Monday, June 22, 2009

The beginning of the end, as another window opens, I must let go

And here we are. And so it starts. I’m writing the one reflection I’ve been putting off. Why? Because it signifies the end. The end of this experience. And somehow, somehow now this entire year has felt surreal. I made this commitment last year to move to Italy and get my M.A. in Political Science. Not entirely because I was passionate about the E.U., but rather because I wanted to run away from the life I had. I wanted more than what I had. I wanted to live in a foreign country for a year of my life. I wanted to know what it was like. And so I signed the papers, and I paid the deposit. I deferred my acceptance to American University, to a program I actually favored, to run away to Italy. And who could blame me?

I came here last September, and I remember waking up from my nap after I’d arrived thinking, what did I get myself into? I had left an entire life on the other side of this great wide divide. And for what? Florence wasn’t love at first sight. In fact, I simply got used to living here. I hated the inefficiency, and how difficult it was to get the simple things I’d grown used to at home. Cookies had to be home made, cupcake mix was nowhere to be found, and I still have yet to see wings sold anywhere. There was a point last September when I broke down and started sobbing because I thought I was going to fail the program and I didn’t even really like the city. But somehow, over the course of time I accidentally managed to fall in love with this city and these housemates that I live with became my very own dysfunctional family. I’ve learned to appreciate Italy’s inefficiency, it’s personality, it’s organicness, and the culture that is the food. It’s incredibly difficult for me in these final moments to sum up my existence over the course of this entire year. I came into this program knowing nothing about the European Union, and now I feel confident enough to debate on the issue with others. I came into this program never really surrounding myself with people so different from me, and I feel like in that sense, it’s been the most challenging year of my life.

I grew up in the suburbs of northern Virginia, and I attended James Madison University as an undergraduate. I’ve always chosen my own friends, and I’ve always been particular in that. But, despite that, the people I’ve known my whole life, have never been all that different from me. Living in this house though, with 15 other students from all over the U.S. was incredibly eye opening. Cara’s from New Jersey, Allison’s from the middle of nowheresville Pennsylvania, Andrew grew up in Pakistan, and Carol is from Georgia. You always read and hear about different prejudices in different areas of the U.S., but I’d never really known anyone all that different from me—in terms of upbringing, and the environment that they had grown up in. Being in this house though, surrounded by vastly different people, from different places, with different thoughts, ideas and prejudices, I found for the first time in my life the reality of how different people are and how real prejudices are as a result of where we’ve grown up. I am no different.

I can surely say that this was the most difficult and rewarding experience of my life. I wouldn’t trade one single moment, and I wouldn’t do one single thing differently. I’ve been on over twenty-five flights, visited more cities than I can recall at this moment, seen more beauty than most people do in a lifetime, and by accident I fell in love and came to know some people who will be an important part of my life for years to come. Most days, I can’t believe I was lucky enough to be able to experience this. Most days, it all feels so surreal. I walk across the Ponte Santa Trinita and I can’t believe this is my life. And the thought of leaving in a week’s time makes me heart incredibly heavy. Even though I am ready to go home, I’m not quite ready to leave this city behind, in this way. I’m going to miss the fresh baked bread at corner panino, Sunday market day in Santo Spirito, and being able to get fresh and organic vegetables from the vegetable people in the square. I’m going to miss having friends to hang out with any hour and any day of the week. These little things have made up my daily life over the past year. And though I love the city I grew up in on the other side of this ocean, I have made a home here. The palazzo is our home, and these people, regardless of how dysfunctional, dramatic and chaotic our house may get, became my family. Even if half the house doesn’t like each other half the time, I know we care about each other because we shared something—we shared this experience that most people don’t ever get to. And I can’t ever be thankful enough for everything that I’ve been afforded here. And, at the end of the day, this wasn’t that hard, it wasn’t that impossible.

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