It started as a study abroad experience but soon became Amanda's life. Read her inspiring story!
I had only ever thought of Italy as a dream, never knowing when it would become a reality, but still always reaching for it to come true. I had seen the photos of Italy, read stories of the Italian people, and tasted the Americanized versions of the food, but I wanted the real thing. It was early one morning in May when I found myself alone in the airport, finally holding the coveted boarding pass that listed Florence, Italy as the final destination. I was heading there to study for eight weeks, but I didn’t have a return ticket yet, not wanting to limit my time there to a certain number of weeks (even though eventually, my wallet did that for me).
"I had seen the photos of Italy, read stories of the Italian people, and tasted the Americanized versions of the food, but I wanted the real thing."
I felt like royalty as I rode in the taxi from the airport to my palazzo where I would be living. The building would soon be bustling each day with students, staff, professors and their families. Everyone and everything we could possibly need was all in one incredible place. The room I was staying in had a small balcony looking out to the Santo Spirito church – one of the most famous churches of Florence – and I was lucky enough to wake up each morning to the ring of its bells. Looking down below each day I could see and hear the Vespa’s zoom past, taxi’s honking at pedestrians, tour groups snapping photos of the church and the piazza. Each day I wondered how I got so lucky to be temporarily living among all of this.
I’ve always had a great sense of direction, never getting lost except when I wanted to, but Florence lost me. I walked the streets with amazement, having no idea where I ever was. It was amazing that such a small, simple city was the first one to lose me – I like to think maybe I was just star struck.
"I walked the streets with amazement, having no idea where I ever was."
I didn’t realize a country as small as Italy could hold so much diversity within its borders, from the North to the South. Diversity of people, food, land, culture, everything. I was able to learn about it all throughout the week and experience it for myself on the weekends by traveling throughout the country. I was able to swim in the deep blue Italian seas, glancing back at the rows of colorful buildings and houses on the shore. I was able to roam the streets of the enchanting Rome and taste the historical significance. I was able to climb the mountains of Como looking down at a calm city and a sparkling lake. I was able to float through the canals of Venice by gondola with a personal chauffeur and musical performance, finally understanding the meaning of la dolce vita. Back in Florence, I would spend my mornings practicing the language, the afternoons learning the politics, and the evenings adventuring out to restaurants, bars, gelaterias, or just on a stroll to nowhere in particular.
It was fun, but it was thoughtful fun. Thoughtful in the way that I often found myself reflecting back on my experiences and why they were important to my life. During my travels, I spend a lot of time thinking about why I do this. My passion for travel formed out of a life spent mostly all in one place. Living in the same state for my whole life has been kind and comfortable to me, but has left me seeking other cultures and new people – which I was able to find traveling through Italy. I arrived alone and left alone, yet I never once felt lonely. The locals were sometimes intimidating, but always helpful and welcoming. The food, the wine, and the gelato were all more than comforting, and walking the streets of the country felt as if I were walking through a photo album and a history book at the same time.
"Hours spent looking out train windows and waiting in airport terminals have allowed me hours of self reflection, helping to define who I am as a person and what it is I want out of my future."
I arrived home feeling grateful and fulfilled by the experience. Travel has done so much to impact my life. It pulled me from my comfort zone and forced me to try new things. I started eating new foods that I never would have tried before, started striking up conversations with anyone next to me, not worried about what they would think. It’s strengthened me and has helped me develop a fearless love for new adventures. It’s brought me to new places and new people who have helped me create unforgettable memories. Hours spent looking out train windows and waiting in airport terminals have allowed me hours of self reflection, helping to define who I am as a person and what it is I want out of my future. Not only does it affect my life during my travels, but back at home too. It constantly changes the way I see the world, the ways I observe the things around me, and how I interact with others. It provokes a willingness to understand people and an appreciation for diversity in all forms. It’s a passion I will never be able to stop pursuing.
Amanda is the Travel and Social Media Coordinator for Travel Italian Style and is a student at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA where she studies Modern Foreign Languages and European Studies. She has a passion for travel and a deep appreciation for foreign cultures and loves to document her experiences through writing, social media, and photos. During this past summer when she spent time studying in Florence, she fell in love with the Italian culture and lifestyle and believes that everyone should be able to experience it for themselves!