Today I return home from a five week journey that has taught me a lot about the world, but also a lot about myself. I’ve thrown around the term “Grand Tour” with this trip quite a bit, but I honestly think that phrase is perhaps the best representation of what the past five weeks have been. I traveled, chiefly in Italy, to learn about culture and art, and did a great deal of growing up along the way. I’ve been collecting this list of “Things I’ve Learned” while I’ve been here, and I hope you enjoy my final thoughts on this magnificent journey.
1. Live in the moment.
This has been perhaps the most challenging thing for me to learn, but it is also the most important. As an incredibly busy person, I spend a great amount of time looking ahead to the next thing. This trip taught me to take time to really enjoy every bit of my day. Now I can honestly say that I take time to observe and just be present in every experience. It’s definitely not easy— it’s an active decision to enjoy every second, but it sure makes life a hell of a lot more fun.
I certainly have become a lot more independent during my time here. I feel stronger, and capable of really doing anything I set my mind to.
3. Going it alone does not mean you are lonely.
I spent a large amount of time doing things by myself on this trip, really getting to spend time with me. A year ago, I’m not sure I would have been able to do that and remain happy. But doing things by myself and for myself made my trip so much more valuable because I was able to do and see the things that I wanted to. Don’t get me wrong—I certainly was very social while abroad. I just value the time that I had to myself so much. I was able to take as long as I want just absorbing the art and culture around me, on no one’s schedule but my own. This is something that I hope to continue to carry with me. I am comfortable spending time with myself.
4. Old mini coopers are tiny.
5. Not all gelato is created equal.
6. You are allowed to miss the people you’ve left behind.
I went on this trip thinking that I wouldn’t get homesick at all— it was only 5 weeks. Needless to say by the end of week 3 I was starting to miss my friends and family. But that’s okay. It’s not a reflection on the time that I spent abroad; rather it shows me that I have an incredible network of people in my life. I had the time of my life in Europe, but I’m happy to be returning home.
7. Trains are often hot and smelly. But still seem more efficient than cars.
8. There are genuinely good people in the world.
9. Be proud to be American. But learn to be a citizen of the world.
I spent a good deal of time learning about Italian culture, and trying to hide the fact that I’m from the U.S. I then asked myself why I was doing that. Why was I trying to hide a crucial part of who I am? I felt embarrassed, like somehow I was worth less than the people from other European countries, worth less than the Italians or the Brits. But I’m not. I’m wearing my American flag shirt on this flight home because I am decidedly the counter example to the false stereotype that Europeans have. I am well traveled, well read and intelligent. I am polite, and carry myself with grace and courtesy. I also believe that there are truly remarkable things about the U.S. I am proud of my country.
This trip has taught me to celebrate my home as I learn about other cultures. I have learned more about what makes me “American” by studying in Italy. I think that it’s important that American students become members of the global community, but I refuse to be embarrassed of where I am from.
10. There’s nothing quite like being among your family.
11. Children act in the same way no matter where they’re from.
13. Jack Russell terriers can open doors.
14. McDonalds is really expensive in Italy.
15. Messy braids are the perfect way to dry your hair.
16. Forgive yourself for silly mistakes. They usually don’t matter, and ultimately you’ve learned something.
17. The best banana daiquiri in the world is at L’Art Bar in Florence.
18. First impressions are often wrong.
19. Walk if you can. You’ll see more of the world that way.
20. I am young. I have my whole life to tour the world. Take time rather than trying to fit it all in.
21. Love yourself and everything else will follow.
Ok, so I lied. This is the most important lesson.
My time in Florence, Saint Albans and London was remarkable. I feel that I have grown so much since I’ve been abroad, but I also feel that my mind has expanded a great deal. I feel more inquisitive now than ever, and there are so many books that I want to read and new places I want to go in my lifetime. I know that I have time to do those things, and I know that I will travel abroad again.
This is the happiest I have been in several years. I don’t think it was anything in the water of Italy or the Ale of England that helped me find my happiness, but I think its got a lot to do with what I’ve written above.
So if you’re thinking about traveling— even if it’s within your own back yard— Go. You will discover amazing things about this world, but more importantly, you will discover the amazing things about yourself.