Studying abroad can easily be classified as one of the most terrifying things I have ever done. So as I sit here in the airport waiting for my returning flight back to the US, I can't help but think about how much these past 6 weeks have affected my life. Diving head first into a completely different culture, while barely knowing the language or anyone else on the trip has changed me as a person entirely. I feel like a part of me is being left behind in Venice, but that just reaffirms the fact that anywhere can be considered home.
Home, to me, is the place where you feel most comfortable in yourself. Looking back on my first day in the city, I felt so overwhelmed. I kept thinking to myself that I was in way over my head and that this was the most difficult thing I had ever done. Even though at the beginning navigating and adjusting was a big struggle, I can confidently say I (almost) know the city like the back of my hand. Venice has become more than just another point on a map, it's become a place I can call home. Study abroad has shown me a completely different side of a place I've only seen in pictures, but nothing can be taken for its face value.
Some say that first impressions are always wrong, and after these past six weeks, I would have to agree. You can never really say you "know" someone or something until you take the time to actually get to know them. In the Italian language, there are two different words for the verb "to know." Sapere is used when you are referring to knowing a fact about a thing whereas the word conoscere is used when talking about something you are familiar with or know very well. While it can be confusing to differentiate when to use which word, I love how Italian is able to differentiate between these two types of "knowing."
In reality, you can know a lot about something or someone without really knowing them at all. You can read a bunch of books and do a bunch of research about a city and still not truly "know" it or its people. You can have a daily interaction with someone but still not truly know them as a person. You can know a lot of things about yourself (the things you like or who your friends are) without truly knowing you.
In my own opinion, the best way to get to know a place is to get totally lost in it. You will stumble among new places with every turn, you'll run into a lot of dead ends, but eventually you will end up going the direction you need to be headed. You can either take the main road or find a new way for yourself and be able to learn the hidden parts of the place. This is what makes a place home. By taking the road less traveled, you get to see the beautiful parts and the scary parts of the whole city and then you "know" it in a different way than any book will tell you. People are the same way.
You can either take a person for their face value, or you can take the time to truly get to know them. Obviously, you will not be talking to every person you encounter about your deepest thoughts, but the people who you share your deepest feelings with are the ones that are a part of defining home. My friend gave a toast at our last dinner in Venice and one thing he said really stuck with me. He said "There are people out there who are waiting to meet you." which is weird because I had never really thought about anything like that. There are SO many people in this world and we cross paths with a lot of them, but there are certain people who we will meet that we will impact their lives forever by just being ourselves. You being yourself can change the life of another person and they are just living their life waiting for you to stumble into it. However, the only way for you to "accidentally" stumble into their life is if you make mistakes, take wrong turns, and go off the beaten path. I am forever thankful for the friendships I have made on this trip because they are people who have changed my life forever.
Studying abroad had genuinely turned my life upside down. I feel like a totally different person is heading back to America than the person who left it six weeks ago. I took a lot of wrong turns, did a lot of stumbling, and eventually found my way. I felt like I totally lost and found again who I am as a person. As I said before, the best way to get to know anything is to get totally lost in it and sometimes the only way to truly know who you are is to get lost in yourself. Even though I still have no idea where I'm going or how to get there, I now know where I want to be. Being lost is not easy, but it will always be a positive thing once you find out where you're going.
To all my Italian friends: In boca al lupo.