10 Things I Learned from Living 10 Weeks in Italy

10 Things I Learned from Living 10 Weeks in Italy

That’s right… she’s back! Airplane Mary has done quite her fair share of traveling since this summer and I am ready to tell you all about it. After studying abroad, interning, and visiting family, I covered a lot of different bases for travel that I want to talk about and expand on in future posts. For now, I thought it was important for me to get back into blogging by reflecting on how much traveling last year taught me.

It’s so true that seeing the world changes you. You may not notice it until you make your way back home, but your perspective, energy, self-awareness, and goals are all affected and inspired by putting yourself into a new culture. My experience traveling this time was unique in that I was with other Americans sometimes, sometimes by myself, sometimes with my Italian family… so I focused less on social media and the blog during my travels so that I could spend my time being present. Now in the future, I don’t see that being my goal. But because this was not just traveling and also a part of my college experience, I wanted to make sure I made real memories and connections with people over these past 3 months.

I spent 6 weeks on a study abroad program in Florence, Italy, stayed an extra 2 weeks in Florence to intern and wrapped up the adventure in Sicily, visiting family for 2 weeks.

So, let’s get into it. Here are ten things, from the mushy, profound, life-changing things, and the fun, minute cultural quirks I got to know after living in Italy for 10 weeks.

  1. Say Yes – Oh how my life has changed… if I learned anything this summer, it was that my best and most memorable experiences always followed my saying yes. Before traveling, I crippled myself with anxiety about going out and leaving the house. This anxious fear disappeared over my ten weeks in Italy because the more I said yes, the more amazing memories I made and the more I saw that everything was okay and I didn’t have to worry so much with my anxiety. So absolutely – come from a place of yes, always!
  2. Make Connections – My summer would have been nowhere near as amazing as it was without opening myself up to meeting people along the way. I became best friends with peers from school but even more special to me was making local friends. It is not always easy to reach out in a different culture and try to make connections with locals, but it is incredibly worth it to get to know people who live where you are traveling and learn about their way of life. It’s also so wonderful to keep in touch with these people that you have made meaningful connections with!
  3. Knock Out the Tourist Attractions First – When you get to a place that you know you will be in for an extended period of time, you push off seeing the big attractions that make the city so famous. I suggest getting the big tourist spots out of the way so you can enjoy them instead of trying to pack them in the last minute, or even worse, missing out on them! I lived down the street from the Duomo for 8 weeks… and I never went inside… BIGGEST REGRET!!

    Even though I left the tourist attractions for last, I’m so happy I got to see the David… it is truly the most intricate and spectacular piece of art I’ve ever seen.

  4. Get Lost – My favorite thing to do was walk around Florence and get to know all of its streets in the various neighborhoods – and a lot of that came about because I would get lost! Now I don’t suggest getting lost in the middle of the night by yourself, but take a stroll to a new gelato shop or walk off the touristy streets to find the more local neighborhoods. It can be daunting at first, but the hidden gems stay hidden if you don’t stumble upon them!
  5. Fare una passeggiata – This is a common phrase in Italian that simply means “take a walk.” But the passeggiata plays a key role in Italian culture – after you finish a meal, typically lunch or dinner, you walk it off to settle your stomach, but what really happens is you take a moment to be worry-free. Taking a passeggiata became a ritual for me and my friends in Italy. It was a time to enjoy each other’s company while getting over those big carb-filled Italian meals. 

    The city streets of Florence may be full of tourists at times, but more than anything are rich with art and culture. This street sign has been made into art by famous Florentine street artist, Clet.

  6. Take as many pictures as possible – I’m a photographer, so taking photos is something I’m itching to do all of the time. A lot of what I did this summer was very point-and-shoot and not so much full on shoots for getting the perfect shot, and that’s something that I have to be okay with (even though I’m my own worst critic)! I wish I would have taken even more than the thousands of photos I took. Capture every possible moment that you can in your travels!
  7. Put down the camera sometimes – In the same breath, I am SO happy that I didn’t just see Europe through the lens of my camera. There are surreal moments that you don’t absorb until you put the camera down and see it with your own eyes. This was so difficult for me! As someone who wanted to blog but was also traveling extensively for the first time ever in my life, of course, I wanted to get the perfect shot but still be present! I found more often than not, especially because I was traveling with friends for most of the time, that taking out my camera or my phone ruined my chance of being fully present at the moment. So, I’m still learning to find a balance and this experience helped me realize that I couldn’t be so hard on myself for not taking 30 minutes to get one perfect picture. It’s a difficult truth to accept! 
  8. Make the Effort to Speak the Language – I have been studying Italian for 2 years, so I was dying to get to Italy and practice! While I was confronted with almost every local in Florence being able to speak English, I found knowing key phrases and putting in effort to connect with the locals you are interacting with goes a long way. It can be daunting, but especially if you are getting the right feel from somebody, don’t be afraid to say a phrase or two in their language – it will get you a lot further if it’s in a place that you’ll frequent and most of the time, it brightens their day! 
  9. Find a Balance – This is something I have consistently struggled with throughout my life but it is something that being in Italy opened me up to accepting. Instead of staying in every night and working on homework or watching the tv show I had missed, I embraced socializing and I am so grateful to my friends for pushing me to do so! The world opens up to you if you let it. And on a study abroad program where classes are less of a focus or stress, it allowed me to open up to creating deeper friendships and making the time to experience new things, which has wholly changed the perspective I have now being back at my university in balancing all of these aspects in a healthy way. 

    One of the ways I avoided staying in and finding a balance was by adopting traditions with my roommates, whether it was going to a certain restaurant every week together or eating pizza in front of Palazzo Pitti.

  10. Just go for it – Before arriving in Italy, all I knew was I wanted to travel the world but was both anxious and scared to understand what that would look like. When the plane touched down in Florence, my worries legitimately melted away. I felt the most at peace with myself and with my goals (that tend to seem far-fetched) during these 10 weeks in Italy than any other period of my life. I knew I would love it, but I was naive as to how much – how much I adored the people I met along the way, the independence and security I had with myself, and to the experiences I always thought I would be too scared to try. So for you dreamers out there, go for it. Do anything you can to put yourself out of your comfort zone and accept change. In no way am I completely capable yet of accepting those new practices, but I am only on the first leg of a lifetime of flights to new places to see and experiences to have. 

Let’s fly…

AM 

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