Foreign Correspondence: Headline: Lost and Found in Florence

Opinion by and
March 4, 2011, 12:20 a.m.

I highly advise an inexperienced flyer to refrain from watching disaster films prior to a long flight. Having never flown over the Atlantic Ocean before, and having watched Titanic about seven times during winter break (it was HBO’s featured film), I was completely convinced that my plane to Florence was going to crash into the Atlantic Ocean on the way. Additionally, prior to my departure, I was so compulsive about my bag being less than 50 pounds that I started packing at the start of break and weighed my bag every few days to track my progress. I realized I had completely lost my head two days before my departure, when my dad hid a 20-pound dumbbell in my suitcase, resulting in my having a near panic attack and circling the house, yelling, “How am I going to eliminate 20 more pounds! And how did my umbrella add so much weight?”

But aside from a fear of flying and airline regulations, the one emotion I felt more than any other was, believe it or not, pressure. I realized that rarely ever had I encountered a person who did not say that their abroad experience was the most amazing time of their life, and I remember thinking, What if I don’t have a great time? What if I come back thinking my past three months abroad were just so-so?

I would like to be able to say that the pressure to be happy while abroad evaporated immediately, but, of course, this was not so. My new Stanford acquaintances and I adventured to Lucca to bike-ride around the small medieval, walled city, traveled to Bologna to search for the hidden canals that flowed under and between the city’s orange houses and crossed Emilia-Romagna to Parma to snap pictures of its pink Baptistery. We saw Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” on our Bing Trip to Milan, scavenger-hunted through Barcelona to see all of Gaudi’s works and stood awe-struck under the Pantheon in Rome, the power of which could never be captured in a photo.

And during all of these amazing experiences, I was still concerned about being happy. I had become some kind of compulsive wreck — afraid to let go of the pressure for fear that I would regret my trip later.

And then, finally, a talk with my roommate put things into perspective for me. She told me that this is life — one’s abroad experience doesn’t just freeze all the bad and bring in all the good. She said, “You live here, Katy — in a foreign city. You have bad days and good days, and that’s okay!”

It wasn’t necessarily an “ah-ha” moment, but it did put me at ease. I stopped worrying about smiling all the time and started to let my bad days show as much as my good days. And once the fear of having to one day say, “Oh, my abroad experience was just so-so,” had been buried, I actually had one of the most unexpected realizations of my life. I began to understand that the best experiences occur when we aren’t paying attention — when we are too happy to analyze what we are learning and how we are changing.

On my trip to Venice during Carnival a week ago, I realized how lucky I am. My friends and I explored the city, down streets that dead-ended or descended into Harry Potter-style stairs that vanished into the water. We walked along the islands’ perimeters, under bright sun and in the lively atmosphere that is “Carnevale.” We wore our embellished masks, shopped for Venetian glass and dined at restaurants on the boardwalk that overlooked the canals.

As my abroad experience comes to an end, I plan to spend the last of it in Florence, where my true allegiance lies. Just like any other home, it has become a place of good and bad days, mistakes and growth, and, most importantly, friends to share it all with. When my abroad quarter is over, I hope I can say it was one of the best experiences of my life. But then again, I’m only 20 — and where’s the sense in having your best experience before you’ve lived half your life?

Katy Storch ’12BOSP Florence

Katy wants to know if you’ve had any “ah-ha” moments abroad. Share your stories and feedback with her at: [email protected].

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