As I sit in the B-section of FCO getting ready to start my roughly 40-hour trip home, it’s hard to internalize and digest my time in Europe. I can honestly say that this semester was better than I ever could have imagined. When I arrived, I didn’t think that this experience would change me; four months later, I’m leaving a different person. I’m going to talk about how this semester changed me and why that’s what made this semester great.
Europe is a different ball of wax – everything just moves a little bit differently than in the USA. Especially in Italy, timetables are more relaxed, trains are frequently delayed, and most people are comparatively chill (at least when compared to me). This generally relaxed atmosphere, coupled with walking or taking public transportation everywhere, changed my general demeanor and attitude. I had to relinquish my perceived control, especially when it involved TrenItalia, and role with the punches. This made me more relaxed, less stressed, and generally happier. Hopefully, I can carry this new-found attitude over to driving at home.
When in Europe, you are rarely alone. I lived in a single room (hallelujah!), but when I was not in my room, I was always around other people, whether other OU students or fellow pedestrians/travelers. This constant exposure to people, particularly when traveling on weekends, has made me a more tolerant individual. When there are so many people around and so much to see and do, you just can’t be concerned with what other people are doing, unless they’re walking slowly and in the middle of the lane; literally nothing is more frustrating than that. I learned (imperfectly) to not sweat the small stuff and focus on what aspects of my experience I could control.
As I traveled through Europe, and even when I was just studying in Arezzo, I was constantly struck by how lucky I was. I got to live in Europe for four months – that’s just generally awesome. I’m more grateful than I can express for that opportunity and to the people who made it possible. Without the support (and occasional push) of my parents, I might not have gone to Arezzo for the semester in the first place. And I also have to give a shout out to Kevin Schuetz who gave me a job at Koda CrossFit Norman as a freshman in college. Without that job, there’s no way I would have been able to travel around and see everything I did. The appreciation I have for this experience carries over into everything – I have a greater sense of gratitude for everything I have.
Europe challenged me in a lot of ways. Public transportation was not remotely self-explanatory for me (especially at the beginning); the language barrier was a perpetual challenge; budgeting time to allow for weekend travel while keeping up with school was (and still is) a work in progress. But being there required that I rise to meet those challenges; although I was far from perfect, I certainly tried. And strangely enough, in the midst of all the “vacationing” (as my dad calls my semester), I learned to love working hard – to be challenged and then face those challenges.
More than anything else, going to Europe this semester was an adventure. It was completely different from anything I’d ever done before. I’m not sure I can stress strongly enough how different it was. I was tested, and those tests forced me to grow. That’s why I loved this semester. It wasn’t exclusively about getting to travel around to all the cities I visited. While I was traveling and visiting all those different cities, those places were changing me. Although mine was a rather less dramatic journey, I still feel a bit like Bilbo on his return from the Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. His adventure left him changed, and the same is true for me.