On a September night I hugged my parent’s goodbye and embarked on the greatest adventure of my life. I was heading to Milan, Italy for ten months to live, study and learn the real meaning of “La Vita Bella”.
I had spent the past year of my life preparing to be an exchange student. I’d attended all the meetings, studied Italian, and talked to people who had visited Italy. I had a vision in my head of being “Under the Tuscan Sun”, eating pasta and speaking with an Italian accent. Looking back I smile at the things I thought of before I left. But that’s the great thing about traveling, the knowledge that you gain throughout your experience.
I learned many things during my stay in Italy. I learned that Milan is the Seattle of Italy. If you’re planning a trip there, you should pack an umbrella. I learned that Italians in Lombardy don’t leave the house in flip-flops. In fact they think it’s strange that anyone would consider wearing flip-flops outside the house when they’re not at the beach. This is a useful tip for any fashionista that would like to look nice while out in Milan. For those that don’t know, Milan is a very important city for fashion. It’s the city where Prada first opened its doors and the place you can go to see Gucci stores and very finely dressed Italians.
Although learning new fashion tips was nice, I learned new things that would help me for the rest of my life. I had suddenly found myself on my own. My friends and family were 1,000’s of miles away. But I learned that I could handle it and I made friends and memories to last a lifetime. I fell in love with Italy, the food, the people and the language. I looked silly sometimes when I tried to translate English phrases into Italian. For example the phrase “To stab someone in the back”. In English we know that it means to betray someone, however you can’t translate this into Italian. They will think you’re crazy until you explain yourself.
Living with Italian families was the best part. I was lucky enough to have had three families throughout the year. This was a rule of my exchange. I was required to change families. But I’m very thankful for that rule because each family taught me something wonderful and new.
From my first host family I learned how to understand a new culture and how to make the tastiest lasagna in the world. My second host family was completely different from my first. They were very formal, something that I wasn’t used to. They taught me how to accept and live among people whose ways were different from mine. It was a difficult but rewarding experience. Finally, from my last family I learned the real definition of kindness. I had the privilege of living with the most understanding and compassionate people that I’ve ever met in my life. It was extremely difficult to say goodbye to them at the end of my year.
Looking back on my experience abroad, I know that it changed me. Traveling and experiencing new cultures can have such a profound impact on you. I would recommend being an exchange student to anyone. It will change your life. So get out there and start living your very own “Vita Bella”!
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