocks and getting to know each other. I finally passed out on a beach chair for about an hour around 5 a.m. When the sun came up we brushed our teeth with water from bottles we brought and grabbed a light breakfast from a pasticceria. Once the beach officially opened, all 10 of us grabbed a chair and took a nap until the early afternoon. We spent the rest of the day kayaking, soaking up the sun and eating coconuts, taking the three-hour train back to Florence.

We had gotten the travel bug. Most of my friends travelled almost every weekend outside of Italy, others did only a few trips. I went to six countries while I was in Europe: Ireland, France, Germany, Switzerland, Scotland, and England. Every place taught me something new. Looking back on my trip, I can’t remember activities or events; I can remember only the feeling of being there.

A part of me felt like I had been there for only a week and the other half was anxious I was running out of time. When I looked at my tentative travel schedule, I couldn’t help but feel like I wasn’t doing enough. I thought I could satisfy my apprehension of my new lifestyle with more travel. Sometimes I’d wish I didn’t have a home base in Florence. That instead, for an entire four months I would be hopping from hostel to couch surfer to catching zzz’s on the train.

But once classes were in full swing, I’d lost my sense of adventure all together. During the weekdays, I’d spend upward of three hours on my computer. I felt guilty about spending so much time in my apartment communicating to home instead of exploring the city.

Within the first month of my trip, I got homesick. I know, how could anyone imagine being homesick when you’re jet setting every weekend? I felt like I wanted so much more out of Italy but at the same time, I lacked motivation. For some reason I became distant, frustrated that my Italian wasn’t good and I couldn’t get the hang of my new, crazy lifestyle.

How do you control not wanting to feel what you feel? I didn’t want to miss America, but I did. I didn’t want to miss American food, but I did. I didn’t want to look forward to going home, but I did.

So, I made a list. I wrote down all the things I loved about Florence and all the things I didn’t. I had only one thing on my “dislike” list. I surprised myself. If I came up with only one thing that I didn’t like about Italy, then why I was I complaining?

That was all I needed. From that point I made a promise to myself to give every day my best attitude and positive energy. Eventually I got into a routine and had a stable lifestyle. I did my laundry every two weeks, walked to the grocery store every few days, took time for homework and still enjoyed the city.

It became hard to imagine returning to my American lifestyle. I loved walking cobblestone streets in the early morning to go to class. I had my favorite lunch spots and I lived for the nights my roommates and I would make homemade popcorn and watch movies. I finally realized I had a life in Italy. I became less concerned about how my life was and more about how this experience was going to change my life forever.

Sometimes I forget details about my trip. The funny jokes and the good times fade, the tears and the frustrating moments are forgotten. What I remember the most and hold on to so dearly are the nights I spent with the people I barely knew. I went into this experience not knowing anyone. I judged them and can honestly say I didn’t think I would become friends with half of them. They became my family and the best friends I never had.

When people ask if I would go back, I always say no. I will go back to Europe some day, but I could never wish to go back to study in Italy because the experience won’t be the same. I won’t be with the same people or be in a point of my life to learn as much as I did. There are things I miss dearly about Italy, but the things I’ve seen and the people I left with are what made the trip such an incredible, life-changing experience.

Contact Jessica Costello at [email protected]