Leaving Italy: Summer Study Abroad Program, So Long Sweet Sunny Paradise

When I came to Italy at the end of May I didn’t expect to fall in love. Now that I’m preparing to leave on Saturday, I realize that I am completely and hopelessly head over my fricken heels… for everything Italy, that is. If Italy were a man we’d be married by now, no question.

In these past six weeks I have formed a life long relationship with my host parents, Dona and Enzo. I already have plans to return to visit them and we plan to stay in touch. I know when I hug them goodbye, especially Dona, it will not be without a few tears. I’m not a goodbye girl. I’m the dissolve into tears/run in the other direction/get too attached/want to stay forever kind of girl. So I learned long ago to only say see you later or “a doppo” in Italian.

During my time here I’ve probably eaten 500 cups of pistachio gelato, made friends with owners of three of the best clubs in town, been yelled at by Italian bus ticketmasters, got lost in Florence’s streets, found myself (thanks to my sweet little, weather beaten, ripped up map), found myself (thanks to sun, food, love and daily yoga), hiked seaside cliffs, went to a nude beach, and can now hold a reasonable conversation in my own special language of what I like to call “spang-itl-lish” (a healthy mixture of Spanish, English and Italian).

The thought of leaving Florence gives me the familiar achy weight in my stomach that I experienced when I left England and Ireland. I could cry, sob into my pillow, run away, and refuse to leave, or just accept that I’ve got to turn the sorrow into joy.

My new definition of joy (after this experience): the overwhelming feeling of true achievement through tenaciously hard work that takes time, patience and a lot of Gelato. If I didn’t feel this familiar ache would I have truly created such a good life for myself here?

There is a difference between traveling and actually living in a place. I’ve traveled many places. I’ve only lived in a few. Living in a place means you make a home for yourself there. And I don’t just mean a house with furniture. I mean an actual home in the sense of community. My rule of thumb is that once I’ve lived in a place long enough for someone to ask me directions and I can help them, I’ve made it my home. Nothing will ever top my home in Minnesota. Those are my roots, of course, and being home there, around the dinner table with my 6+dog family is my favorite place in the entire world.

But still, it’s with a bittersweet heart I end my summer study abroad program here. It’s with a joyful heart that I walk away knowing I truly lived in Florence.

In just six weeks, I turned Florence into a self charted map of family, friends and home. In just six weeks, Florence turned me into a fresh, independent, strong, healthy, happy, tan version of myself that I haven’t seen in months.

It’s reassuring to know I’ll be back. I know, deep down in my heart, this is only the beginning of my love affair with Italy. So for now, I won’t say ciao (goodbye) or arrividerchi (goodbye in a permanent sense). I will say “a doppo”. See you later.

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