So I made it to Venice. And you know what? I was less than enchanted. The city was beautiful. The canals were amazing. The concept was fascinating. But it wasn’t how I imagined it to be. I cannot pinpoint the exact way in which the Venice of reality differed from the Venice of my “Thief Lord” dreams, but it did. This is not to say that I was entirely disappointed, however the experience was missing the magic I had expected. But is the experience of study abroad ever about the expected? Is the magic ever in the extraordinary? Do you find yourself while riding in a gondola or at the Trevi Fountain or on a beach in Spain?
The answer to all of these is no.
As for expectations, at this point I cannot even remember what I expected upon boarding my plane to Italy, other than an adventure. But I can say that my life here has certainly gone above and beyond anything I could have thought it would be.
Over the course of the past three months I’ve travelled to many places, both in and out of Italy, from Cinque Terre to Vienna and everything in between. I’ve seen things I’ve dreamt about seeing for my entire life. It has been extraordinary. But that isn’t where I found the magic. The most magical night of my experience thus far was not in Rome or Paris or Florence. It was in my little home city of Parma. It was not a night filled with clubs or bars or any sort of notable adventures. It was simply the first night we had our bicycles. Riding during the day had been one thing, but that night, as we rode to one of the other apartment buildings from our home on the west side of the city, there was a sense of joy and freedom I hadn’t experienced yet. We arrived at our destination, but we didn’t - we couldn’t - stop there. Wordlessly we continued to the park down the street and rode faster and faster with no cars or people to stop us - around and around, laughing and pedaling until we were tired and breathless. There is nothing more ordinary than riding a bike. But in that moment, it was magical.
Similarly, many people go abroad to see the world and “find themselves.” I used to think that was a bit cliche but over the course of the semester my way of thinking has changed. The concept isn’t as instantaneous as the verb “find” implies. It is a process so gradual that you don’t realize it is happening. It is something that can only be realized in retrospect. You look back and think: I’m not the same as I was before, I am more me than I have ever been.
We didn’t find ourselves while watching the sun set from the Eiffel Tower. Or listening to Christmas music and drinking punsch at the Austrian Christmas Markets. Or spending a night drinking wine on the Spanish Steps in Rome. We found ourselves in the little things. In sitting around the dinner table drinking Lambrusco for hours, just being together. In Monday night bowling. In sleeping on each other on trains. And planes. And buses. In riding our bikes in the rain, just trying to make it to class alive, let alone on time. In not having ovens. Or dryers. Or microwaves. In sunrises.
The bottom line? We found ourselves in Parma, but mostly in each other - people we’ve gone to school with for two years. Yet it couldn’t have happened in Boston. There is an irreplicable bond in the memories made. In the things as simple as getting lost. And cooking dinner together. And eating Nutella late at night.
Maybe this comes from the happiness. Or the experiences shared. But for so many of us it is there and there are even concerns that we won’t fit into the lives we left behind. We have changed, and it is as simple as that.
So the reason I went abroad ended up not living up to my ten-year-old expectations. Venice was not my favorite. But I found so many other reasons that make me never want to leave. We have 15 days left in the best three months of our lives and I know we’ll make them count. We’ll laugh and cry and eat more than we should. We’ll ride or die and never look back. And when we finally return home to the States, we’ll do so beyond exhausted but also beyond happy. And we’ll be okay molding to the life we left behind, because we’ll still have each other - a new 30 person family that I wouldn’t trade for all of the magic in Venice.