Anteater Abroad: Captivated by Italy

Courtesy of Morgan Ward

It’s hard to say what my expectations were when I set out for Italy. Looking back now, I guess I was expecting the quintessential Italy trip: daily walks on cobblestone streets, gelato slowly melting in the warm glow of the sun, lounging on a green grassy hill while overlooking the Tuscan landscape and eating a picnic of various meats, cheeses and bread … basically everything you see in the movies.

I was expecting the time to move slowly, not pass in the blink of an eye the way it did. I wasn’t expecting that when the time came to leave, I would decide to stay. I wasn’t expecting all my money saved to turn into debt, and I wasn’t expecting for the little Tuscan town called Siena to become my second home.

But, time was moving much more rapidly than I expected. With language classes all day long, and traveling on the weekends, before I knew it, the warmth from the sun had turned cold, and I was facing weather that quickly changed from rain to snow.

All of my expectations of Italy became my reality. The daily walks with gelato and beautiful endless views of rolling hills and Tuscan rooftops. Except it didn’t feel like I was in a movie, it felt normal, like what I was meant to do.

Everything was so attainable, it was easy to forget that I was living in a foreign country. Instead, it felt like home. The language became more and more recognizable, and I realized that when I spoke English, I automatically translated everything into Italian at the same time. I lived and breathed Italy, and it became a part of me. It became who I was.

When it came time to go home, not just a part of me, but all of me felt the pull to stay put – to stay in Siena for as long as I could.

So without very much time to think about it, I Skyped my travel agent and had my ticket extended for two more months.

I stayed not because I wanted more of a “vacation,” and not because I didn’t want to come back to school, I stayed because it was something I felt I had to do. It was like I had a magnet in my body that was holding me to Italy, not letting me leave. I felt the pull, and I had to listen to it. Without it really being a choice, I knew I had to stay.

Not only was it Italy that captivated me, it was all of Europe. I felt an endless amount of possibilities and opportunities in the fact that there were so many cultures and countries living so closely together. Everything was so open and limitless.

In America, we get so caught up in our own lives that we forget that there is a whole rest of the world out there. We get wrapped up in thinking that our lives are the only things that matter. We have to go to class, we have to get good grades, we have to graduate on time and get a good job. We forget that we actually can do anything we want to do … we can go anywhere we want to go, and there is a whole world waiting for us to explore it.

The European mindset opened my eyes, but didn’t stop me from stressing out about the debt I was incurring. I came to Italy with $5,000 and left $3,500 in debt.

Even when I had to buy food or pay for rent, I was thinking about my ever-growing debt. I had to remind myself in the grocery store that I needed food to live, and that money for dinner was money well spent.

Being back at home and about to start spring quarter already has me worrying about all the studying there is to do, the looming graduation in just a couple of months, and what I’m going to go once I graduate.

It just reminds me of my last two months in Italy and how much time I spent worrying about the money I was spending and the debt I was in. I stressed about it so much I didn’t make the most of what those two extra months could have been.

Looking back, I don’t regret the money that I spent or the trips that I took, but I regret the time I spent worrying about the future. I should have seen the situation for what it really was: a gift of being able to live in Italy for six months.

With the future hanging over my head, I want to make sure I don’t get trapped in the same mindset I had before I left for Italy.

Italy is now a constant reminder of the possibilities that are out there and the options we have. We don’t all have to take the path that has already been paved for us. Now is the time for us to do what we want, before it’s too late and we’re left with regret of not living this time we have to the fullest.

I’ll always have those last two months in Italy to remind me that it really is a waste of time to worry about the future, when we have the present here to live in now.