my journey, my book

"how was italy?!"

"it was great!" or "incredibly awesome" just don't cut it. so, if you want a more detailed depiction of my life abroad these past 3 months, then read on my friends. but i must warn you: this isn't the typical "good" response you were probably expecting to hear.

preface: once upon a time...
two years ago, my baby sis [Mary Ann] & i decided we wanted to study a semester in italy. for one, it was cheaper than a regular college semester in the states, & two, well, it's italy. so after much pleading with the parents, jumping through hoops & doing jigs in order to get the credits to transfer [not really, but Liberty, you sure do make things difficult] we finally got the ok to turn our dream into a reality. though it was cheaper than college here, we still had to raise a bit of money. this is what last summer consisted of:
playing substitute mom
serving [and dancing with?] old folks at an assisted living home
other honorable mentions: garage sales [never again] & selling cookies with our friend, Erin who was determined to travel to italy, too.

hi, erin!

chapter 1: adjustments
fortunately, our hard work [& much appreciated support] paid off &, in february, we found ourselves amidst vineyards, bright colored houses, & 19 other americans thrown together on a tiny campus in a tiny town north of venice. what had we gotten ourselves into?!
oh, hey, vineyard
new home, school, kitchen, etc etc.
class 6 hours a day--with the same people. for 3 months. what...
chapter 2: the breakdown
in italy, we attended Saints Bible Institute, which is also where we lived, ate, fought & danced. yep, it happened. over the course of 3 months, we took 18 credits of college classes, ranging from Renaissance Art to Apologetics, Intercultural Communication to Missions & Evangelism. designed as intensives, we typically got through one class per week. much of our time was devoted to homework, discussing what had just been crammed into our brains & taking naps during repozzo [in italy, they have designated nap times every afternoon. what college student doesn't love that?]

clearly no one else was up for a ride on the canal.
and empty sidewalks? incredibly uncommon
on weekends, we had free time to travel. and travel we did. our first weekend, we did our best to explore venice in 30 degree weather & frost-biting winds-- we failed. thank goodness for hot pizza & semi-warm restaurants.

inside the Colosseum
the second weekend we traveled to verona. thankfully, the weather was almost 30 degrees warmer. verona was beautiful: home to the third largest colosseum in italy, juliet's house & infamous balcony, & breathtaking churches and castles. 

other weekend trips were to smaller, nearby cities in italy:
saw a castle, the Adriatic Sea & a Holocaust extermination camp
think Beauty & the Beast gone Italian
known for the canals-some people kayak.
we just sunbathed.
chapter 3: bragging rights
aside from the fact that we lived in europe for three months [check that off the bucket list], we were able to visit two of the most talked about cities in the world: florence & rome. of course, it wasn't pure tourist fun; it was part of our art class, so we had to read a book on Brunelleschi's Dome, write papers, & give reports at specific places within the cities. but honestly, we were in florence. and rome. florence AND rome. does it get any better?

Brunelleschi's dome
over 400 hundred steps to the top, but the views were far worth it.
saw our old pal, David
[& other Michelangelo works that don't get an honorary mention]
in Vatican city. that's St. Peter's.
andddd we saw the pope [!!!!!]

these were just some of the highlights. we also got to see the Vatican museum [the Sistine Chapel was inside as well], Roman ruins, the Trevi fountain, the Gates of Paradise, & of course, H&M.

we also visited venice again. this time, we were warm & happy. deserving of a dance, obviously.

chapter 4: spring break
roughin' it in the airport.
somehow i jammed everything i needed for a
week into my backpack
as great as studying abroad can be, spring break was a well deserved break from homework & classes. our group split into smaller pods, depending on the parts of europe we wanted to hit up. my first destination was paris. we went to the Louvre [fake Mona Lisa was in attendance], saw the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame-- you know, the good stuff.
one of few art pieces i actually recognized in the Louvre
Mar's "we just went to mass in THE Notre Dame!" face
[building on the left]
our next stop was barcelona. our first day was rainy & cold, but by the end of the trip the sun graced us with its presence & we happily walked along Las Ramblas [famous street], had a picnic at the ocean, ate great food [why doesn't every country have tapas?!], got lost on a huge mountain & saw some pretty spectacular architecture.

cool, huh?
tons of little dishes that we ate in about 10 minutes
gotta keep up when eatin' with a bunch of guys

chapter 5: favorites
one weekend, a group of us decided to visit salzburg, austria where the Sound of Music was filmed [yet another dream come true]. we took a night train [sorry, harry, we'll visit hogwarts another time], arrived at 4 am & sat in the freezing rain alongside the river until the sun rose--and cafes opened. sadly, the weather was cold & dreary but we made the best of it & explored the sweet little town.

umbrellas galore
paid 15 euro to hang out with maria
besides taking classes at SBI, we spent time helping the local missionaries. we handed out tracts, sat in on ESL classes, did mimes in the piazzas, & talked about 'merica at local high schools. they just started a new church plant so it was really cool to be a part of that as well.

some of the SBI students & staff singing at the new church!
of course, i can't talk about italy without mentioning the food. my, the food. so. many. carbs. & i loved it. too much. words can't do it justice, so feast your eyes upon this:

pastries, cookies, meringues, tiramisu... heaven?
chicken pasta with peas, onions, peppers, & pure goodness

and i can't forget the gelato. one simply hasn't lived until they've tasted this stuff.

i ate gelato probably every day. sometimes more than once...

chapter 6: BFFs
these three months went far too fast for my liking. not only did i get to see europe [i still can't get over it], but i met some of the most amazing people in my life. living in close quarters & being with each other nearly 24/7 definitely had its pros & cons, but i wouldn't have traded it for anything. it's hard to even describe how much each one of those people impacted my life & helped me see life in a completely new way. to my friends, my family:

abby: your genuine & cheerful personality & "oooh wooow!"s made my days so much brighter. thanks for sharing your closet with me!
christine: thanks for being real with me; your perseverance is inspiring. also, you make a great asian.
stacy t: your hugs & sweet smile always came at the right moments. i also appreciated your generosity when it came to buying me gelato.
stacy b: i love how serious you are about learning; it motivated me to strive to do better. also, your laugh is just great. don't stop.
kaylie: "ohhh honey" keep that accent forever, please. it makes your sarcastic remarks so much better. and for the record, you did not win the lady challenge!
erin c: we did it--all those cookies finally paid off. your logical, level-headedness is such a blessing. so are your passions for food & dance parties.
erin r: "one, two, three!" always a picture perfect moment with you. your optimism & "OH BOY!" have forever changed me. and your hiccups probably kept me awake in class. thanks for that.
laura: there are few people i have come across who have such a love for the Lord. keep on shining the way you do. p.s. seriously consider becoming a hairstylist.
susie: yeah, nutella & gelato kicked our butts. so did jillian. i loved getting to know your crazy side, as well as what you do & don't prefer...
kirsten: you never gave up. you're one strong girl & i know we all looked up to you. thanks for laughing at all the stupid things i said, too.
jessica: you are one sly, hilarious individual. tally marks, paparazzi photos, & youtube vidoes. i will never look at turtles the same.
sis: where to begin. you're the best friend & travel companion i could ever ask for. so blessed to have shared this journey with you. i'm glad we still love each other, even after paris.
caitlin: i don't know how you worked so hard & still managed to be so sweet. don't forget me, i hope to come visit you & your italian husband one day.
jen: i appreciate your thoughtfulness & desire to love on us. you rock that cute hat from h&m, and i'm glad you found it funny when i screamed "MOM!" in the rome train station.
bjorn: you have mad dj skills! your dubstep is cool, & we definitely would've gotten lost without your mastery of the barcelona train system.
jacob: jacobs, thanks for laughing, because it always made me laugh. you're a good listener & definitely made my semester so much more fun!
eric: what a gentleman & scholar. you really brought out the sarcasm in me [i apologize, but not really] but you made me think a lot too. i needed that.
jared: i can't believe you remembered all the theme songs from our childhoods. you're crazy & i had tons of fun reenacting lorna doone a thousand times. watch out for the butterfly in the sssKKYYY.
stuart: sometimes i pretended you were my big brother 'cause you're cool & a lot bigger than me. i hope you talk in an accent more often because it's hilarious. duggie for life!
tim: such unexpected things came from you but they definitely made the trip more surprising & fun. you're a great storyteller & i appreciate you eating my leftovers every morning at breakfast.
brett: thanks for staying positive even when we all made fun of you. you go with the flow & don't let things bother you--i'm jealous. p.s. i definitely screamed "'mericuh! eff yeah!" when we hit american soil.
sam: i enjoyed being one of your wives. you really know what you believe & aren't afraid to stand for it--something i admire. i hope my pokemon character serves you well.

believe me, this is considered normal

epilogue: damage done
well, now what? after two years of dreaming, hoping & planning, my adventure has come to a close. i've been home for 2 weeks, but already i feel like italy never even happened; it was all just a frozen moment in time, a dream i didn't want to wake up from. yet i regretfully returned to reality & am forced to go on as i once did.

but i can't. italy changed me. i'm not who i used to be-- i've learned so much about the world, about people, about myself. three months away from america only confirmed my desire to live abroad [scotland is next on the list]. my mind was stretched beyond what i thought capable. i may have left italy with more questions than what i had arrived with, but i don't see this as a failure.

i admit it's hard being home, away from my friends, from the beautiful country of italy. i miss being with people all the time, the awkward language barrier when trying to make conversation, the excitement of experiencing a different culture & seeing things older than america itself. sometimes i get frustrated: why did i put myself through that knowing i'd fall in love with it all only to come home heartbroken? it seems i only lost.

but i didn't. i now have special memories that will forever remind me of sweet friends & unforgettable moments. it was a journey i can relive-- looking at pictures, staying in contact with people, eating gelato [i'm addicted for life]. all good things must come to an end at some point... but maybe, just maybe, this journey won't have to.

my camera, my memories:
to be relived with the squinting of one eye & the shape of a rectangle.
forever & always.

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