It has been a little over one week since I have returned to the states. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on this adventure life presented me, working to find words to describe how I feel. Somehow, I have managed to condense it to one word. Gratitude. I have felt an overwhelming sense of joy and thankfulness that at times brought me to tears in the last four months. Many times, it was during moments when I realized that I was living a life I couldn’t even imagined for myself. I want to pause here on this train of thought, and let it sink in. I was living a life I never could have imagined for myself. There have been many times that I have had to step out of my own way to get here. Imposter syndrome would tell me that study abroad was not for me, or that travel was not for me. I think imposter syndrome keeps a lot of us from reaching our own potential. How are we able to live lives greater than our present, if we keep ourselves from dreaming so big that it scares us? In this life, I want to dream really big scary dreams. Moving to Europe was only a fraction of that big scary dream. I was still too afraid to dream that I would travel to 10 countries in four months, yet here we are. I can feel nothing but gratitude for this. So much so that I shed tears in public spaces when the emotion would wash over me like the sea hitting the shore. I cried tears of gratitude in Salzburg where The Sound Music was filmed, in Paris looking at the Mona Lisa, and as I walked through the streets of Florence. To be honest I’m sure my peers where a bit tired of hearing me say the word gratitude as I would repeat it over and over as we adventured through Europe. I said it as I looked at the Swiss Alps holding a cup of tea at the dairy our Airbnb was on. I said it in Venice when I floated on a gondola. I said it as I took a ride in the London Eye. I said it as I walked through a tour watching Parmigiano Reggiano being made. I said it to myself in Paris and many times in Florence.
Before I left for Italy, I was experiencing the worst case of burnout I have ever felt. I wasn’t excited for anything in my life. I’m not saying that I didn’t have wonderful things happening in my life. I had a wonderful job, great friends and roommates, and the constant support of my family, but the weight of the world felt heavier than it had in the past. My zest for life was gone. I wasn’t excited for my future, and frankly I was so stressed about making study abroad happen that I wasn’t as excited as I could have been about the upcoming experience. I called my loved ones crying many times about money, and I was considering going on antidepressants. I was trying so hard to fake joy in my life, especially around work and school. A few weeks ago, I was walking down the street in Florence listening to a podcast when the guest said, “I didn’t know how much I was carrying until I put it down”. This brought a flood of emotions and realizations over me, allowing me to see things happening in my life that I hadn’t quite perceived yet. I was carrying a lot before I left. I was carrying more than I realized. Fast forward 4 months and I had set it all down piece by piece. I had a zest for life again. I was excited for my future, and the ways that I was going to impact the world. I was excited to be me again. I realize there is great privilege in this experience, so this is when I come back to gratitude.
You might be wondering what my favorite part of all of this was. To be honest with you, I don’t know. There are too many moments, places, and stories to choose from. I’ve never really liked picking favorites of things, like food or movies, so I’m not sure I’ll be able to do it here. Instead, I’ll talk about my biggest impacts. A very obvious one to start out with is travel. Until this I had never been out of the US or frankly out of the middle parts of the US. It was so eye opening to see the world by stepping into difference cultures. Thankfully I travelled with women who were interested in eating local cuisine and attending traditional events (Highlight: I saw a flamenco show in Madrid, Spain). Through travel I saw things I never imagined I would witness with my own eyes (the Roman Colosseum, Buckingham palace, the leaning tower of Pisa, the Swiss Alps, and so much more). I travelled by bike, car, bus, train, plane, and many miles on foot. All miles I am grateful for. Another impact were the people. I didn’t know if I would meet friends that I would truly enjoy traveling with, so I had mentally prepared to do this all alone. Thankfully, I met some of the most amazing people on this experience. I think it’s interesting how we as people gravitate towards those with a similar approach to life. I met women going in all different career paths and goals, but the thing we had in common was that we were here to learn and travel. They are some of the most hard-working people I have met, and I can’t wait to see them accomplish their goals. School was another impact. I had the most wonderful teacher for almost all my classes. I truly enjoyed getting to learn from her. I have a strong interest in the global food system, and it was such a privilege to learn about Italy’s role in the system. Finally, Florence impacted me in ways I didn’t expect. There are obvious ways it changed me, like walking 7 miles every day on average, or making me obsessed with all things pistachio. But there are quieter ways it changed me. It changed me in the way that I appreciate the slowness of a day, and no longer want to over busy myself and miss my own life. It changed me in the way that I am no longer the first to move out of the way on the sidewalk. It changed me in the way that I would go to the market a few times a week versus one large grocery haul. During this time, I suddenly became a familiar face, and began to romanticize this life. I will miss the familiar faces; Gustapizza, the hotel doorman, and the man I would buy my apples from. I am changed in the way that I see this growth and refuse to go back to my old self. I have created space for intention in my life, and no longer want to fill the void with empty busyness. I suppose I am impacted the most by this. The way that I have filled my own cup up again. I don’t want it to go dry like it was 4 months ago. I want to have compassion for my precious time, and gratitude for this life I have built. Thank you Florence, you have changed my life.
Photos taken in Florence