An Unexpected Surprise, Finals Week, Paragliding and Saying Goodbye

Written by John April 9, 2014

As I sit here in my house in South Jersey, it still seems unreal that I will not be returning to my Italian dorm.  Finals week sped by in a blur.  Unlike a normal finals week where students remain cooped in their rooms or the library studying all day and night, this finals week was categorized by students working hard to know the material so that they could spend any remaining free time with their friends.  We all knew the end was approaching and wanted to make the most of the time we had left together. It is this theme of a last “hoorah” that I will be covering in this blog post.

Finals week began with classes from Monday through Wednesday and finals officially began on Thursday through Saturday morning.  For LEAP participants, we had our final presentations on Monday and Wednesday.  The formal dinner was Tuesday night and I still had to schedule a paragliding session (if you recall from my previous blog post, paragliding was a reward to myself for completing LEAP).  In addition to this already jam-packed schedule, my management group had to help our speaker prepare for the final presentation on Tuesday, many of us were still recovering lost sleep from the weekend in Cinque Terre,  and I had to pack my suitcase to return home!  Now that you have a context for the intense last week, lets dive into some of the more exciting events!

The last formal dinner on Tuesday night was a blast!  As always, we were served outstanding food and had a great time chatting together.  However, this formal dinner had a few twists. The first was a surprise video created by the Social Media team that recapped our CIMBA 2014 Spring semester.  I think that many of us were still in disbelief that this was our final week at CIMBA until we saw the video.  There were definitely more tears following the video, but it was a great walk down memory lane.  If you’re interested, here is the link to the video: I recommend checking it out if you are thinking of studying abroad with CIMBA as it highlights the experience well.  Following the video, awards were announced.  Earlier that day, we had a meeting where the entire CIMBA class voted on the winners for three awards:  excellence in academics, process, and leadership.  We all cheered as each winner was announced.  When the Excellence in Leadership award was announced I had the shock of a lifetime … I was the recipient!  I still remember my surprise when Ms. Baggio, the director of CIMBA executive education, exclaimed “John Vill-ar-ee!” in her Italian accent.  It was the highest honor to receive the award and I did my best to not look too dumb when I smiled for the pictures (later found out that I did not control my facial expression very well when my Economics professor jokingly told me to work on my smile for pictures!).  To conclude the final formal dinner, CIMBA hired a DJ!  The DJ was well-aware of the most popular current music trends which allowed everyone to have a great time dancing together.  It was a fantastic ending to cap off the exciting semester!

Excellence in Leadership award!

It was hard to contain my happiness and surprise when I won the Excellence in Leadership award!

UD crew representing at the final formal dinner

The University of Delaware crew representing UD at the final formal dinner!

Me and Manuel; our social media team coordinator

Me and Manuel. Manuel was our social media team coordinator and we worked with him throughout the semester while posting our blogs!

No time to relax Wednesday morning as that was the only available time for me to go paragliding!  I had called to set up a time slot Tuesday morning expecting to go paragliding sometime Friday afternoon after my morning exams.  However, that was not the case as the week called for heavy fog and the only available window that would be fog-free was Wednesday morning after my 8:30 am class!  Thus, I groggily awoke (the formal dinner ended very late!), sat through class, and hopped in a van which took me to the summit of Mt. Grappa.  The paragliding instructor, Giulio, was exceptionally friendly and bought me espresso at the summit and calmed my nerves as I informed him that this was my first time and I was going paragliding to conquer my fear of heights.  Many times he repeated his favorite saying “Don’t worry, be happy” and before I knew it, it was time for take-off!

The take-off was interesting to say the least.  He strapped us together and on his go ahead, I was instructed to sprint straight down the slope towards the cliff drop.  Imagine the irony of someone who is afraid of heights sprinting towards a steep cliff drop and the thoughts going through my head as I did this!  Before I could think about what I was about to do, Giulio gave me the “go” and I ran as fast as I could towards the drop.  Just as I came upon the drop, the parachute caught an upward gust and we soared into the air!  The feeling was incredible!  The wind blowing in my face, the beautiful view of the mountainside and towns in the distance, and seeing the birds flying below me all added to the indescribable sensation of flying through the air!  The best part of the flight was when Giulio took us through a downward spiral.  Talk about an adrenaline rush!  After landing, Giulio took me to a caffe to show me his paintings (while talking I learned that Giulio was a painter and he offered to show me his work) and bought me a spritz.  His hospitality was unmatched.  Paragliding is something that I will never forget!


Paragliding was amazing!

As I stated in the beginning, finals week had a theme of fitting in as much fun together as we could while not neglecting our studies.  Thus, there was no way I could say “no” to celebrating two Cimbians’ birthday parties Wednesday evening before my economics study session!  Following my LEAP final presentation, I met my friends at the local pizzeria for some wine and pizza to celebrate two of the girls’ birthdays.  I was surprised at the large turnout as we all had a lot  of studying to do for exams that began the next day, but it just goes to show the close bond we built together and how we wanted to make the most of the time we had left together.  We had a great evening recounting stories from the semester and talking about the first things we would do when we were back in the United States.  Eating Mexican food and taking advantage of 24-hour convenience stores were high on the list!  Eventually, we all had to head out to attend our various study groups.  Personally, I found the economics  study session to be much more enjoyable following the birthday celebration – most likely due to the happy feeling from the pizza and wine combo!

Birthday celebrations at the pizzeria!

Celebrating the dual-birthdays at the pizzeria!

Thursday sped by quickly as many students’ most challenging finals were Friday morning, but this theme of a last “hoorah” carried over to Friday.   Friday was officially our last full day together and we wanted to make it memorable.  During the day, we crammed in as much study time as possible so that we could enjoy the evening together at the Sports Complex for one last time.  It was a bittersweet feeling as we had a great time being together, but were also saying our goodbyes.  Thankfully, we are all expert travelers now and intend to visit each other at our respective universities in America!  To make sure we were prepared for our 8:15am exam the next morning, a few of my classmates and I decided a post-Sports complex study session at 3:30am would be helpful!  Certainly not something I would recommend, but I think it helped because I felt a lot more confident with my answers while taking the exam in the morning!

Enjoying the camaraderie at the last night at the Sports Complex!

Enjoying the camaraderie during the last night at the Sports Complex!

And just like that, it was Saturday morning and time to checkout and say “Ciao!” to Paderno del Grappa.  As the buses arrived, the parking lot was packed with students saying their final goodbyes and wishing each other luck in the future.  Many of us also made tentative dates to meet over summer.  Tip: Sign up for the 1:45 pm bus to leave Paderno del Grappa and not the 12:45pm bus (like I did) because that hour gives you much more time to finish packing and say goodbye to your friends than you would think!  My flight to return to the States flew out of Milan whereas many others’ flights flew out of Venice.  Ironically, Aman, my friend and the first CIMBA student I met (refer to my first blog post), was also heading to Milan to visit her friend so we were going to begin and end our CIMBA semester together!  We decided that we wanted to go out with a bang in Milan instead of being sulky, so we met up later that night with her friend and the three of us went to Alcatraz discoteca to celebrate our semester.  Side note:  I ran into another student from Moldova, which I thought was hilarious because I had never heard of Moldova before my trip to Bologna and in such a short time I had met another Moldovan!  Could not have asked for a better way to spend my final night in Italy!

One 9.5 hour flight later and I landed back in the United States!  My family was at the airport to greet me with homemade “Welcome Home” shirts written in Italian and even made me a shirt that said “I love my home!” in Italian.  Seeing them immediately reminded me of the amazing things I have to look forward to now that I am back home.  Stopping to eat at a delicious Mexican restaurant on the ride home from the airport was the icing on the cake.  I know that I will miss my friends and the atmosphere at CIMBA, but I am grateful for the memories I have and am excited to take what I have learned and apply it at home.  Instead of viewing it as a goodbye, I prefer to view it as the beginning of a new chapter in my life.

My family welcoming me home from Italy is our custom made shirts!

Yea we were THAT family in the airport….and I could not have asked for a better welcome home greeting! Mi amo mia famiglia!