Before I left to study abroad in Florence, Italy, I remember assuring myself: “It’s only 113 days, I’m sure it will go by fast.” I said this HOPING it would go by fast and that I would be back home with my family, friends and beloved Perfecto’s iced coffee and Dunkin Donuts veggie egg-white flatbreads in no time.
And go by fast it did. Now, I’m sitting here thinking to myself: “113 days, WHERE did they all go?? “ Seriously. Never in my 20 years on Earth has a period of time gone by so quickly. Never in my 20 years on Earth have I had a better experience.
Seven countries and twenty-five cities later, it’s back to reality. I think I speak for all Stonehill students and students in general who have studied abroad when I say that the change that occurs during this period is incredible. Although it may not seem apparent right away, the independence that develops regardless of where you are studying is unbelievable. You are living completely on your own, far away from family, friends, and everything that seems familiar. You need to adapt to a new language, food, cultural norms and traditions, and a completely different educational system. You are taking 12 hour overnight trains to foreign countries, buses to work, and walking for what seems like thousands of miles to school.
I will admit, it is frustrating at times to try and explain this experience to friends and family back home. Without actually being there and seeing and experiencing these things and actually knowing the people, our pictures, descriptions, and stories truly do not compare. For the most part, we return to a life where most things remain unchanged, yet we feel so different.
So, that leaves a very important question: HOW on Earth do we possibly cope with this? How can we deal with not being in the country we have grown to love, eating unbelievably large quantities of the food, traveling to some of the most beautiful places on Earth, and spending time with the friends who have become family?
We turn to the people we experienced this all with to keep it alive. The people we laughed with, cried with, and grew with. We share stories with other Stonehill students who have also returned from abroad. I come away from this experience with an innumerable amount of things. Friendships that will last a lifetime and a reason to visit new cities in the United States, appreciation of other cultures, increased Italian language abilities, the ability to work in a foreign country, and enough souvenirs to fill my entire room and possibly house.
Most importantly, however, we depart from these countries with better understandings of ourselves. We have learned who we really are as individuals, and who and what are really important in our lives. We have learned to temporarily let go of the familiar, and embrace the unknown.
Though I missed being away from my home away from home, Stonehill College, my semester in Florence has been the best experience of my life. However, it has also made me truly appreciate where I come from even more. I cannot express how lucky I am to have such supportive friends and faculty from Stonehill that have been there for me along the way. Most importantly, this experience has taught me how unique, and quite frankly, amazing Stonehill students really are. No matter where you go in the world and no matter who you meet, there is no one else quite like Stonehill students who all share a common understanding. As much as I would love to go back to Italy, I am unbelievably grateful and excited to return to the Hill in the fall. To all of the Skyhawks who have recently returned from abroad, I hope you had equally as amazing experiences, and I cannot wait to spend senior year with all of you.
Until next time Firenze, arrivederci.