On Saturday, June 2nd, I boarded a plane at 11:05am that landed me in Charlotte, N.C. at 3:50pm. I had about a 3 hour layover in Charlotte but my aunt surprised me at the airport and took me out to lunch! I was back on a plane by 6:45pm that dropped me off in Knoxville at 7:43pm
... and then it hit me that this experience is over.
Being back the first couple of days was frankly depressing. For three weeks the people I was with became my family. We weren't able to have much communication with home so for three weeks we were each others' therapists, best friends, and family. When you spend such a concentrated amount of time like that with a group of people and then have to come home and quit them cold turkey, it can really put you down. Not to mention that you'll feel a little off-balanced with the friends and family that you left at home. You've just gone through a big life-experience and they can listen to you and your stories but they won't ever quite "get them" since they weren't there. They won't know the inside jokes or be able to patch together pieces of stories you forgot or help you relive the experiences. You'll feel out of sorts for awhile after you return from a trip like this. I've reunited with a few of the Rome group members since returning. Tonight I'm actually meeting up with three of my closest Rome family members to go see a movie. But people live all over the place, some have jobs, some are still traveling, so it's been hard to get people together with so many different schedules.
While wallowing in self-pity, a revelation dawned on me:
this experience isn't really over. In fact, it'll never be over.
The experiences and new perspectives I gained from this trip will always be with me. The memories will always be with me. And a few of the people I became close with on this trip I have no intention of letting go. So collectively, I gained some life lessons, some wonderful memories, and some hopefully lifelong friendships that I would never have been blessed with otherwise.
I have some final thoughts to share about this trip from the top words/phrases that one should know before coming to Rome, to life lessons I acquired, etc. If you ever get a chance to go to a foreign country with strangers and have an adventure... do it. You'll never forget it.
The Imprudent Student's Advice:
1. Don't cling to the comfortable. Experiencing a new city is interesting, but experiencing new people is life-changing. This experience was a tune-up for my social skills. I came to Rome not knowing a soul in my group. I came to find out that we were an extremely eclectic group of individuals, many of us lacking common interests and personalities. Amazingly enough, we managed to mesh together exceptionally well without much effort at all. When you live with strangers 24/7 for three weeks, you quickly stop being strangers. You're forced to either find a way to happily coexist with them, or be miserable. The way I phrase it may sound negative but it's a great thing. Learning to find common ground with people who differ from you is a life asset. You'll end up learning and teaching each other without even realizing it's happening. I am grateful for the fact that I didn't begin this trip with any friends or previous acquaintances. It forced me out of my comfort zone. I couldn't cling to any reputation or previous notions about myself or them. We were who we are and you could take it or leave it. Also, surprisingly enough, it seems that oftentimes the people that at first glance, didn't seem your type at all, are your type to a capital T. Find a way to become comfortable with the uncomfortable and get to know strangers. They could end up being a friend you keep for life. And even if they don't end up being that for you, they'll have changed or affected you in some way and vice versa. And that's what drives life... change.
2. Be a kid. I've always admired how easily amused and amazed kids are. You can pull a coin out of their ear and boom- you're the coolest person in their life. When you go to a foreign country, especially one that doesn't speak the same language as you do, it's as if everybody is pulling coins out of your ear every which way. My advice to you is to be a sponge- absorb everything; be in awe of everything. I asked a lot of questions to myself and others on this trip. What does that mean? What is the significance of that? What are you saying? What do you think? And if they couldn't answer them for me, Google could. Be curious and ask a lot of questions. Also, before and after you go see famous sites or monuments research them. An artwork is just paint on canvas and a statue is just shaped rock until you know the story behind it. And trust me on this one: Everything you see and everyone you meet has a story to tell. But you won't know until you ask questions and look for it. The other great thing about kids is they aren't cautious and afraid of embarrassment. They are who they are and they make no apologies about it. Be yourself, be curious, and be silly. This trip will be exactly what you decide to make of it. If you don't attempt to get anything of substance out of it, then you won't.
3. Always ask your server what they recommend. I am not an adventurous eater. If I can't pronounce a dish or recognize its ingredients, you best believe I'm just going to order a cheese pizza. One of the girls on my trip, Paulina, is one of the most adventurous eaters I've met. We gave her a hard time for the strange dishes she ended up with (most of them had eyes staring back at you). But, I envied her food bravery. Truth is, mom had it right the whole time: You'll never know if you like it or not until you try it. Most of us, with the exception of Paulina, stuck to safe italian dishes: pasta and pizza. Consequently all of us, with the exception of Paulina, grew sick of the italian food we were eating and ended up on the steps of the Hard Rock Cafe 4+ times begging for a morsel of American food. Ask your server what they recommend and be adventurous in your food choices. If it ends up being bad, at least you'll walk away with a funny story. Or you can just go to the Hard Rock Cafe.
Now more specifically, if you ever do decide to go to Italy, here are the top 10 words/phrases that I strongly suggest you become familiar with before you go.
1. Hello/Goodbye; Ciao; (chow)
2. Goodbye-formal; Arrivederci; (ah-ree-vay-dehr-chee)
3. Thank you; Grazie; (graht-seeay)
4. You're welcome; Prego; (pray-goh)
5. Please; Per favore; (pehr fah-voh-ray)
6. Excuse me- to get attention; Mi scusi; (mee skoo-zee)
7. Excuse me- to pass; Permesso; (pehr-may-soh)
8. How much is it?; Quanto costa?; (kwahn-toh koh-stah)
9. English; inglese; (een-glay-zay)
10. I don't understand; Non capisco; (nohn kah-pees-koh)
Thanks for making such an amazing experience everything that it was to me.