I’ve been putting off this last post for three reasons: 1) I was traveling Europe for two weeks (Cinque Terre, Paris, Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, the Alps, Venice); 2) My sister’s graduation and visiting family; 3) I don’t want to face the fact that my study abroad experience is over. But it is and somehow I must face that fact.
Leaving Siena was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. How do you say goodbye to a whole life? How do you say goodbye to a family who has opened their arms to you? My housemate and I spent hours sobbing on our beds and sobbing as we walked through the streets of Siena and sobbing in the arms of our host mother. Maybe that wasn’t the best way to deal with it but it is all we could do at the time. Siena truly was an incredible city to call home for four months. I left a huge piece of my heart in Siena and I will never be the same. I am beyond blessed to have been given the opportunity. As Winnie the Pooh says, “I’m lucky to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
I haven’t adjusted to being home yet. I flip between not wanting to talk to anybody and wanting to tell story after story. The whole flight home I slept and generally felt like I was in a daze. Exhausted of emotions, I didn’t feel sad to leave anymore or excited to be home…I felt absolutely nothing. Numbed by the pain of leaving possibly, or simply unable to produce any more tears. The first things I noticed upon setting foot in America were the smiling workers, loudness of coffee shops, news on every tv, and free, clean bathrooms. It will take time to adjust. Some mornings I just want to be in my Italian kitchen drinking espresso and watching Pippi Longstocking in Italian with my brother. Other mornings I’m so content to be drinking my American coffee at our breakfast bar over a copy of National Geographic. For a month now I’ve felt in limbo between two worlds, two cultures, two lives. Even before leaving Siena, I was mentally no longer there, mentally lost and confused. And then I traveled for two weeks, having the most wonderful experiences and seeing the most beautiful places, neither in Italy or America, and now here I am physically back in America, but not quite mentally. My soul is still wandering, trying to figure out where it belongs now.
A few things I learned: Don’t be afraid to do things alone. Don’t jump to conclusions about other people’s lives. You have a small place in this world. But you can do big things. So have big dreams.
Study abroad. I can’t say this enough. If you ever have the slightest chance, go for it. I knew for years I wanted to study abroad. I went to a college with a good study abroad program and for two years I saved certain general education classes to take abroad, I saved my money, and I researched. And it was the most incredible experience of my life. I was challenged more than I have ever been challenged. I was pushed and pulled out of my comfort zone time and time again. But it was a beautiful four months and I wouldn’t change a day. I want to do it over and over again in every place in the world. I want to fall in love with more cities and valleys and countries like I fell in love with Italy. So do it. Make it a priority. Study abroad. Anywhere. Make it your life’s goal to leave a piece of your heart all over the world.
So here it is. A final Ciao-
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Ciao! I’m Mary and I’m blessed to spend the semester in Siena, Italy. I’m a junior double major in Psychology and English at Hope College in the charming West Michigan town of Holland. I grew up in the woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and love to go on adventures, have deep conversations, drink unnecessary amounts of chai tea, play the piano, become totally engrossed in books, and most of all—learn. I am very excited to be immersed in the Italian culture and beautiful language, learn to cook, and have the experience of a lifetime! I can’t wait to share my journey with you!</span></p>