The duality of the word “Ciao” lends itself to the mixed emotions I have upon leaving Florence. It is both a hello and a goodbye, as I feel both sad and happy. Being somewhere for almost three months is not just a visit. I developed a preference for restaurants, cafes, and gelaterias. I knew what times were best to take certain streets to school, and perfected Florentine j-walking. I saw the same dog waiting outside the souvenir shop, the same woman sitting at the bar with a coffee and a cigarette, and the same waiters setting up their restaurants each morning. I formed a relationship with the waiters at my favorite cafe to study at and could navigate the grocery store blind. As I adjusted to the routines of those around me, strangers and not, theirs adjusted to mine. And so, the loss I feel upon leaving, of a life I was beginning to set up, is not misplaced, but I too cannot help also feeling a sense of excitement and relief.
Me after finishing a plate of pasta.
Excitement to go home, and share my experiences in person with those who I love. To have them taste my favorite olive oil, receive the gifts I bought them, and cook pasta for them, which I learned to make. Finally, to be back to my home country, state, town, and house. Living abroad is an experience not like many others with high highs, and low lows, which seem amplified living so far away. It may be that it is because I am 18 and starting my college journey, or just the stresses of having a constant language barrier, that result in a sense of relief at returning home. This is not to say that I will not miss Florence, and the chaotic rollercoaster that was my life there, but it is a reminder to me of how much different aspects of my life matter to me.
I think my time in Florence taught me that facets of my life are not mutually exclusive, and can coexist and thrive off of each other. I can go out to dinner, and explore new places, and make time for myself and new friends all while maintaining the same rigor necessary to do well in school. My conclusion about my time in Florence culminates to this fact: I do not think that Florence has changed me or that I have changed it. What I do think is that having this experience allowed different parts of who I am to shine, and be known to me in ways I had not yet realized. I remember the summer before I left and how many people would say to my parents how they couldn’t believe that they were sending their daughter fresh out of high school across the ocean to live on her own. I also remember thinking to myself how unreal it felt, but in the end, I could not think of a more preparatory experience for not only my college years but also life. I think ending high school and beginning college during such a fragile time in the world with so many challenges fast-tracked my experience on discovering who I am and want to be, and living in Florence further distilled these trajectories.