Ciao everyone! I’d like to welcome you back, one last time, to my blog, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for following along with my adventures around Europe over the past three months. After many exciting, action-packed weeks in Italy, my semester abroad has sadly come to its end, but the impacts it has had on my life are still just settling in. As I reflect on my time overseas, all of the lessons I learned seem to unravel once again, reminding me to not go back to being lost in the busyness of American reality right away, but rather, to take the positive insights I was given into the Italian culture and incorporate them to my life every day. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to allow my experiences and encounters abroad to inspire my writing for the final time on the MSMU Travel Page and hope that they encourage you to continue your unique journey around our amazing earth as well.
Although it now feels like an eternity ago, I will forever remember the night back in January that I was preparing to depart for the trip of my lifetime: dresses, jackets, shoes, and jewelry were scattered all over my room as I anxiously attempted to shove everything into a suitcase. After realizing that there was no possible way of fitting all of the belongings I wanted to bring in one bag, I pulled out another and began filling it with unnecessary items that I convinced myself I would need to survive the semester. When my mom came upstairs to find me basically trying to take my entire life overseas with me, she told me that I didn’t need all of this stuff; that I needed two pairs of shoes at most, a few outfits, and that was it. Instead of listening to her advice, I laughed it off like usual, and as always, she ended up being right, which I didn’t admit until I found myself dragging luggage that weighed more than me throughout the streets of Italy. I was forced to carry the weight of my consequences both as I arrived in Florence when I would’ve told you that I absolutely needed all of these items and as I rushed to catch my flight back to the States. This is when I realized that I actually didn’t need a single thing in my suitcase, for each and every material object in there meant nothing next to the unimaginable experience I just had.
From the minute we landed in Florence, my attention instantly turned to and was captivated by how old everything is; the roads, houses, bridges, churches, buildings, almost all from the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries. Although a lot of them were not in perfect condition, but rather, very run down, and some, even falling apart, there was a beauty about them that I have not seen anywhere in the United States. Dilapidated areas in America are typically looked down upon, yet in Italy, peoples’ gazes are drawn towards them, for there is an indescribable artistic element to the aged architecture that does not exist anywhere else in the world.
The more I traveled throughout the breathtaking country, marveling at thousand-year-old monuments in the various cities I visited, wandering their ancient streets, and exploring their traditional churches, the more I began to appreciate the outdated, which simultaneously made me wonder why the new and advanced is so often advertised as the best. Whether it be the newest car, the newest phone, or the newest kitchen appliance, the new is always marketed to make life look easier and more enjoyable in America. Attracting people with the promise of saving them time and enabling them to fit in, these items easily entice the mass, causing them to spend copious amounts of money on temporary pleasures. While these items may very well be useful, they are oftentimes made out to be so much more; sometimes, even all that matters in the moment. Although they are meant to make us more free, giving us back time that will grant us opportunities to do other activities, they quickly consume more of our being than we notice, for the pursuit and upkeep of them becomes never-ending. As soon as we put money into a purchase that seems as if it will satisfy us, it is not long before the next best thing is being publicized, tempting us to leave behind the old and acquire the new. This cycle is endless and over time, it appears as if we need to work an insane amount of hours every week just to keep up with these extraneous expenses. When I embarked on my college career, this is the exact impression I was under: that I needed to earn a degree and then work tirelessly in order to live. However, my semester abroad has opened my eyes and reoriented my outlook, revealing that our experiences hold so much more meaning than the material and that most of the best things in life are, in fact, free.
After immersing myself in the Italian culture and witnessing the ways in which they prioritize family, fresh air, quality time, recreation, entertainment, and conversation, I can confidently state without second guess that ultimate happiness does not come from wealth, objects, or even success, for when I look back on my semester abroad, it is not the souvenirs or my accomplishments that I think of. What floods my mind and what makes my heart overcome with excitement are the unforgettable memories that were made in the place where I had the privilege of living for an entire academic term, where I learned lessons that I have been overlooking for many years in America. Watching magnificent colors paint the sky from Piazzale Michelangelo every evening at sunset, pausing to listen to the lovely sounds of live music that filled the air on almost every corner, stopping to admire all of the amazing artwork that decorates the city, taking walks along the Arno River no matter what the weather, getting to know my peers that also went on this trip along with the locals alike, and simply embracing the adventures that every second offered are just a few of the daily occurrences that made my time in Europe so special. Rather than leaving with a suitcase full of new items, I said goodbye to Italy with a mind full of amazing memories, strong friendships with people I did not know three months ago, and an enhanced love of travel in my heart, which is more than I could have ever asked for and better than anything I have ever bought in a store.
This world holds so much natural beauty, a kind that can not be found online or at any mall, a type that is not meant to be paid for, but plainly enjoyed, a form that fills us with a sense of awe and wonder about this astonishing earth that God created for us. It is in our power to seek it, embrace it, and prioritize it, which will become much easier as we break free from the chains of consumerism. Ever since I arrived home, this has been my mission: to declutter my life from everything that directs my attention away from what really matters and to make myself readily available for my next international journey. The fact that I will not be able to bring all of my belongings doesn’t make me apprehensive anymore, as I now know that there are so many greater things out there that await. Instead of filling my house with things, my hope from here on out is to focus my energy on filling my mind with knowledge, memories, experiences, and relationships that I will be able to carry with me anywhere I go. I thank you again for allowing me to reflect once more, and want to leave you with this question to ponder: If you had to pack your life up in one suitcase, would you be able to do it?