Today marks the one-year anniversary of when I returned to the United States after an incredible four months studying abroad in Florence, Italy. They say that studying abroad will change your life — and whoever “they” are, they’re right. (You can read about my time there in older entries of my travel blog, Lizzie in Firenze).
When I first set out for a semester in Florence, I had some ideas about the academic goals I’d planned to take away from the experience. With taking an architecture class in the heart of Florence, I intended to return to Marist in New York with enough knowledge, familiarity, details, and texture shots of the Renaissance City to successfully 3D model a game level environment based on it. (I know…Assassin’s Creed wannabe). While this 3D environment project didn’t play out, my time in Italy has busted its way through other projects of mine during this final school year…
First, there’s my most recent project, “Revival” — a personal, video expression of my dreamy study abroad memories throughout Europe, compiled with footage and photographs captured while abroad that are intertwined with motion graphical animation. Make sure to watch it in HD! (After clicking the play button, click the gears icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the viewer, and choose 720p).
I’ve continued to study Italian language since returning, too. I’ve taken two more courses, I’ve gone to Italian language-speaking Meetups and practiced with waiters on Mulberry Street of NYC’s Little Italy, I’ve written letters in Italian to my relatives who speak it, and I listen to Italian music all the time. (The modern group Il Volo is amazing btw). Thankfully there was room in my schedule to substitute Intermediate Italian II for the core liberal arts credits of a mathematics class. Italian is such a beautiful language, and one which I hope to keep practicing beyond college. With the end of final projects and more of la bella lingua now under my belt, I’ll finally have time to read one of my souvenirs from Florence — the book “Novecento,” which a Florentine friend recommended to me.
I’ve also used my photography and writing in graphic design projects like the “Festina Lente” travel booklet, an Italian wine guide, and a typography self-portrait composed from my journal entry “La mia ultima notte.” I was also happy to see a cool surprise of my photography featured as the cover of the Marist Literary Arts Society’s publication, The Mosaic!
Finally, there’s Daorba, which I’ve mentioned on here before — the location-based, game-based learning experience for iPhone designed to help Marist College students who are planning to study abroad in Italy, to be more confident and prepared to overcome the culture shock, social etiquette and basic language obstacles that could hinder their study abroad experience. You can see samples of the design doc here.
I’m glad that my study abroad experience has carried through some of my projects and education this school year. But now that finals week is here and these projects’ deadlines are coming to an end in school terms, I finally have much more free time on my hands. Last night I spontaneously cooked a big chicken parmesan meal for a bunch of my friends. As we all crammed around our little table enjoying the food, wine, laughs, and distraction from final projects, I realized how much these simple joys have slowly slipped away over the past year… Now, with all this free time, I am suddenly rediscovering what is easily the most valuable lesson from studying abroad that I could possibly take back with me: living la dolce vita.
Did you know that there is no Italian word for “stress?” …The Florentines I met were hard-working people. But couples still took rendezvous to the beautiful sites. Students still spent their free time in piazzas with their friends. Busy restaurant employees still took off a few hours of the afternoon to walk their children home from school, and then the whole restaurant staff would sit together for a meal before reopening their business. It’s no wonder why so many of my Italian professors and friends had jokes about miserable Americans and their workaholic lifestyles.
So much joy comes from having some personal down time…It alleviates stress, it prevents stress, and it improves our overall happiness. And with that kind of mentality, we are affected in such a way that we might often find ourselves cooking dinner for the elderly woman who lives below us, playing poker with our friend’s uncle until 2am, sketching palaces on the Arno River, or baking biscotti for our favorite bartenders. The good deeds, good friends, and good memories all come from learning to embrace the people around us more than we embrace our work or our smartphones or our constant worry of not being good enough in some way.
Now, I know that part of my lifestyle differences between a semester in Italy versus a semester in New York simply has to do with the fact that I was in an exciting foreign country, and was mostly taking liberal arts classes. But I still had a full course load of 15 credits which I put the work in for an A, I still had the household chores to do, I still had travel & financial logistics to take care of, and I still had obligations to stay connected with my family and friends back home. I was walking miles per day, grocery shopping every other day, building a laundry clothesline in my TV-less living room, taking 15-hour bus rides around Europe, sleeping two hours per night in foreign cities…it was a pretty exhausting lifestyle. Yet, the joys that came out of this exhausting lifestyle — even in balancing with the work, chores, duties and inconveniences — made my life feel more energized than ever before. On a typical day in Florence we’d maybe walk a few miles to Fiesole (the bordering city), whereas here just walking 15 minutes across campus to the Hudson riverfront might be too much of a time commitment…sadly.
In the United States, loving what you do comes with the price of losing the other parts of life you enjoy — if you don’t keep that balance in check. In such a high-speed, high-potential, and high-stress society, it’s far too easy for someone truly passionate about their work to let it take over their life. And it’s even easier to let that happen when you’re surrounded by like-minded people driven by their own ambitions. I will never stop being ambitious. And I will never stop getting joy out of accomplishments with the work I do, projects I create, causes I help with, and organizations I run. But I will also never forget Italy…its value for beauty, family, love, humanity, and taking it slowly. Within a month I am going to graduate, move, and begin a job; the next chapter of my life is about to begin. In keeping with Italy, I plan to begin it fully.