I promise I didn't die or forget I had a blog. & my sincerest apologies to those of you I assured I would be making frequent updates as I explored Europe during this cool opportunity also known as study abroad. I started off with every intention to write about each and every adventure, struggle and moments that made my heart the happiest.... and I did write about it all! But not here. As I jotted down things I wanted to remember and poured my heart out to the pages of my notebook, reflecting on moments just became more personal. I was already sharing all my pictures via EVERY social media site (sorry not sorry to those who likely developed a deep loathing toward me for my excessive updates... whoops, whatdoyado) and moments that made me laugh, smile, tear up and everything in between just felt too profound and life changing to be besmirched by simply sharing them the use of today's technology (but skype and facetime don't count... those baby's are game changers in and of themselves). But today, I am going to break my "personal space rule" (heaven only knows how many times Italians broke this rule) and share with you 1,000 words I wrote to describe what I have learned during my experience abroad.
- There is something to fall in love with everyday. Whether it is a building, a city, a culture, a person, a moment, a meal, a pastry, the list is truly endless.
- Personal time to gather and reflect on the simplest thoughts is both important and extremely necessary for one's sanity.
- It’s OKAY to be selfish! *sometimes* Do what makes YOU happy. If you live your life trying to please other people you will end up exhausted and disappointed. Whether we like it or not, the precious time we are given to live is limited and if you aren’t using your ticking time to make your heart happy you are only cheating yourself. Don’t concern yourself with the opinion of others… it just isn’t worth it!
- Life is NEVER going to be picture perfect… and ironically… this is exactly why I can honestly describe this experience as picture perfect. Traveling is seriously one ridiculous disaster after another. It isn’t until you have gotten lost countless times, steered in the wrong direction from locals you can’t entirely communicate with, stared at, pointed at, sat on the ground to collect yourself and wondered what on earth you have gotten yourself into that you can sincerely appreciate the beauty in every struggle that got you to each moment that leaves you speechless.
- You are never alone. Even on the days you come home, flop down on your bed, shut your eyes tight and hope to open them to familiar faces and places, remember our Father in Heaven is ALWAYS there for us. Take a deep breath, keep those eyes closed and PRAY. Prayer has no time difference (this is something I have become sooooo grateful for). Even when every person you want to talk to is fast asleep back home and you have just lived a full day of exciting new stories and/or encountered situations you don’t feel adult enough to deal with, Heavenly Father is available to listen 24/7. He will never leave us comfortless. What a blessing prayer is!
- Nothing is weird… only different. And that is what makes every inch of this marvelous planet so insanely cool! Embrace new experiences and dive into the unknown. Nothing astounding ever came out of comfort zones. So eat the food the locals recommend, put down the map and get wonderfully lost, discover how capable you really are and take advantage of single opportunity you get to taste the fullness of life! Never let life become a routine.
- This one is simple, but so relevant! If a street performer makes you stop walking or gives you the chills as you pass by, you owe him/her a dollar (or euro… or frankly any kind of currency you are carrying). Show your appreciation of someone courageous enough to share his/her God given talent.
- Sad as it made me for several (or many) weeks, we are not entitled to a fully functioning air conditioner or heating system. Neither are we entitled to clothing dryers, fitted sheets, garbage disposals, a dishwater NOT covered with mold, clean walls and floors, a peaceful nights sleep without dealing with mosquitos sucking your face off in the wee hours of the morning, or enough hot water in the shower to last more than 5 minutes (you know you are roughing it when you can’t wait to shower at a hostel). It is just as important to remember to be grateful for the little things, as it is the big things.
- Humanity is GOOD. It’s kind of funny that I am recognizing this while I live in a bustling city (I mean, I am faced everyday with people’s elbows jabbing into my ribcage as I try to get onto the metro and vendors on the street breaking all personal space boundaries as they attempt to rip me off). BUT when I encounter an act of kindness it absolutely changes my whole day. Smile back strangers who smile at you and say “grazie a mille!” when someone takes a moment out of their busy day to help the ‘confused American’.
- Positivity is a choice and at times it is a more difficult choice to make than others. So surround yourself with good vibes and good people because there is no reason to further complicate already difficult situations. Choose to laugh because no matter how much something sucks, it will always become really funny story later (trust me, there are many).
- If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you. I am coming home a different person than I was when I left. Change is healthy; it indicates growth. My confidence and my independence has been tested daily and because of that I am developing into the kind of person I’ve always looked up to. Growing up is scary but it is pretty cool. Make choices that you can be proud of. I have discovered I can handle myself in the midst of foreign languages and values.
- Sometimes the most beautiful things we see are the things we see only once. Reflecting on all the sights I have seen and the things I have done, it is the moments I didn’t hold a camera in my hand that I cherish the most. It is the times I wasn’t talking or reading about the history plaque. I was simply looking and seeing, completely caught up in my own contentedness. The times I was not only falling in love with the place I was at, but life itself.
- Over planning ruins magic. Don’t be afraid to be spontaneous and make time for serendipity. Every moment will one day become a memory, so live now! As cliché at it sounds, don’t dwell on the past and don't worry about the future. Every step we take is part of a plan and things will fall into place exactly the way it is supposed to. Trust that gut. It knows far more than you give it credit for.
Comic relief: I just successfully washed down a whole pizza with a spoonful (okay fine, *spoonfuls*) of nutella after a long day of shopping... This folks, means two things haven't changed 1) I still have a raging appetite and 2) living in Milan wasn't successful in teaching me to love shopping. So don't worry guys! I'm still Claire... just a wiser and fluffier version of me (: