By Rachel Julson
Ancora Imparo. Over the past few years this Italian phrase has evolved to define my life. It means “I am still learning,” and I like to remind myself of that every day. When I chose to study abroad in Florence, Italy, for my fifth and final year of college, I was so nervous and excited. I was finally about to embark on the trip I had been working towards since I enrolled in my first Italian language class during my freshman year. I had no idea what to expect, and it was absolutely terrifying packing my bags and leaving everything I’d ever known to start a new life on the other side of the world. But I quickly came to welcome that anxious feeling and I began to search for it in small moments of everyday life. Putting myself in awkward, strange, and completely new experiences daily became a fun adventure for me.
As soon as I arrived in Florence, I set three goals for myself and vowed that I would not leave Italy until I had achieved each one. The first was to come as close to fluent in the Italian language as possible, the second was to finish my college career strong, and the third was to build lasting relationships with new friends so that I could feel like I would always have a home in Italy. Each of these tasks was difficult and took patience and perseverance every day. You cannot learn a new
language without making countless mistakes, subjecting yourself to embarrassing situations, and feeling like the odd man out. I just had to go with the flow, laugh at myself, and keep trying. In the end, my hard work was rewarded with the incredible feeling of pure mental exhaustion after a full day of communicating in a second language. School was also difficult, as I attended two Universities – one American and one Italian Art University, where I committed to improving my painting technique. I worked harder than ever before and it paid off when I had the opportunity to show my paintings for a month alongside another artist in the center of Florence. My second goal had been accomplished. But of these three goals, the third has had the greatest impact on my life. Nothing can compare to the relationships I made during my year in Italy.
The memories I made with my American classmates during our travels together are some that I will keep with me for the rest of my life. From sleeping in airports, train stations, and on couches, to renting vespas, snorkeling in the Mediterranean, parasailing, and bungee jumping, we shared many adventures together. But the little things, such as making mimosas on our 6am bus rides, wine and game nights at home, hikes through Fiesole, and sunsets at Piazza Michelangelo leave just as lasting an impression in my mind. We shared all of our highs and lows together, and no matter where our lives take us, we will always be tied together by our amazing year abroad. Aside from my home within the American University, I also created a circle of friends in Florence through my passion for water polo. I began training with the Florence women’s team and although I was nervous and shy in the beginning as my language skills were slowly developing, the girls were so patient and welcoming that I soon began to build friendships which grew stronger as the year progressed. Together, these friendships defined my experience in Florence, and I am so thankful to each of them for showing me what life in Italy is truly about.
As my time in Florence was winding down and finals came and went, I was suddenly struck with a realization that I wasn’t at all ready to leave. Panic began to sink in as I scrambled to find a way to stay longer, and once again where I searched, I found! With just three days left before my scheduled return to America, I canceled my flight and accepted a job as an Au Pair on the Tuscan seaside. It was here that my true passion for exploring, growing, and giving came to light. I lived in a house next to the PuntAla Campgrounds, where my Au Pair family ran a mountain bike rental and tour company. Everyday we biked to the campground together and I took their adorable four year old daughter to play with the other little Italian children. We spent every day on the beach together, playing in the sun, riding paddle boats and kayaks, sailing, jumping off rocks, playing on the high ropes course and the jungle gym, and becoming family. I was surrounded by so much love during those three months that I don’t think a huge smile ever left my face. I was also the only American in the campground, so I was completely immersed in the Italian culture and was constantly challenging myself. I became addicted to LIVING. It was as if something ignited inside of me, and there was no extinguishing it. I wanted to see more, explore more, learn more, LIVE more. And most of all, I wanted to help others do the same. There is so much of this world to see, so many people to meet, and so many inspiring stories to hear.
After my unforgettable experience in PuntAla, I knew I couldn’t stop. Instead of booking a one-way flight home in October, I bought a round-trip flight – sending me back to Italy in January. I didn’t know what I was going to do in Italy, but I had just graduated and had exactly 3 months to figure it out. Less than ten days after arriving back in California, I was brought onto the Bus2alps team to start working as a Campus Ambassador in Northern California. For the past two months I have been spreading the excitement of travel to students who are contemplating taking the plunge and going abroad. It’s so exciting to see their eager faces and remember exactly what emotions I was going through during that decision-making process.
Now I have less than one month left in America and have just been hired as a Spring 2013 European Intern with Bus2alps, and I will be moving back to Florence for the New Year! I feel so blessed to be given the opportunity to share my love of travel while living in the city where it all began for me. So if you have the same passions as me, just keep working towards a lifestyle of growth and inspiration. Don’t give yourself any other option but that of forward motion, and your life will take you in directions you never thought possible. And always remember, “Ancora Imparo.”
Rachel Julson studied Studio Art at San Diego State University in California. She studied abroad from 2011 – 2012 at the California State University in Florence, Italy, while simultaneously taking painting courses at the Accademia di Belle Arti. She completed my bachelor’s degree in Florence in June, 2012 and remained in Italy for three more months working as an Au Pair. Now she is preparing to move back to Florence to begin working for Bus2alps! Be on the lookout for more posts from Rachel.
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