Sarah F. is currently a senior at SYA Italy and a blogger for our Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from Walnut Hill School (MA). Read more of her work throughout the year here.
I've been sitting in this café for the past hour, not knowing what to write for this last entry. I am sure most campus reporters share this sense of bewilderment as the year comes to an end. The fact of the matter is that while living abroad is just as exotic and grande as you would expect, it also subconsciously morphs into the normal, everyday rhythm of life over time. You forget to notice the century old cobblestones littered with Italian cigarettes on your morning walk to school, and almost say "Buongiorno" to that old man in the café that you see every morning, before you have even seen him. Muscle memory takes the place of a constant experience of "newness."
With this being said, I will also say that that this year of studying in a foreign country also becomes a little square of your life and your person that would not exist had you not decided to take that deep plunge of immersion in the first place.
But that first "plunge" is only the first of a long line of "plunges" that you must consciously decide to take. You make the experience; the experience doesn't make you. And there will be days, like in normal life, where this extra effort of keeping your eyes and ears and minds and hearts open, feels like an extraordinary weight—days when you want to snuggle up in your bed, warm and safe, while the annual flower festival in which Italians from over flood in to see the little town of Viterbo transformed into a blooming portrait of spring.
Being mindful, in a sense, is not just something for Buddhists and monks alike—it is the difference between making memories that will last you a lifetime, and settling for mediocrity and potential that passed you all too fast. Moving forward, I would like to compile a small list to ensure that you never lose this grande itch to travel, because the adventures that await you are nothing short of extraordinary, but they are up to you to welcome into your life.
So without further adue, a few words of advice for young travelers:
1) Know that if you are timid or shy, communication will take some extra effort, but close and meaningful relationships wherever you are in the world are possible for everyone, so constantly seek them out and be frank. Be genuine. Let people know of your needs, ask people for help when you need it, and let them know when you appreciate them—even if there is a language barrier.
2) Look around. This sounds simple, but in this day and age, it is so easy to revert into yourself instead of opening yourself up to the ongoing life around you. Put your phone down, take your earbuds out, don't forget to look up (half of the most beautiful architecture here in Italy is seen above the natural eye level), make eye contact with those who you pass (you don't know what might come of a simple moment of eye contact with a stranger), ask the waiter or waitress how their day was, and do it with genuine interest (people can sense this).
3) Know that when you feel comfortable, it is most pertinent to keep trying, and to keep pushing: You will reach a point where you develop a regular routine, when this happens, consciously keep cutting out the time to seek the new. Walk the extra 15 minutes to that church you've always wanted to visit, take that extra five minutes in the sunlight to watch a flock of pigeons, get out your umbrella and walk into town by yourself to enjoy a gelato.
4) Let yourself fail. Let yourself feel homesick, and tired--it is ok, and it only opens up the opportunity for better things. This will mean different things to every individual person. And then, when this does happen, notice why, and the beauty will begin as you start to make little amends to your approach.
5) Don't underestimate the power of laughter and smiling. Unapologetically cheesy here. Don't stop laughing—take your limited time in a foreign place seriously--because it is that precious--but never take yourself too seriously. Laugh at your mistakes, laugh with others, and never regret a situation that made you do so.
With that little list, I wish the next class of SYAers, the next generation of travelers, the old travelers, and the dreamers the best of luck—just go out there and do it (and keep doing it)!