I’ve written and re-written this post three times. The first at the Bologna airport after saying goodbye to my life in Italy. The second as I left for the last leg of my post-semester travel. And lastly now, as I sit in front of the fireplace with my family back home in the United States.
People always say that studying abroad will change your life and that you will come back a different person. I always found this a little cliché, but then again, how could living in a foreign country far from what you’re familiar with not shape you into a different person? I thought the city and the culture would do that, but not the people I met. I’ve always had a bit of a hard time letting people in, but over the course of the week I’ve found that it’s even harder to let them go.
The night before we left, four of my closest friends and I went out for a late night second dinner, followed by shenanigans around the city, and lastly dancing at Corto Maltese. You could see it in our eyes how we grasped at every moment desperately: every joke that was made, every song that was played, every hug or smile. When we laughed our mouths smiled but our eyes swelled with tears.
I’m not used to this kind of thing at all. I’ve never had a hard time saying goodbye because I’ve always had the security of coming back. When I leave for college every semester I know I’ll return to my family and my dog. When I left San Francisco and my best friend Sienna I knew I would be back for senior year. But leaving Bologna was so difficult because I was leaving a home and a family that I could never really return to. We all evolved together. Sure, I can come back to Italy in a year, but it can never be the same. And no one can ever fully understand what we experienced, even if we try our best to explain. This may sound somber or cynical, but it’s true, and that’s okay. I first wrote this post at the Bologna airport, and I gotta tell you, you’re lucky I’m editing this because 80% of it was about where I cried and why I cried. But after stepping back and taking time to myself, I’ve come to grips with saying goodbye.
So, to anyone thinking of studying abroad, or getting ready to embark on their next big journey, just know that you won’t see the change in the beginning, nor in the middle, but you will after the end. I’ve learned to be close to people, to allow myself to be vulnerable when I struggle through another language, and to welcome the unknown as I hop a city’s metro solo. You will make friends and memories that you’ll never want to forget. You will miss the security of your life back home and English. You will crave Chipotle and Thai food. You will talk about the things you miss about the US: friendly service, fast wifi, google freaking maps. But in the end you’ll beg to stay another semester.
Embrace every minute of your traveling experience. Every struggle and piece of information learned, no matter how little it may seem, is a cog in the overall transformation that is your semester abroad.