Studying abroad in Italy isn't what I thought it would be--at all. I know that may seem like an out of the blue statement from me after constant traveling posts, raving about all of the beautiful places I get to visit and see and do... but this experience has been so different than I ever thought.
The feelings started creeping up on me during the first month of being here right around the time I went to Paris for five days with my school. I knew about the "roller coaster" of studying abroad that our professors told us about. That we would start off high, being exhilarated to be somewhere new and exciting. Over time it would wear off and we'd be at the bottom of the coaster-- feeling home sick and frustrated with all the cultural differences. And in the end, we would be happy and elated again, not wanting to ever leave and enjoying the last of our 'ride." I knew I would probably experience things on this imaginary roller coaster a bit differently and quicker than others. Having only ever spent a month a most away from my family and being an absolute homebody, it was going to be hard, but I knew I would adjust and fight through it.
The problems weren't really just for the extreme home sickness I started feeling though after the first month or so, but just so many things at once I think. I wanted to do this trip to find things out about, discover, and develop myself as a person in this big scheme of life. The funny thing is, I suppose I thought I could pick the things I would discover out about myself-- that they'd be all good things. Unfortunately, the things I've found out about myself along the way of this trip have been difficult and nothing I was prepared for.
I've always known I like to be alone. I've been a loner since I was little, having only one group of small friends and staying in that circle. If you read my blog when I was in high school, I really only had my boyfriend at the time as my only friend and had some friends, but always kept them at a distance and they were more "school friends." I struggled for awhile in college making friends and keeping them, always feeling inferior and like I wasn't good enough... Being alone for me has never been a problem. It's just what I've always known and what I enjoy.
But here, I guess I didn't really realize how important this is to my personality and just my way of life. In college, I had my mornings and evenings to myself to recharge, write, blog, relax and think and I could socialize in the afternoons with my friends and go out for dinner and hang for a little bit, no problem. But when I got here in Italy, I found myself always being with people, constantly. It's inescapable really-- I live in a city, have three roommates, and am in a small program of about 37 other fashion students. I found myself getting sort of depressed and suffocated being with people 24/7. I couldn't think straight, I felt like I was losing myself, and Paris was the breaking point where I just realized that I need a certain amount of alone time to just...be okay. I need that to feel like myself, to have my thoughts straightened out and my peace restored. After spending five days non-stop doing things with everyone and pushing, pushing, pushing myself to be this social person when I'm just not, I was exasperated and felt like I had lost who I was. I can't go, go, go like everyone I discovered. The constant traveling and new experiences and adversities were exhausting for me and I couldn't take it all. I couldn't "take advantage of every, single moment" like everyone else was. It was too much to go from morning till night without a break and without peace to just be. I felt like I wasn't seeing things and truly experiencing them, rather rushing through and just trying to shove as much as I could into one time period.
And all this frustrated me because I felt like I was the only one who felt like this. I didn't understand why I couldn't be like everyone else in the program and want to constantly see everything and do everything we could because "it was the experience of a lifetime." It made me feel guilty and strange because I just couldn't do this constant socializing like everyone else...I wanted to sit down in a quiet Parisian cafe and people watch over a coffee rather than running all over the city trying to see it all. I was angry and unaccepting of myself because I just felt like such a weirdo who can't talk and make friends and be in a social group. I'd rather be by myself. And I hate that, but I guess it's something I just can't change.
Things have been up and down since Paris and recently have been a lot more down. I'm not in love with Italy if I'm honest. At first I didn't want to admit that to myself. It made me feel so guilty and awful because everyone says they're so jealous and wish they were me and that this is the experience of a life time and I should take advantage of everything...I kept forcing myself to think that, hey, they were right. This is the best time of my life and I'm being selfish and dumb to think I don't enjoy this as much as I thought I would. But the more I kept trying to tell myself that this was the best few months of my life, the guiltier I felt for still feeling sad and down, and not being like everyone else. My parents sacrificed a lot for me to be here. All of my family has; they've sacrificed their money, time, love, and so much more for me to come to Italy and study abroad. And it just killed me to think that I wasn't having this amazing time like I should be, like I thought I would be. The guilt ate away at me, and I kind of just hid it and didn't even want to write about it on here because I felt selfish. I still feel selfish and ashamed. So many of you say how I'm living your dream...and to come here and write that I'm not happy feels so awful.
Italy is just not for me. I don't love the city life-- I feel most connected with nature and being in it, and being in the center of a metropolitan life style has been hard. The weather, too has been hard. I never thought I would say this, but I miss Ohio's weather. I am so used to and love cloudy, rainy, colder weather. Here it is always sunny, always hot, and it never rains...not to mention there is no hint of fall here. Fall in the midwest is such a big deal and holds so many special memories and feelings for me. With no changing leaves here, no seasonal flavors, and no change in the weather; things feel so stagnant. Wheras in the US there are many denominations of Christianity, here there is only Catholicism. I've tried going to Catholic mass and it just didn't help at all quench my need for Christ and I found myself still feeling empty. I've really struggled with my relationship with God here because I don't have any other believers to talk with, no church to go to, and the wifi is too bad to watch services at home. To have all my resources stripped away, it has been difficult. These all may seem like small, silly things to be "sad" over, but it's a combination of all of this and just this culture that I cannot connect with and seem to adapt myself to where I just struggle. It's not that I am so nationalistic that I don't want to accept a culture that's not my own; I understand the Italian way of life and I find nothing wrong with the way people live over here. But I just cannot connect with it and it does not work for me personally.
I know you all are probably rolling your eyes reading all this (if you even made it this far) because it may just seem like a big post complaining and whining and crying when I should be more appreciative. But it's more than that. It's a build up of two months of feelings that I felt and the honesty of a situation.... I've only ever heard of good studying abroad experiences. That people have the best four months of their life. And that may be true for a lot of people, but for me, I can honestly say that it hasn't been the best months of my life and I don't think the next two months will be either. And that's okay to admit because everyone is different, everyone has a different experience and it's important to acknowledge all the experiences people have studying abroad. Maybe I went in with too high of expectations. Maybe studying abroad isn't for someone life me. Maybe I'm just an unappreciative brat who can't just enjoy what I have in front of me. I don't know. All I know is, that I want to be honest, and say that sometimes studying abroad isn't want you think it's going to be.
Although this experience hasn't been the wonderful, life changing trip I had hoped, it has be life changing in a different way. I have learned so much about myself. Things I wanted to learn and learn this difficultly? No, not really. I wish it was easier, but I know that after this whole experience is done I'll 1. breath a sigh of relief but 2. more importantly, be thankful for it. I don't regret coming here. Even though I am struggling and it isn't what I thought, I have never regretted coming here and I would never dream of leaving. The things I've learned about my personality, about my life, the people in my life, how to deal with situations....have been priceless and something I could have never found at home. Without this experience, I wouldn't have developed so much of myself as a person, and for that I am thankful. So I guess in a way, even though this experience isn't what I thought it was going to be, I have gotten out of it what I wanted-- to find out about who I am. It may not have been in the way I wanted (I thought it would be much more graceful and less painful), but I have and I am happy and satisfied with that.
I will make the best of my remaining two months here. I don't want to fake things, trying to make myself have fun and "the time of my life" when in reality, sometimes I just won't. But I can make the best of this time here and utilize these learning experiences, taking them as a grain of salt as I go along.
In the end after this experience I think it will all be okay. Actually, I know it will be okay. Life will go on, I will go back to life in Ohio, school, and home...But I will be changed forever by this experience, and I could never regret it or change the course of events I've had here.
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." -- Philippians 4:6-7
With much love, Lauren.