Written by Melissa December 3, 2014
Days before the end of my semester abroad, I’m reflecting on my experiences and it’s hard for me to believe that there was a time in my life when I didn’t think this would be possible.
Two years ago, today actually, my mom and I lost my dad. Soon after that there was a time when I didn’t think I’d be in college anymore, let alone studying and living in another country. But here I am and, looking back, I can’t believe this wonderful semester might not have happened and I’m so thankful it did.
This semester, I’ve grown so much as an individual and I know it would be nearly impossible to duplicate these lessons in any other way than living here in Paderno del Grappa. After three months living in and traveling around Europe, I’ve become so much more independent than I had been previously. I can make decisions now (one of my goals on which I’ve been working tirelessly with my LEAP coach), I can plan and execute a trip almost flawlessly, I can successfully haggle a price with street vendors who don’t speak my language, I can figure out how to navigate most forms of public transportation in several different languages and find my way to my hostel at night in a new city with no map or GPS. I’m more confident in my abilities now and I know more about the world than I ever imagined I would. My friends will even tell you, I learned to sleep anywhere I could find a place to sit down, which I think could be pretty useful. Having learned all these things, I predict that no problem in my life from here on out will be unsolvable.
Speaking of independence, this semester I even spent my first Thanksgiving away from home. Luckily, I was around great friends in Barcelona. Though we weren’t able to eat turkey and mashed potatoes with our families and the noise of a football game in the background, we sat around a dining room table in the back room of a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant eating Paella (a rice dish) and drinking Sangria, which are both staples of traditional Spanish cuisine. We went around the table each sharing what we were thankful for and almost all of us were thankful to be sharing this moment with each other. I think that is so special.
I really owe it all to my mother. She’s the strongest and most supportive person I know and I would not be here, in Italy or even in life, without her (I love you, Mom!). The experiences I’ve had here and the friends I’ve made here are unparalleled. I will never again be a twenty-something traveling around Europe enjoying life with such awesome people and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have done this, especially knowing that two years ago I never thought I’d be here.
My dad traveled a lot as a business man. He would bring me gifts (like my necklace I wear everyday he bought for me in Florence) and tell me stories after he returned from long trips. In places I remember him telling me about, I like to think that I’m walking where he once walked and eating the food he once ate and seeing the things he once saw. He loved to experience all the joys life and the world had to offer him and I know he’d be so happy I’ve been here doing the same.