Tuesday, May 25, 2010

goodbye, florence.

A summary of my three days in Alicante, Spain requires really only one photo:

I literally did nothing but lay on the beach, eat, sleep, and the occasional crossword puzzle. Now that's my kind of vacation! I walked away with minimal sunburn (it's hard to get your whole back, doing it by yourself), feeling very relaxed and ready to face the difficult week ahead of me.

On the other hand, my time in Florence can barely be summed up in the thousands of pictures I have taken since January. How is it possibly May 25 right now? When I booked this flight seven months ago, all the way back in November, I really thought this day would never come.

In this entry, I will attempt both poignancy and humor...but it could get a little mushy. Bear with me.

I have moved before, and we all know that it is quite a sad experience to pick up and leave everything you know behind. I would never claim that I "know"' Florence. It is a city full of so many surprises, both modern and historic, that it would take years of exploration to truly conquer it. In these past four months, though, I have come to know my cozy corner of the city, and leaving it, as well as my experiences here, behind is proving to be more emotional than I had expected.

As much as I have enjoyed my time abroad, I have on occasion found myself wishing I could go home. Wishing that I lived in a place where asking for directions wasn't such a trial. Wishing that I could just get a freakin' iced coffee, not a caffe americano. Wishing for my own room. Wishing for my car back. Wishing I was with my friends back home as they celebrated Gator gymnastics victories and 21st birthdays.

As big as all of those details seemed at the time, it has taken all of four months for me to realize that what I've learned here far outweighs the cultural discomfort, homesickness, irritation, and frustration that I experienced here.

The experiences I have had in Florence (and elsewhere!) can never be replicated. That was why I decided to study abroad in the first place! When else would I ever get the opportunity to pick up my life for four months and live in a foreign country, with relative financial security? Answer: Never.

Leaving this part of my life behind is only slightly more difficult than leaving the people I've met along the way (mostly because I know it's an inevitability that I will see them again). Not to get all emotional and affectionate, but living together in a foreign country will bond you, no matter how different you may be. And let me tell you, differences abounded in our little dysfunctional Palace family.

But these girls have seen me laugh and cry, they've dealt with me drunk and hungover, consoled me, self-conscious and emotional, and more. Together, we have traveled all over Italy, exploring its culinary gifts, ancient ruins, and cultural history. Together, we took Barcelona by storm, one of the greatest experiences of my life. I cried as each of them got into cabs and drove to the airport, leaving me here, alone at last.

This experience has taught me more about myself that I thought. Even though this was one argument I used to convince my slightly reticent father to let me study abroad, I never imagined the kind of soul-searching I would have to do while living in one of the most beautiful countries on Earth. Stressful? Living in Italy at 20? Really?

The truth is that a lot of issues came to the fore while I was here. I had to confront my problems with food, self-esteem, and self-worth, as well as my feelings about alcohol, dating, and my friendships back home.

Being here introduced me to a lot of new interests, and rekindled some of my old ones (writing, for example). I learned the basics of a new language, and though far from fluent, my parents can attest that I am competent enough to navigate the complexities of Italian travel (and restaurants).

I didn't know what to expect, coming here. I kind of walked into this semester thinking that it was going to be all fun and games, all partying and playing. Honestly, most of it was. I can count on one hand the number of times I have been truly upset in the past four months.

Walking away from my life in America and into Italy gave me new appreciation for the things that I have back home, while also allowing me to emotionally separate myself from problems I have been dealing with. Coming home, I feel more emotionally complete, more mentally prepared to handle problems that come my way. And I will credit that to living with four complete strangers, and the necessity of developing patience when living in a country where there are essentially no traffic laws and no one knows what a clothes dryer looks like. [Exaggeration.]

Tonight, I will board a plane bound for London. From there, I will fly back to Tampa, where I will be reunited with my family and friends.

While part of me is not ready to come home, and probably never will be, while it is incredibly sad to turn the page on this chapter of my life, I know that what I've learned here and experienced here will be with me for the rest of my life.

And not just because I'm a compulsive photographer, or because I blogged about all of it along the way.

But because when you get to know another foreign country as I have come to know and appreciate (though not necessarily understand) Italy, it is a lesson that is impossible to forget.

So thank you to my parents, who supported me (both in financing and encouraging this whole shenanigan) throughout these four months...and through the planning stages, dating all the way back to April of 2009. Thank you to my friends for not forgetting about me while I was gone. Thank you to my Florence roommates who got more than they signed up for when I was assigned to be their roommate. Thank you to Sergio and Mario for being the only Italian men I could trust.

And thanks to all of you for reading. It's been real.


  1. A small tear ran down my cheek but I am also smiling because you did it. Italy's loss is our gain. Can't wait to have you home. <3 mom

  2. This made me tear up a little too. I can't believe you are finally coming home. I know you are sad to end the fantastic semester you had, but I could not be more excited for what lies ahead when you come back. We are moving in together. We are seniors, which is really scary. You are turning 21, which I guess won't be as special since you were allowed to drink in Italy. And so many other adventures we are sure to get into. I'm sure at times that you will wish you were back in Italy especially when you eat America's version of Italian food, but we will all be so glad that you are here with us. Have a great flight. See you Friday! :] <3

  3. I think you achieved both poignancy and humor in this post, Alaina!

    I'm so proud of you. Can't wait to hear your stories over a good meal and a glass of wine.

  4. this made me cry. i love you. there really isn't more to say. lets start the next chapter in life. together. <3

  5. i think about the Palace and our lovably dysfunctional famiglia every day. and, i think, we all got more than we signed up for. and im glad for it. <3

  6. your post made me tear up a little, not gonna lie. (not a good thing when you're in a public library.) Stupid Italy. Stupid 33 San Gallo. Stupid you guys. jeez, why couldn't you all have sucked so I don't have to be sad?

  7. Thanks for the blog! If you want to keep up with your Italian online or on your iPhone a good service is Babbel.com (http://www.babbel.com). Buon viaggio!

  8. Ok I'm commenting here because I have yet to figure out how to make Blogger let me reply to comments, but I agree, layouts are a huge pain in the ass. I like the new design-your-own thing that Blogger just got though, makes it a little more fun. YAY, I'm excited for your blog!!!!