Studying abroad in Italy was one of the best choices I have made in my life thus far. In the first section of my pre-departure essay I talked about some of the things I was looking forward to doing when in Italy.
People watching was high on my list of things to accomplish in Italy, as silly as that may sound. The thing that I found most interesting about watching the interactions between the Sicilians was that the conversations were more calm and laid back than I thought they would be. I would find myself sitting down at a café and watching the tables around me converse. Most of the people had soft smiles and were casually drinking a coffee or eating a pastry. My previous thoughts were that they would be loud and obnoxious, but they turned out to be more relaxed. These actions go along with the thing I call the “Sicilian pace”. The Sicilians are never in a rush to get anywhere and if they are late, it is no big deal at all. Whenever we are rushing to get back to our apartment or make it to class on time the locals don’t seem to care. They are enjoying the moment and what is going on around them rather than making sure they are on time and there is something filling up every part of their day.
Another thing that I was looking forward to was learning the Italian culture and customs, specifically their Catholic traditions like Easter. I not only got to see the Vatican twice, but I also got to see the Pope and listen to him speak. This was a very holy and humbling experience for me. I visited Rome for the second time while I was with Mallorie and her parents. We did not plan to see the Pope that day, we were only planning to visit the Vatican and climb up to the top of the dome. As we got closer and closer we noticed hundreds of people standing outside and waving big flags. I approached the security guard and did my best to ask if we would be able to get inside the Vatican. He proceeded to tell me that the Pope was going to be making an appearance in less than 30 minutes and then in a couple of hours the Vatican would be open to the public. I automatically felt anxiety. After the Pope drove by and spoke for a while we left and I could not help but feel overwhelmed with thankfulness. I was so thankful to have been blessed with that experience.
The Easter tradition wasn’t all that different from America. In the states my family gets together to make food, have an Easter egg hunt, play outdoor games, and catch up on life. In Sicily, they do the same types of things but on the Monday after Easter. Susi was kind enough to invite us out to her country house for the big Easter festivities. We ate lots of food, played lots of soccer, and had lots of meaningful conversations. I did not think that Easter in Italy and the Easter that I know back home would be so similar. I really enjoyed this part of our journey, because this was around the time that I started missing home. I felt homesick much later than I thought, but was soon rescued by Susi’s hospitality and awesome bread rolls. Experiencing such similarities and an overall “family feel” made me appreciate the place I was at and my family more than I thought I would.
I made leaps and bounds as a person while abroad. One of the biggest things that I have learned about myself was that I can be independent anywhere I go and still feel safe and content. Before the trip I never wanted to eat out or grab coffee alone. It made me feel lonely and I was always worried about what other people were thinking. While in Sicily I visited many cafés alone. I remember a specific instance when I travelled to Café Viola alone, ordered a cappuccino, and enjoyed myself. I thought about many things and expanded my mind while watching the locals go about their day. I realized that being alone can be a good thing and can help you focus on yourself and your own thoughts in a positive way.
My taste buds made a drastic change as well. I learned to try many different things including tomatoes, squid ink, balsamic vinegar, and zucchini. Before coming on this trip I was very picky about what I ate and my taste buds were not mature enough to try new things. I really enjoyed all of the new foods I was presented with while abroad and am missing them more than I thought I would, especially the blood oranges!
One last thing that I learned while being in Italy was that when someone presents you with a great opportunity you need to do it, even if it scares you. I climbed up the Eiffel tower, jumped off the top of a boat into the sea, and even stayed in a hostel with a creepy 55-year-old man. Guess what? I am still alive and am so happy I chose to take the leap of faith and experience those things. As a person you do not truly live until you exceed your comfort zones and being abroad was the perfect place to do so.
Overall, the time spent in Italy will never be forgotten and I plan to go back in the near future. I cannot wait to take my family to all of the places I have been and the place I was lucky to call home. Ortigia, as well as Sicily as a whole, taught me many things about myself and I could not have asked for a better group of Morningside students to help make this an experience of a lifetime. I will never forget the experiences I had and the great people I met while studying abroad in Italy 2016.