I was batting around ideas for this last episode the other day, and when I told my friend I was thinking of doing the classic “concluding reflections,” he shook his head and joked that I was taking the easy way out.
It’s not the easy way so much as the only way. I’ve left so much out thus far that it’s only fair to give these little details and random thoughts page time, even if they’re all over the board.
I walk fifty minutes to and from school every day — plenty of time to spend thinking about what I’ve gotten out of studying abroad. The biggest surprise of the quarter, by far, was not anything that the Italians do, but what I did — I missed home. Not in the vague, “it’d be nice if my friends were here” or “I wish I could walk down the street to see my family instead of buying a three hour flight” way, but in the “I should be happy but I’m not because the people I love aren’t with me” way.
That had never happened before. I wasn’t seeing my family any less than I do on campus (read: not at all), but still I missed them. And it wasn’t quite that I was less involved in my friends’ lives; I was communicating with some people more than I ever do on campus, but still I missed them.
Maybe it was because of the time difference, or because I no longer had an established community. At any rate, those periods never lasted long. I reasoned that being sad about the situation wouldn’t change that I was in Florence for ten weeks. It’d be a waste for me to spend my time moping about what I didn’t have right then, when I had the opportunity to enjoy so much in the present. I would render my relatively small sacrifice empty if I approached my quarter always counting what it had already cost. I’d miss the pureness of making new friends, discovering a new culture, learning to travel solo, staring at art masterpieces, setting world records for most bread eaten without your host parents noticing.
Anyways, I realized it was a blessing to have people in my life so wonderful that I could miss them at all. And yes, there are a lot of people I’m going to be hugging very, very hard when I get back. You know who you are.
What else? I grew up in a small Coloradan town with the white-capped peaks of the Rockies to the west, the flatness of beige and green plains to the east, and the sky a great blue dome above. I love open space, fresh dry breezes, nights studded with starlight, brightly-hued wildflowers, and quiet.
I don’t know if it’s an Italy thing, a Europe thing or a city thing, but there’s none of that in Florence. Instead, there are things like waking up every morning with four new bug bites because there’s no A/C and it’s so hot and humid that the screen-less windows are always open. Why are there no window screens anywhere? Is it because it ruins the aesthetic? Looking diseased also ruins one’s aesthetic, okay?
And there are dogs everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I really like dogs. But I don’t like them trotting around leashless, humping each other while their owners chatter on unseeing, lunging at each other when out on their walks, staring at me while I eat food at a restaurant, and appearing underfoot when I leaf through clothes racks in shops. It makes me nervous, as if at any moment I might step on a tiny dog or get bitten by a big one.
And I hate the narrow smell of the sun-soured, rain-thickened dog poop smeared on sidewalks like so much pudding. That’s not a dog’s fault. You can’t get away from people in a city, and one of the most common types here is “deplorable hooligan who’s too frick-fracking lazy to carry a plastic bag and bend down.”
I wish it didn’t cost so much to order water, use a public restroom, sit down at a coffee shop or dry laundry for eight minutes. I wish it wasn’t so hard to get to the city center, find a place to eat at night, pick up simple medications like Advil and Tylenol, return clothing, I wish Florence was quieter, cleaner, smaller, I wish people didn’t smoke so much, stare so much, eat so much.
Fine, not that last one. I might be the only person in my cohort still eating pesto pasta with the same enthusiasm I exhibited on the first day. Still, as much I enjoy Italy (as evinced by previous episodes), there are a dozen quirks of the place contributing to my readiness to move on, to the sense that I have taken from these months all that I meant to take and all that I could have taken. I have a feeling I should leave.
I also have a transcribed Word file of scribbles jotted in my travel notebook, typed on my phone’s memo pad and scrawled in the margins of my homework of all of the things I want to remember about my time here.
Bubbles winking in the sun above the piazza. 4,402 gravestones curving up the hill. Paper-thin prosciutto threaded with creamy white. Shadows running across a field. Dirt caking the folds of stone robes. Businesswoman by day, prostitute by night. Converting kilometers with the seasons of love. Dried grape vines curled like barbed wire. Fascination with skin. Matching rings on wrong hands. Different sized paper in printers. Loving to dismiss people with a glance. Dress her like a squirrell (sic). Muddy brown swans. People who have aged in control. Spiders the size of grapes with legs. Shut down slides. Priest in a baseball cap. Little boy in green socks trotting down the dirty pavement. Cab drivers who ask for directions. Almost good, but not really bad. Birds in a hurricane. Champagne in plastic cups.
Look, I’m a bit restless. That’s part of why I came to Stanford — even knowing I would ultimately live where my family was and not where I would best be served by my degree. That’s part of why I came to Florence — even knowing I was burning one of the last four quarters I’ll ever have at a place that makes my heart feel buoyant and full.
I want to suck in as much of the world as I can before adulthood anchors me to a job and I’m permanently transferred into another stage of life. I’m young and able and alive, and none of that will remain true forever. Not for you, either.
If I’m supposed to render some kind of authoritative verdict about whether people should study abroad, about whether they should not, my answer is … opportunity cost. You lose something by doing something else, without exception, but that means there is also always a chance for gain. How that is measured is up to every individual: Italians, Americans, adults, Stanford students, humanities majors and STEM majors alike.
Just, whenever a choice is made, savor the aftermath. Savage it. Rip and coax everything that can be had from your decision, joy and sorrow alike, and use those as building blocks toward the you that you desire to be. Because in the end, what’s the satisfaction of living a life without seeking out challenges, and what’s the pleasure of living a life without fun?
So when Stanford is going to reimburse you for whatever size gelato you purchase, don’t hesitate. Go buy a cone quadruple your normal size, keep going at it even if you’re full in three minutes (you don’t want to be wasteful and when else will you get to eat as much as you can of an authentic European dessert?) and understand that even if you can’t look at a gelateria for two weeks afterwards, sometimes there are side effects to this life philosophy.
It’ll be amazing gelato.
So it goes.
Contact Katiana Uyemura at kuyemura ‘at’ stanford.edu.