While grabbing “un cappuccino” with my roommate before class this morning we both realized that it had been exactly one week since our arrival in Milan. When I first arrived I was beyond excited to start a new chapter in my life. As I stepped off the plane, I tried to wrap my head around the fact that I was finally in Italy. The Malpensa airport, unlike JFK, was quiet, calm, and quite pleasant. I initially thought of how I would be considered a resident of another country for an entire semester and was overcome by joy and happiness.
When I saw my campus for the first time, I was speechless. It was absolutely beautiful. Google images did not do it justice whatsoever. I was surrounded by other international students from places all over the world who shared my excitement to be part of such a wonderful experience. Of course, in this last week I have had to make many adjustments and will continue to do so throughout the semester. My large iced coffee was replaced by a teeny tiny espresso and my breakfast now consists of “brioche con crema” (one of the many delicious pastries Italy has to offer).
During this last week I have had to become much more independent and open-minded. I now live in a bustling city that is quite different from my small suburban home town in New Jersey. I have already met people from counties all over the world and have formed relationships that will last me a lifetime.
One of the most breathtaking views in Milan is, of course, the Duomo (pictured). My jaw immediately dropped as I approached it for the first time. I had never seen a church so large and so beautiful. Luckily, it is only a ten minute walk from my campus and is surrounded by numerous stores, restaurants and gelatterias! I am certainly still adjusting to my new home, but I am so incredibly happy to be here in Milano! Ciao!
A week before my arrival the nerves were setting in. I had a constant countdown in my head starting from the beginning of August right up until the day before my departure. As the numbers dwindled down to single digits I felt a combination of excitement, curiosity, and fear. I had only been to Europe once before for two weeks, but an entire semester abroad brought about a mixture of feelings I did not know I could feel all at once.
Studying abroad in Italy was my dream for as long as I can remember. I could not believe the time was finally coming when I would immerse myself in an entirely different culture in a place I had always wanted to visit. My trip did not seem real to me. I knew the reality of it wouldn’t set it until I was tucked away in my window seat of Alitalia. I did not know what to expect once I arrived in Italy. What would my apartment be like? Would I get along with my roommates? How many different schools were being represented at my new university? My head was spinning as new questions popped into my head every time I thought about my trip.
When I realized I only had a week to go before I embarked on this journey, I could not control my excitement. My suitcase was teeming with clothes I definitely didn’t need to bring (but when do I not overpack?) and my passport was ready to be stamped. Of course, I knew how hard it would be to say goodbye to all the people I love at home but I kept telling myself how amazing and memorable this experience would be.
I’ve been back in New York for almost three months, and I still think about Spain everyday. I knew that it would take me a while to get acclimated and find a new normal, and I’m glad I have a whole three months to do so. This summer I moved into New Paltz, took an online class, and started working at a rock climbing gym. I’ve also gotten to do a lot of the things that I love doing like going for hikes and practicing yoga. It’s comforting knowing that although a lot of things have changed, in a way some things have remained the same.
My level of Spanish improved greatly while I was aboard thanks to living with a host family, having all my classes in Spanish, and having local friends. When I got back, I knew that I wanted to continue practicing and not lose all that I had learned; however, it’s obviously very hard to maintain the same level of immersion, so I had to try extra hard to surround myself with Spanish music, movies, and books.
There’s nothing I love more than meeting someone who also travelled or studied abroad and sharing our experiences and comparing our opinions. I met someone at the gym that also studied abroad in Andalusia and it’s been great talking about how similar and different our trips were, and I also get the chance to practice my Spanish with him!
Talking to other people with similar experiences has been great because it was hard for me to talk to my friends about my time abroad because so much happened. Honestly, I found it a little difficult to try and sum up my time without just saying “it was so great, I had the time of my life!” My friend’s lives continued on normally, they experienced everything together, their lives weren’t put on hold for months. It’s difficult for me because now eight months have passed, and everything is completely different. I knew that I wasn’t going to come back and that everything was going to be exactly the same, but I also didn’t expect to come back to almost a different life.
Even though the I’ve lost touch with a few friends and the dynamic of some relationships have changed, I’m embracing the change because I also know that I am not the same person I was when I left. This whole experience has further solidified and taught me the belief that everything is constantly changing and progressing, and all we really have is this moment. No matter how good or bad something is, the moment will never last, so there’s no use in trying to make something last forever.
I’m really fortunate and happy I had the opportunity to study abroad and sad that it’s over, but it truly has taught me a lot and put a lot of things in perspective. I know for a fact that I’m not done travelling and this desire to explore has motivated me to continue to work hard in school and to save money to make travelling a priority in the future.
I can’t believe how quickly the Fall semester is going to start, and how long ago the beginning of my adventure feels. It’s been just about eight months since I boarded my plane to go an ocean away, and had my life changed for the better. I can’t wait to take more classes in Spanish and to also encourage as many people as I can to also study abroad!
Today marks the ten day countdown to my study abroad journey to Oviedo, Spain! I am more than excited to begin classes, meet international friends and my host mother, and to explore the city of Oviedo and surrounding areas. I am excited yet slightly apprehensive about this new experience. I know that once I arrive and get settled in with my host family, however, the nerves will pass and I will quickly get accustomed to the new lifestyle. In addition, I have been busy this past week arranging last minute details of the trip before I go. There is a lot of preparation and I know this experience will be well worth it. Overall, I’d like to set several goals that I hope to reach by the end of the program. My first goal is to improve my conversational Spanish speaking skills to a near fluent level. Secondly, I am eager to learn more about Spanish culture and the history of Oviedo. My third goal, though not as academic based as the first two, is to simply cherish this opportunity in every way possible by being immersed in a new culture and by meeting new people. I have a lengthy “weekend” list of places to go and landmarks to see, such as the rugged Picos de Europa and the breathtakingly ancient cathedrals. Obviously there is a lot to look forward to, so stay tuned, reader, as I embark on my study abroad journey to Oviedo, España!
It’s taken me longer than it should have to be able to write this post. I’ve been putting it off. And I actually wrote two or three other drafts that I completely scrapped because I hated them so much. For some reason, I feel like I’ve just needed this post in particular to be perfect. I want my words to be perfect. I want all of you reading this to read my words and somehow be teleported into my mind’s eye. So here goes nothing.
I left Besançon on May 21 at 9:56 a.m. That is the exact time that my train at Gare Viotte pulled out of the station. I think I left Besançon the only way I really knew how to: in a rush, without thinking about what was actually happening.
I had been out until 5 a.m. the night before at a party at my friend’s apartment. Most of my friends were there. It was a great last hurrah after spending the previous week in complete denial. The thought of leaving was making me sick and making my head spin.
Needless to say, at this party we spent the whole night drinking a bit and laughing a lot. We all danced and joked and talked and reminisced. We talked about where we would go after we left, who was leaving first and when, what those who were going to be staying were doing in the meantime and after the rest of us cleared out.
The thought of leaving all the friends I had made was too much to bear. I wouldn’t have gotten through the semester without the support of my fellow Americans, who understood the struggle of trying to fit in to French culture and society, trying not to seem too American and trying to manage our way speaking the native language all at once. It was nice having people around who could always relate to you and who could help you out along the way. It’s also nice to know that seeing each other again is just a drive to Toronto away.
I will never forget all of the other friends I made abroad, who come from all over the world, who have made such a lasting impact on me. I don’t know if they realize how much they have affected my world view for the better and how much I feel that they have made me a better person because of it. Though there was some comfort in having fellow Americans around and being able to easily speak English at times when I felt my brain would implode or overheat from overuse and trying to speak French, there were certainly more times than few where speaking French to all my non-anglophone friends was maybe even better. That’s what we were in France for anyway. Communicating with these friends and hanging out with them meant practicing. They made my French better, but they also taught me so much about where they come from, the way their lives are or were back home, and I got to learn a few Chinese, Korean, Thai, and Indonesian words/phrases along the way.
I above all learned from the people I lived with. But they should know this. Ben, like my other American friends, had already gone what I had been going through the semester before. I was scared and felt a little alone and was anxious to try to speak French. But we spoke in French together anyway despite our mother tongue, and he helped me when I didn’t know what I was saying. Laura taught me more about French culture and language and people than most of my professors did, and we got to bond and share music at the same time. Even if there were some language barriers at times, more often than not we would find ourselves laughing at something, whether it be stupid YouTube videos or Ben (you know it’s out of love). And Joelle was the second mother I needed when I really felt like I needed someone. She also taught me more about French culture and language than I ever could have possibly imagined. And my time abroad was seriously enriched because I lived with these people and from having known them. I miss them a lot. They know this too. And I will probably forever be nostalgic about my time living at 124 Grande Rue. It kills me to know that we will never live in those same circumstances ever again. I wish I could go back for a few days or a few weeks just to relive it again.
What really sucks about the act of leaving is knowing that you are leaving so many people you’ve grown to love behind, a life you’ve made yourself behind. Being back home has made me realize how foreign it all was. I feel like living in Besançon feels more like a dream than anything. A really great dream that I lived for a little while, then blinked one day and suddenly it was over.
I think it goes without saying that I began to cry as my train pulled out that sunny Saturday morning. I am at least a little thankful that I woke up late and had to rush out of the apartment so that I didn’t really have a formal goodbye with all that I was leaving. It was very quick and last minute, and Joelle really put the pedal to the metal as we raced to catch my train. But as I hugged her goodbye and held her hand it all became that more real and I had to face the fact I was leaving. I held it in until I got on the train and thank God my friend Jesse was there by chance otherwise I would have been bawling. Before the train pulled out Joelle opened the door one last time as tears were streaming down my face and I was trying to rearrange my luggage. She snapped a picture and I really would love to see what that looks like: me forcing a smile behind eyes welled up in tears, waving goodbye for the last time for who knows how long. The best way I could describe leaving was like the worst breakup ever, or like losing a best friend. I felt like my heart was being ripped from my chest. I felt homesick for Besançon the second the train started to move.
Having the opportunity to go visit family in Croatia definitely softened the blow and the heartache of leaving Besançon. I got to explore Zagreb and Osijek (the city where my dad grew up) and I got to discover so much about my family as well as myself there, too. I helped my cousins speak English and they helped me with whatever very basic Croatian I’m familiar with (‘bok’ means ‘hello’; ‘volim te’ means ‘I love you’; ‘kako si’ means ‘how are you?’; ‘ja sam se vratila kući’ means ‘I came home,’ which I had to repeat at least 15 times before I memorized how to say it so that I could say it to my dad and grandma upon arriving home; and the letter ‘s’ on its own means ‘with’ … that I will never understand). I even got to a ride a motorcycle! (Thanks Sale).
I saw a lot of cool places and met a lot of cool people and got to connect with family that I’d never met before. I don’t know how many people get to say they’re able to do that, but in any case I’m very fortunate. And also needless to say, I was also exceptionally sad to leave them too; it felt like connecting with a part of myself I never would have been able to otherwise, flirting with a life that could have been and then I had to pack my bags once again and leave a short 10 days later. I knew that if I looked my grandma’s sister Mira in the eyes as I hugged her goodbye for the third time, I would start bawling then, too, so I refrained because otherwise I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop.
Goodbyes are never easy. Leaving home in New York sure as hell wasn’t easy when I was leaving for France. But then you adjust and you make these places your home and the process of leaving becomes just as hard from the other side. In studying abroad and traveling, I learned so much about myself and what I am capable of, what it is I need help with, and that it is always possible to find a solution, and that there are always people there to help you and guide you and hug you or hold your hand when you need it most. The semester was hard for a lot of different reasons; adjusting to life in France, dealing with loss. But the goods outweighed the bad. You meet people. You see these amazing, different parts of the world. You go out of your comfort zone. You learn how to speak a second language, and you learn about dozens of others. You create friends from all over the world and suddenly you find that you have so many places and people to visit in the future. There are so many places you have to return to, lots of memories to relive, and lots of new memories to create.
A very new friend in France told me on my last night in Besançon that the Germans have a proverb that says “you always meet twice in life.” I hope that saying is true for so many things. For all the people I met, for all the places I visited, for all the feelings I felt, for all the experiences I had.
I’ll miss Croatian food and Croatian hospitality and my family. I’ll miss speaking French. I’ll my cute little room at Joelle’s with my window view of la Colline de Chaudanne. I’ll miss watching French sitcoms with Joelle and learning about the adventurous experiences she had as a traveler and English teacher. I’ll miss messing around with Ben and Laura at our kitchen table. I’ll miss the 5 bus because it was the only line I got a handle of over my five-month stay in Besançon. I’ll miss the people and the places like the Gare d’Eau or Place Granvelle. Maybe I won’t miss the rain so much. The sun of New Paltz has been pretty nice lately.
There is also a whole lot of comfort in knowing how easy it was to come back to New York and New Paltz. Coming home you don’t expect everything and everyone to be the same, but it is and they are. And though I may feel different for a lot of different, better ways, I haven’t really changed all that much. Everything is more or less the same, and after five months of complete unfamiliarity, there is a lot to be gracious for in the familiar. This was my home before I left and this is still my home now. I’ll probably miss Besançon and Europe for a long time and feel nostalgic whenever a memory pops back into my head, but being home in New York has never felt sweeter.
I’m grateful for the memories I made abroad. And someday I know I’ll come face to face with all of it again, and maybe the second time around I won’t be so scared. As the famous Pooh quote goes, and I don’t know that I could find a better quote that speaks to me so well than in this moment:
“How lucky I am to have something that makes leaving so hard.”
I’ll end this with a song, for nostalgia’s sake, and for knowing that the world isn’t as big as it may seem:
Merci beaucoup, j’ai appris trop de moi-même, et je n’oublierai pas mes expériences. À la prochaine, hein ?
We saw the show of Goya Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, epic in scale and elegant in detail. The National Gallery held original paintings and drawings by Leonardo da Vinci – what a treat to see those in person! I know you would have loved it. The Courtauld held paintings ranging from the ancient Renaissance, as well as originals by Georges Seurat, Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, Kandinsky, Reubens, Manet… Some of my favorite classical works that I’d often pondered over in art history textbooks, were right there for me to enjoy in all their painterly glory.
Aside from all the fantastic art we saw, both ancient and contemporary, it was quite interesting to immerse myself in the British culture. I learned that the phrase, “Cheers,” for example, can mean “Hello,” “Goodbye,” “Thank you,” and “You’re welcome.” I was especially impressed with the way the locals in London carry themselves. Everyone was so well-dressed at all times, for every occasion. The elderly women were especially well-put together with elegant coats, hats, scarves and shoes. There was something especially charming about the elderly men of the city, as well… In general, I thought the older folks were quicker to offer a smile and a kind word, than the ones of my own age who seemed a bit aloof. Even the homeless people who had so little, looked cleaner and neater than any I’d seen in New York, and for the most part, had better manners. Another thing I noticed is that in London, stores were more environmentally conscious and encouraged you to bring your own shopping bags. They would give you one if you needed it, but at an extra charge. I wondered if all of the UK and Europe is like this. Now that I am home in New York again, I have been remembering to bring my own shopping bags every time I go out. It’s nice to reduce waste. I am happy to have picked up this good habit in my travels.
All in all, I would highly recommend anyone study abroad. Aside from all I’ve learned, I also gained a sense of poise and confidence in myself – and my ability to navigate the unknown – deeper than anything I’ve felt before.
This probably sounds really stupid but if you asked me where Prague is two years ago I would not have been able to tell you. In fact, I wouldn’t be able to tell you where quite a few places I visited were. Maybe I am just ignorant, or maybe they were too busy teaching us how to take standardized tests in school to teach us any geography.
Whatever the case may be I am happy I am now getting to see Central Europe. When else in your life will you go see these places? To see the beauty in Vienna and realize it is a truly magnificent city and no wonder Billy Joel wrote a song about it. And what is there is to do in Hungary, nothing right? Wrong. I could have spent days, weeks, maybe all my life in Budapest browsing the markets and relaxing in the thermal baths.
And let’s not forget the food. I never thought I liked perogies until I went to Krakow and ate proper, fresh ones filled with bacon, spinach, mushrooms, anything tasty—way better than those frozen ones from the supermarket that my dad and brother eat constantly for some reason. And you have not had a good dessert until you have tried a trdelnik, how amazed I was with the concept of a hollow pastry coated with sugar and nuts and filled with ice cream (Why have I been deprived with only Friendly’s ice cream my entire life?)
Everywhere you look here there is beauty, and it is breathtaking every time. America cannot compare to the old and incredible architecture that exists here. Literally, it feels like a story world and we are all the characters living out a fantasy.
To be entirely honest I was not sure where I was going with this blog post when I started it, but writing it made me realize that I am learning so much here. I am experiencing so much about the world that I did not even know existed a short time ago. And it just makes you wonder how much more is out there, what else you have been missing.
In addition to learning the value of and feeling grateful for the presence of my group to depend on, I also learned that there is a priceless value in feeling useful to the people you are with. Before we left, I had scouted out a great deal on prepaid SIM cards that some of us used in our smartphones, having local UK phone numbers and data plans for using Google maps to get around. Within the first few days, I found a new supermarket that had much more reasonable prices than the local one recommended by our program. I was also able to figure out a “journey planner” on the website for Transport of London, helping us get from point A to B to C and home again. I felt an unexpected, deep sense of happiness that the others benefited from my discoveries, and that I felt useful to the group.
Our itinerary for the duration of the two weeks was wall-to-wall, back to back events of all the art, history, and theatre that London has to offer… And what a city to immerse oneself in the arts! London has it all. We saw a play at the Gielgud Theatre in Picadilly Circus, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. It was so good, I wept. Not only was the writing and acting excellent, but they had a unique way of bringing the stage to life and making the performance very physical. It was truly art at its finest. We rode the London Eye and got the best view of Westminster Cathedral and the Tower of London… And true to London weather, there was a sunshower that left everything sparkling majestically through the gray on River Thames.
We visited Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Serpentine Galleries, the Courtauld Galleries at Somerset House, the Marianne North Gallery, Kew Gardens, Kensington Gardens, the British Museum, the Newport Gallery (where Damien Hirst was exhibiting a portion of his private collection). We took a tour of street art and graffiti in Shoreditch, which was perhaps a little too “hip” to be taken seriously (and something about the very idea of a tour of street art didn’t sit right with me)—but nonetheless, it was decidedly very cool to see some Banksy, Space Invader, Swoon, and Endless right there in person. You would have probably really enjoyed that tour, as well as our visit to the Pure Evil Gallery.
Yesterday I woke up from a nap to my host mom, Joelle, asking me if I wanted her to cut my hair. I’ve been needing a change. I’ve also been in need of sleep.
I ended my weekend by waking up late on Sunday morning. I wrote my last blog about the Tour du Monde and then made plans to meet my friends at Place Granvelle, around the corner from my apartment, to enjoy the Carnaval festivities. I ate a hot dog on a baguette (very French), admired the couples dancing in the drizzle, and felt a happy nostalgia looking at little kids walking through the park with their pastel pink barb à papa (cotton candy). Then my friends and I spent two hours on Grande Rue watching the marching bands and other spectacles go down the street for two hours. There was a lot of confetti. My feet were tired but I was happy.
I went home to eat dinner with Joelle and do my homework, which ironically was on the subject of “le bonheur,” or happiness, what happiness is all about, and the like.
Right before I sent my homework in to my professor I got a message from my best friend Kate. “Are you up? I need to talk to you,” she wrote me. I sensed the urgency in her message but only assumed she wanted to vent about school or friends or relationship stuff. I wish I had been right. Instead, when she finally gave me a call, I heard her voice as well as the voice of my other best friend Jess, as both of them tried to hold back tears as they told me the devastating news of the passing of our friend Tom.
I thought I heard wrong. Everything stopped for a second. And then I began to sob. I spent the rest of the night crying and on the phone with friends abroad and on the home-front. Talking and crying together and demanding an answer for why this terrible nightmare was happening, why it had become real life.
The rest of my week has been spent in the company of spurts of sobs, nervous anxiety, and Tom’s “Good Stuff” playlist on Spotify. I was jittery in every class I managed to go to. I tried to keep it together as much as I could. I’ve been missing class. I’ve had trouble sleeping. I’ve had trouble concentrating.
I’ve had “Aphasia” by Pinegrove and “Big Black Car” by Gregory Alan Isakov on repeat. I’ve been remembering Tom’s laugh and how tiny my 5’3 stature was next to him standing at 6’3. I’ve been remembering his easy, comforting, silly nature and not to mention his Long Island mom impression. I’ve been too busy trying to figure all of this out, trying to wrap my head around it, unable to.
But through it all I have been in constant contact with my friends back home, as well as a few of my girlfriends who are abroad like me. It’s been one of the only things getting me through the week.
We’ve all been talking. Venting. Reminiscing. Thinking. Simply comforting each other. Trying to forget for a moment and giving each other something to laugh about instead.
Being far from home hasn’t been easy through all of this. I’ve found myself needing my best friends more than ever and it’s hard being thousands of miles away from them. My friends and I abroad tried to make plans to meet somewhere just to be with each other, to have some familiarity, as that is what we have all been lacking while we are across the ocean from our New Paltz family. We first made plans to meet in Florence. When that didn’t work out, we tried for London. That didn’t work for all of us either. But I’m glad that my friends Hara and Becca got to spend a few days together to be there for one another.
I’ve particularly had a hard time in terms of expressing myself, given that I talk to most people here in French. More often than not I have just given up and started speaking English. My professors have noticed I am not entirely myself, have asked me what is wrong and have tried to comfort me. My foreign friends have noticed it too, and as it is too hard a subject to communicate in French, they have just managed to understand me with nonverbal communication. It’s amazing how sweet and caring people can be even when you don’t actually say much of anything. It’s amazing how much people can still comfort and understand you.
Thursday my two Chinese friends (Meitong & Yuqi), one Japanese friend (Mayuko) and one Indonesian friend (Angga) and I spent the entire afternoon sitting by the water, followed by sitting in the cat café across from my apartment. We spent our time drinking coffee and teaching each other expressions, whether funny, vulgar, loving or otherwise, in each other’s native languages. I laughed and I forgot about everything for a while. I was in good company and that was all that mattered.
Through all of this I have learned how important it is for people to be there for each other, to be empathetic and sympathetic and to reach out to those who are hurting. I am blessed to have solid support systems on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. I wouldn’t be able to get through this without either of them.
When dealing with loss abroad, it is important to be there for the people who are going through these circumstances alone. To let them cry on your shoulder. To simply ask them how they are doing or if they are okay.
It isn’t easy going through it on either end – whether abroad or at home. But it’s important to know that you aren’t alone. That there are people around who care about you and love you. Who want to hear you out and comfort you and make you forget the heartbreak for at least a little while.
Thursday morning my professor Claire noticed I was still not myself. We were doing an exercise where we had to differentiate the past tenses. She chose whoever to act them out so that we would have a better understanding through a visual context. We got to an exercise that dealt with someone walking in a classroom and everyone applauding. I knew she was going to call on me. And of course she did.
I walked out of the classroom and walked back in to applause from all of my friends, going along with the exercise, everyone laughing and smiling, having a good time and making me feel good. I knew Claire had done this for me just to make me smile and laugh, to make me feel a little bit better, to see a real, unforced smile on my face again. It worked, and it almost brought me to tears.
So if there is a lesson to learn from this saddest of all weeks maybe it’s this: love is imperative. And it is so important to lift each other up. Be there for your friends and loved ones. Try to make them smile in any way you can. Let them know how important, how integral they are to your life. Share your love. Let it be heard and felt and known. All it takes is a phone call, a hug, a listening ear or simply just a hand to hold.
Despite all the heartache and despite all the miles in between, I know that all of our broken hearts will be mended, in some way or another glued back piece by piece. Love is imperative. Your love is imperative. The love of your friends and family is imperative.