Ciao Milano!

I landed in Milan bright and early on a September morning. It was chilly and sunny, which is the perfect weather for me. It had blown my mind that just 8 hours before, I was in NYC, in my home, with my parents and my pets, all of whom I hold close to my heart. I was excited, yet super nervous to start this journey, especially without my parents, siblings or even best friend to hold my hand through it all- literally.

When I stepped off the plane and into the airport, everything felt normal. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary or different; people in the airport spoke English, and there were other Americans in close proximity considering we had just gotten off of a plane that departed from JFK- my main concern was getting from the airport to my apartment which was an hour away. I made it to a train called the ‘Malpensa Express’ which connects you from the airport to the central train station in Milan. My 5 foot 3, 135 pound self trucked my 80 pounds worth of bags and luggage across towns, transferring from the airport, to the Malpensa Express, to the metro. What an experience! I was so determined and focused on getting from one point to the next that I couldn’t even think about anything else.

However, when I got to my apartment, that is when reality set in. I am here. IN MILAN. WHERE I WILL BE LIVING FOR 3 MONTHS. Is this real life? I couldn’t believe it. I felt so overwhelmed with emotion, I couldn’t help but cry. I knew that these next couple of months would bring intense change for my life, and although I knew that it was necessary for this change to occur at this point in my life, I wasn’t exactly ready to step out of my comfort zone and accept that it was going to occur starting now.

Thoughts About Limerick

If you live in on-campus accommodation, you live in a village. These are a bunch of houses that each come with their own kitchen/living room, two bathrooms and multiple single rooms. You don’t have a roommate. Dorming is very different here. It feels to me like you have a lot more freedom and just more room in general. You really are living in your own house.  Having your own kitchen  is important because the norm is to make your own food. That was hard to get used to at first, but I enjoy cooking so I didn’t mind once I got used to it. It’s also really nice to have your own room. I also notice a huge difference in social interactions. It seems like people in Ireland are just generally so much nicer. You can strike up a conversation with people sitting at the table next to you at the pub and it doesn’t feel weird. People just seem generally more at ease with talking to people and getting to know them and it’s just really nice and really fun. People also dress so much more nicely when going to class. A lot of guys wear Adidas pants, but the girls can get pretty fancy with makeup done and nice clothes. I have yet to see a single person wear actual sweatpants to class. It’s a very different atmosphere. I feel like students are slightly more mature here, partly because of the way they carry themselves and the way they interact with others. But they also really know how to have fun. I have really enjoyed getting to meet new people here and observe how this culture differs from culture in the US. The international students here come from a wide range of countries

Arrivederci NYC!

Since my summer began, all that had been on my mind was my countdown until I would be in Milan, Italy. The range of my emotions were quite extreme- I was excited yet nervous, curious yet anxious. I had no idea what I would be flying into, considering the farthest I’ve been from home is to Hawaii- and that still is part of the United States! I’ve always had a desire to travel elsewhere, out of the United States and dive into cultures where I could only daydream what they were like. Yet here I was, about to travel to Europe for the first time, and completely immerse myself in Italian culture.

When choosing where to study abroad, Italy was on the top of my list; the Italian diets consists mainly of carbs and fish (both of which happen to be my faves), the Italian culture is so rich with history, and the university I will be studying at had courses that both sparked my curiosity while fulfilling my major requirements here at New Paltz. Day and night I would think about Italy- what I would eat there, who I would meet there and what I would learn there! Questions started to arise in my mind: Would I come back fluent in Italian? Would living in Milan make me more fashionable and push me to experiment with my style? How much pasta can I eat that is humanly possible? It all felt so surreal that I was going to actually be living there for an extended period of time.

As my summer dwindled to an end, and saying my farewells to family and friends, I couldn’t help but be ecstatic to embark on a new journey that would hopefully be a transformative one. Saying goodbye was definitely hard and tears were shed, but I knew what is to come will surely be amazing.

My First Few Days in Ireland

On the airplane heading to Ireland, I was talking to a few people before take-off and mentioned I was studying abroad in Ireland. I was so excited and I just wanted to talk to everyone and just tell them. I happened to be taking the plane with some people from New Paltz, so it was nice to have people to talk to before getting on the plane and departing. When I first arrived, I quickly unpacked and then activities for orientation week began. It was very overwhelming at first, and I’d be lying if I said it was easy. I was really homesick and anxious at first. I really missed New Paltz and loved ones over there, and of course my family. The feelings of homesickness I felt were similar to the feelings I felt when I came to New Paltz as a Freshman. The feelings I used to feel when missing home were now the feelings I felt toward New Paltz. I guess it makes sense, because if I weren’t in Ireland I would be in New Paltz, and I had gotten so used to it and had made myself a home there. But it was special for me to realize how much I had truly grown to love and appreciate New Paltz, and how much of a home it had become for me, despite the fact that when I first arrived, all I wanted was to come back home to Manhattan. While it was a really hard transition at first, things got better, and it definitely helped to rely on loved ones back home. There were a lot of texts, phone calls, and video calls to people back home. Changes like these always feel impossible to overcome, but with time, things get better, and I am really glad I decided to embark on this experience.

It’s Almost Time To Leave

I’m not gonna lie, the weeks right before I left for Ireland are somewhat hazy. I was a camp counselor for eight weeks during the summer, and two weeks before I left, I posted an Instagram photo from camp. That seems like it was so long ago now. Before leaving, I honestly wasn’t worried about it. I had become friends with a student from the University of Limerick when he studied abroad at New Paltz, and the idea that I would know someone when I got there was definitely a relief. I didn’t start packing until the night before I left, and I don’t think it truly felt real until then. Everybody kept telling me how awesome it was and what a cool experience it would be. When you tell people you’re gonna be studying abroad, people get really excited and it seems like it’s universally regarded as being this totally awesome thing. I talked about it a lot before I went, both to my friend from Ireland and my suite mate who had studied abroad there the semester before. It also always seemed to come up in conversation during the summer, with people from camp, with friends and with family. I was looking forward to it, but it also seemed like a far away event, basically until the night before leaving. There were some minor periods where the fact that I was leaving for four months would sink in, but it took a while for that to happen. It didn’t really sink in until a few days before.

Reflecting

It’s been about two months now since I’ve come home, I just turned twenty three days ago. I’m feeling very different. Coming home was hard, I didn’t readjust well to being treated like a kid again. In Prague I was independent and here it seems I can’t be even if I tried. As soon as I entered the country I felt this huge burden of the stupidity of our country. Something as simple as having to pay to get a cart for your luggage, that was free in every other country I went to and now I have to watch some old lady struggle with her luggage, sorry for ranting it’s just incredible how I also had better health care abroad than I do here. I’ve had the chance to taste a better way of living, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my trip to Paris and the bread/cheese I got to get from the markets. I think about my students and sometimes I get to talk to some friends that I made in Prague. If I had the choice to move there now, I would.

Watching the world from inside America again, I notice all the lies we’re fed, how terrible it really is to live inside this country right now. It’s idiotic. I’m not sure how I feel about staying after graduation, I honestly want to go back and take the job at the school that I was offered. Maybe I’ll study at Charles University once again.

Coming home

After the semester ended at Charles University, I stayed an extra three weeks to keep volunteering at the local high school. In those three weeks I felt I had built a life I would have been very happy carrying out and returning home to go to school to want to do what I was already doing at the high school seemed tedious. I knew I obviously had to come back home, but I would miss the students and the teachers I had gotten close to. Not to mention living in Prague was my actual dream come true. Traveling around Europe and seeing all these things I only dreamt of seeing made me feel so good inside despite how alone I was. Coming home gave me the worst anxiety actually; I didn’t feel like I had anything but my family to come home to (granted they’re great). I also don’t look forward to living in a country that is now ran by a dictator who is an obvious racist. I had lost an extreme amount of friends and support in general when I left to Prague. However, now I know I can leave again and that option is possible. I’m a better person in Prague, maybe that doesn’t exist and you are equally as good everywhere but I was happier there. At the end of my stay, I developed all my film and it was so nice to see my time through photos. Some moved me which sounds pretentious, but oh well. I went through so many stages while living abroad, I lived many different lives in that time. I grew up which is why I wanted to study abroad in the first place, I didn’t do it the way I wanted or planned, but I definitely changed.

Breaking stigmas about traveling alone & making friends abroad

Someone once said that traveling means nothing if you have no one to share the experience with. Well, that’s one of the most depressing things I’ve ever heard especially since almost all of my traveling has been done alone. I want to break that stigma that you need to travel with someone, that you need to make friends abroad. Traveling alone, living abroad alone, teaches you so much about yourself. Maybe it’s things you don’t like, things you need to improve, but don’t ever let anyone tell you that traveling alone doesn’t mean anything. It may mean more than traveling with people, honestly it takes a lot to be able to spend 5 day alone in a country you’ve never been before. So, take that leap.

You learn to love yourself more, even if you think you aren’t. Making international friends is such an amazing feeling that shouldn’t be played down because making connections all around the world is something of value. But it’s easy to fall into this idea that you must make friends, hey you might not vibe with everyone around you and that’s fine, this is your time. Spend it with those who matter.