One of the best moments of my adult life was leaving on the plane to Milan on February 2nd, 2014. It was so liberating, so intoxicating, and so scary at the same time. I felt truly alive. But how did I get to that point?
I always knew I wanted to Study Abroad. It’s a “part of the college experience,” many say. However, the college experience is very different for everyone, and that largely revolves around money. My family doesn’t have much money at all, and most of my tuition is paid through financial aid. This year, I decided to explore my options, and somehow, the stars aligned in such a way that I had enough money to get started in my application to study abroad, and worked it out with financial aid to have money to live abroad.
I had been planning to study in Japan, with a year of Japanese under my belt already. When I went to look up the program dates, I found that I wouldn’t leave until April, and wouldn’t get back until two weeks before my senior year started. I knew I couldn’t do that, as I needed to work during the summer and prepare for senior year. So it was back to the drawing board.
I delved into my past a little bit, and decided that, since I had taken a few years of Italian in high school, that Italy was my best bet. Not to mention, Italian is my other favorite cuisine next to Japanese. I could eat pizza for four months (I basically do that at New Paltz). I quickly sent in my application and transferred into an Italian class at New Paltz. My father and sister were very supportive, telling me to take the chance and apply, even if I only had some limited funds. I got accepted, and almost cried tears of joy. I was leaving the country for four months, and going to Europe for the first time in my life.
The weeks before leaving were torture. It felt like purgatory; a life in slow transition. I was working my same busboy job at one of the most unprofessional restaurants I’ve ever worked at. The pay was horrible and the days dragged on and on. I spent New Year’s Eve bussing tables. I spent most of my free time reading 1000 page fantasy novels. When I was in the pages of those books, I wouldn’t be thinking about how scared I was to leave, or how disillusioned I was with the prospect of not being in America in a few weeks. I couldn’t make plans with anyone—I would be gone. It honestly didn’t feel real, like somehow I would just end up staying in America. I didn’t want to, of course. The idea of living in another country was so surreal, however, that the exact implications of it couldn’t fully take root in my mind.
A few weeks into winter break, I was lucky enough to go see one of my favorite musicians, Pat The Bunny, play in a loft in Brooklyn. He plays a folk-ish punk solo act, and he’s truly amazing. It was such a great experience to see him play live for the first time. He screamed and screamed and screamed, and my friends and I screamed back. I loved every second of it, but I was afraid of being away from such a culture in Italy. Punk culture really isn’t a thing in Italy, even among “alternative” youths. It really is a shame. I didn’t want to be away from all of these amazing people, but I had to if I wanted to go and experience new things. And honestly, that’s what studying abroad is all about; being out of your comfort zone to experience new, scary, and exciting things. I did get a shirt to take with me to Italy, though, and educate some Italians on some great music.
Now, like most students going abroad, I was in a romantic relationship. The two normally don’t mix. My girlfriend was studying in France, and we decided to stay in our relationship, despite the distance. We’re already long distance, so it didn’t seem so crazy. Besides, Italy and France border each other. It’s like living in another state. She left about two weeks before I did. You’d think saying goodbye would have been hard, but we were both hopeful. Besides, there wasn’t much time to dwell on these things; I was leaving soon, and had some major work to do before I was ready to leave.
If you think the DMV is bad, you really need to step into a Visa Office at a foreign consulate. One of the most nerve racking moments in bureaucracy I’ve ever had was when I was told I did not have the proper financial documentation to be issued a Visa. I had to go back, into New York City, in person, to give them proof of financial stability. You’d think this would be easy to get, but I had to go to three banks to get the information I needed. One bank gave me the wrong papers, but luckily, I fact checked at another bank and set that straight, and went to a third bank to get a document notarized. I gave my papers to the consulate, in person, and they had me come back, in person, at 9AM in two days to pick up my visa. Three round-trip train tickets to New York City and $65 later, I had my visa. I was ready for Italy.
The first thing I did was leave my job as soon as possible. I was barely getting paid anyway, and when you find out you’re officially leaving the country, you tend not to care anymore about an extra week of mindless busywork. You have people to see, people to say goodbye to, provisions to buy and pack, and only a week to decide which five books you want to bring with you. Suddenly, so many things seem so unimportant, even worthless. Pretty soon, you’re gone. Who cares about an unfilled water glass on table ten, or an extra fifty bucks in your pocket?
I also had a book I was editing for a record label, which I had to get finished before I left. The work was hard, but it ultimately payed off. The book’s going off to the presses as we speak.
I had some beautiful goodbyes. I roadtripped to New Paltz and saw a bunch of my college friends for the last time before I left. One in particular, Pauline, I hadn’t seen in 6 months. That was so fun to see her again. The goodbyes were so hard that I just sort of faded away when I had to leave, and only said goodbye to one or two people. I even realized how much I’d miss the random acquaintances, the people I’d just see at parties or walking around campus.
I had a nice lunch with my sister, who bought me some nice Calvin Klein shoes and a denim jacket, so people in Italy wouldn’t laugh at my horrible fashion sense. I was going to the fashion capital of the world—I at least needed to look decent. I had dinner at my great aunt and uncle’s house, and went out to BBQ with my another aunt and uncle. They told me they would pay for one of my plane tickets to travel—thanks for the trip to London, Uncle Pat and Aunt Donna.
My friends threw a party for me the night before I left. It was perfect. I realized how much I love all of these people I grew up with, and how, while our lives are diverging, we will always be close, and will be there for the moments that count.
The day I left, February 2nd, my dad drove me to the airport around 6 or so at night. We stopped for some coffee at a Starbucks—sitting there in the lounge, I think it finally hit him how I wouldn’t be there tomorrow, and it would be even harder for us to talk. He was so proud of me, though, and it felt great that he noticed how truly magical it was that I would be getting this experience. He dropped me off at JFK Airport, and I waited for my airline.
Getting on the plane, I truly realized how different my life would be soon enough. I would be forever changed by this experience. When I stepped off the plane back home into JFK in four months, the person I was would not be the same person I was in this moment. I was excited and terrified of this. I had all of the time in the world to be whoever I wanted to be. As the plane took off, I remember one feeling: liberation. I was on my way to see some of the greatest things I would ever, and will ever, see in my life. I was really free, and I couldn’t wait for my first slice of authentic Italian pizza.