It is 7pm on Friday July 29, and I am finished with my Italian classes for this summer. Time is so funny that way. At the beginning of the summer, when I arrived on June 4th, I couldn’t possibly imagine living in this incredible country, traveling to some of the most incredible (and oldest!) cities in the world, and almost finishing all of my Italian language learning (one more level to go until it’s official) in these two months. I’ve met people from countries I’ve only imagined, from all corners of the world, and all interests and backgrounds.
Beyond just learning and using Italian every day, I was privileged enough to be able to travel every weekend, mostly alone. Solo travel can be a little nerve-wracking; at first, I was so insecure about eating alone at every meal, only buying one ticket to all of the sights. Would I have to explain myself to everyone I met? Would people think I got stood up on a date?
With some practice, it’s an incredibly freeing experience. You become very introspective and selfish. But a good selfish, a well-deserved selfish. If I’m being honest, this whole summer was about me being selfish. I got to do what I wanted to do. I got to eat where I liked, I got to stay at the museums for hours, scoping out every inch of the place. I know almost no one who would indulge me in visiting the ethnographic part of the Vatican Museums because no one else cares about that section except me! I know this because I was one of maybe 5 people in that part, when the Sistine Chapel was completely full.
Take Pompeii, for example. I met a really nice recent college graduate from Belgium in line for tickets, and we chatted while we waited in line. He was perfectly nice and everything, but I had my own plans for the day (a Rick Steves podcast tour of the place) and wasn’t really interested in hanging out with him while I walked around the city because I wanted to focus on my first time in Pompeii and learning everything I could. I missed weekend trips and hanging out with my classmates because I was not going to miss visiting my grandfather’s childhood home in Istria or taking my Cinque Terre tour. This summer, one of the most important things I learned was, because this is my first real time in Italy, a country in which I still have so much to see, I can and should value my interests first.
And I’m so happy I did. Maybe I came off as a little standoffish, but I’m just so happy with all of the things that I did and saw. In total, I visited eleven cities thus far, and still have one more to go. I went to places I’d only read about and seen in pictures, and I tried new things I thought I would never even attempt. Like my visit to Cinque Terre: I went on a hike! A real, 90 minute long hike that I would like never to do again! But doing that hike allowed me to see those views that you only get in postcards. I went it alone, but I’m actually pretty happy about that because then no one had to wait while I took frequent rests up while dragging myself up and down this mountainside. Then there were also the little things. I’ve never seen a movie in the theater by myself before, and while I was in Naples, I saw the new Star Trek. It was dubbed in Italian, so it was basically like I was studying for my final exam. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I even navigated disaster all by myself. While I was in Naples, someone got ahold of my debit card number, and I had to close my account with my bank. All of this while I was at Pompeii. Yes, I spent an hour on the phone with Bank of America in the middle of the most well preserved ancient Roman city. At least I had shade? And then, to top it all off, when I went to Western Union to get my money wire from my parents, I didn’t bring my passport! I had to go all the way back to my Airbnb and then all the way back to the train station to get my money I needed to, you know, buy dinner. Despite all that in Naples, it really is a magical city. There’s music everywhere, and even if it’s for the tourists’ benefits, it really does add to the joy.
How do I conclude describing this summer? It’s been the most incredible two months of my life, and actually, it’s not finished yet! Tomorrow, my family arrives in Siena and together we’ll go to Florence and Venice (the latter to which I haven’t yet been!). So I’m not quite done, but my solo part is. I really do value these two months I spent largely flying solo. I learned so much about myself and my values. I think I really became an adult over these two months, traveling, learning, speaking Italian, and living in the most amazing country in the world.