Written by Elena Sinagra (Sarah Lawrence College) Student Correspondent CET Siena, Spring 2018
This past week I was lucky enough to celebrate my birthday in Siena as well as take a trip to the small Tuscan town of San Gimignano for our Sienese Art and Architecture class. What was even more special was that I was able to celebrate with another student, Charlotte, whose birthday was also that day.
I woke up that morning to an uncommon arctic freeze that left Siena with a dusting of snow. As this kind of weather is not very normal, it caught everyone by surprise. As I walked out the door, I felt the cold air rush over me. It flooded my lungs as I tried not to slip down the already treacherous cobblestone streets. Since snow is such a rare occurrence in Siena, the walk to school was flooded with children’s priceless expressions of seeing snow for the first time and friends and families clutching on to each other in this unfamiliar terrain.
When we arrived in San Gimignano, there was no escaping the whipping winds that whirled through the small medieval streets. When we stopped to look at a piece of artwork or a building, we would all huddle together to try to escape the cold. As frigid as it was, that did not stop us from piling into one of Italy’s best Gelateria to see if it lived up to the hype; it did.
I have tried to use this birthday as a way to reflect upon this past year, where I have been, where I am now and where I would like to go. I remember that this time last year, I was just beginning to change my interests towards Italy as a potential place to study abroad. Since then, so much has happened and I have now developed a life in Italy that only a year ago was just a small thought. I usually set goals and ideas for how I would like the upcoming year to look like.
Next year, I will complete my undergraduate experience; this naturally makes me anxious. I see things that I, along with countless others, have to do, such as finding a summer internship, getting good grades, and adding to extracurriculars. With all these different things that we students need to fulfill, it is easy for us to get lost and forget other experiences that are equally integral to the future. In the U.S. it is easy for me and my peers to get overly focused our own paths and what we think will give us the best benefits in the short term. We often see relationships as having less tangible value in the success of our lives than say a job or a grade.
In high school I remember reading the book Into the Wild which centered around the story of a young man who ventured into the wilderness in order to find himself and a greater sense of meaning. In the end, he comes to his own personal conclusion and says, “Happiness, only real when shared”. Although our two experiences in many ways couldn’t be more different, they both involve venturing out towards new horizons and a search for meaning. We both come to similar conclusions; that relationships with others, family and friends, play an integral part in our happiness.
I think that if there is one thing my time in Italy has taught me, it is the importance of relationships and how friendships make life so much more fulfilling. I have come to cherish how Italians always make a space to relax and to spend time with family and friends. I have come to realize that college, your twenties, study abroad, offer opportunities to leave your comfort zone and test preconceived notions. It’s important to learn how to make every day a new adventure, but also it’s equally important to find the people who will do that with you.
I feel so fortunate to be able to be in a situation where every day can be a new experience and that I am with people, whether it is other students, Italian friends or my host family, who I can share those experiences with and make them worthwhile. Although, at the end of this year, I will return to my life in New York, I will always hold what I learned in Italy about the importance of relationships in life fulfillment.