Sunday, July 1, 2012

England / End

I am now back in the United States. My family moved last week from Mississippi to Virginia for good, so I came back to a new house. My room is currently a mess, littered with clothes, papers, boxes to unpack, and who knows what else. My exchange year has finally come to an end, and that means this blog must end as well. This will be my last post.

Last week I went to England with two school friends, Celeste and Giorgia. We stayed with a friend of Celeste's family in a village called Thame, which is close to Oxford. During the week in England we took day trips to the cities of Oxford, Salisbury (including Stonehenge nearby), and London. Needless to say, London was by far my favorite place, even though it was unbelievably expensive. Not to mention that the pound to dollar ratio was very hurtful when it came to spending money. But I'm just saying--they wanted 15 pounds to enter Westminster Abbey. Really? -.-
town hall of Thame
Oxford
Stonehenge
Big Ben / Houses of Parliament in London
We went to see Chicago on the West End!
I came back from England late Wednesday night the 27th and finished packing on Thursday the 28th. That day was also filled with goodbyes, as I saw my friends for the last time. I went out to dinner with my host parents and we watched the Italy-Germany soccer match, which Italy surprisingly won. :-) Friday morning the 29th we all got up super early to have breakfast together and then take me to the airport. I left Italy at 9:50 and endured the following 10 hour flight to Atlanta, where I had to change flights. The next flight left an hour late and so I arrived in DC at 7:15 pm. Seeing my family again for the first time in 10 months was strange but not as weird as I thought it'd be. Now that I've been with them in the new house for a day, I already feel readjusted to family life. At times it feels as if I've never left. Maybe I'm just fooling myself; maybe the real challenge of readjusting to American life is yet to come. But maybe it won't be as difficult as I expected.

I spent my last day in Milano reflecting on the past year and how it had changed me. The easiest way to concretely remember what all I have done is to glance through my photo albums on Facebook or this blog; in this way, I suddenly am reminded of the dozens of incredible places and unforgettable experiences I've had, all since last September. Many people go their entire lives without seeing the things I saw this year. How is it possible that in 10 months I visited much of Italy, as well as Berlin, Paris, and various cities in England? It's difficult for me to grasp. In the plane for Atlanta, before we took off in Milano, the in-flight screen showed the map of Italy, along with all the nearby cities. I suddenly experienced a wave of nostalgia, thinking back on all the trips I took across Italia, la bella terra. This year I learned that Italy is truly a unique country. Every single city, no matter how small, has its own culture and history. There is something special about every place you go. No two cities or towns are alike. And understanding this fundamental aspect of Italy made me so emotional that I knew that I would have to return, whether short or long term, at some point in the future. I miss it already, and I've only been gone a few hours.

The thing that really saddens me is how no other person can know what I know about Italy. No other person has visited the exact combination of places, in the exact amount of time, with the exact group of friends. My experience this year has been unique in every sense, and I wish dearly that I could share it with everyone, especially my family and closest friends. But I can't. I can attempt to describe my year, but it will never come close to portraying how it really was.

Milano will always be my home, and I cannot wait to return there. It is a city that I know better than my hometown. I have people there who love me. And it is in a country that is unlike any other.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Berlin / Last Week in Milano

Last week I spent 4 days in Berlin with my friend Ale, and as we were returning on Friday, I suddenly realized I had exactly three weeks left in Europe. I panicked, also because only half of those three weeks will be spent here in Milano; next Thursday, June 21, I leave for a week in England, and when I return to Milano I'll have only one day before my final departure. All of a sudden I have no time left, and yet there are so many things to do, so many people to see... Yesterday I stayed home and finished packing my huge box that I'll be mailing home later today. I also made a list of things to get done before leaving, and it was quite long. It remains a mystery to me as to how I'll complete everything in time. How is it possible that I have only 18 days left?

Anywho. Berlin. I loved it. The spirit of the city was completely different than those of Milano and Paris; whereas the latter two are somewhat snobby, Berlin is a city of young people who are looking to start their careers, artistically or otherwise. It was extremely cheap, and there were always cultural events happening everywhere. I was also fascinated by the history of the city, especially the period of the Wall. At some point Ale and I visited the DDR Museum, which documents through hands-on interaction how life was in East Germany. Truly interesting. And of course we saw the typical sights such as the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, Berliner Fernsehturm, Bundestag, Tiergarten, Holocaust Memorial, and the Berlin Zoo, among others. It was a wonderful taste of the city and of Germany in general.
Fernsehturm in Alexanderplatz (we took the elevator to the top)
Me as JFK as a Berliner 
West German jeans (left) and East German jeans (right)
Ale in front of the Bundestag
Holocaust Memorial 
Brandenburg Gate
one of the few remaining sections of the Berlin Wall
And now everything is ending as summer arrives. Several dear friends have already returned home to their respective countries. Summer is heating up the city and everyone is sweating. The remaining students are constantly organizing aperitivos in order to make the most out of our precious time together. A year ago I was at the Outbound Camp, all excited for what was to come in my exchange year, and I remember that period very well. And now, somehow, I have already finished the year. It's the strangest thing I've ever had to comprehend. Where did my time go? Before springtime, the months dragged on as we endured the winter. Ever since April, however, the time has slipped through my fingers and I can't take it back.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Firenze

June. The month of my departure. I have exactly 28 days left. But before delving into my current emotional state, let me recap the month of May for you. After getting back from the Rotary trip in the south of Italy, life got crazy. All of a sudden the weather began to fluctuate between tantalizingly balmy and obnoxiously cold-enough-to-need-an-extra-jacket. Once we hit the halfway point of May, around the 15th, we Rotary kids started to realize that our time was running out and that we wouldn't be in Italy for much longer. In fact, tomorrow the first of our group goes home. Therefore we started making last minute efforts to see each other as much as possible, organizing happy hours, disco nights, dinners, and even scavenger hunts throughout the city. Last night the Milan kids had a final dinner with our old professor of Italian, with whom we had lessons every Monday for the first five months. Throughout these final meetings with various friends, we signed each other's memory books and took far too many pictures, but I know we will appreciate everything in the future.

Brazilian friend Marcela and I. :)
Signing each other's books. :(
At the dinner with our old Italian professor. 
This past Wednesday I finally made it to Firenze (Florence), the city where the Italian language as we know it was practically born. Funnily enough the cheapest train tickets were with the brand-new private company, Italo. Talk about luxury, at least compared to the normal public trains. We arrived in Firenze early, around 9:00, and set off immediately to see as much as we could. Throughout the day, we were able to enter the Uffizi without a line, climb to the top of the cupola of Brunelleschi, see David in the Galleria dell'Accademia, eat the typical Florentine steak (fiorentina), stroll across the Ponte Vecchio, and enjoy a perfect day in one of the most Italian cities. We left around 21:00, so we had a good 12 hours in the city. It's never enough, of course, but I'm planning on returning someday soon. :)

Ponte Vecchio
Il Duomo e Il Campanile di Giotto
View from the top of the cupola. :D
David <3
In front of Palazzo Vecchio. So amazing. 
We are in June and I do not want to leave. Even though the whole school situation has been rather awful this year, I have fallen in love with Milano, and if I could stay here on my own without Rotary, I would seriously consider it. Although Italians tell me I am now fluent in the language, I still learn new things every day, and this keeps me on my toes. My pronunciation has a long way to go, and my vocabulary is ever-expanding, but I hope to continue onward. At some point I would like to take an exam to certify me as an official Italian speaker, but I will wait until I return to the US to do that. I'll need to study more before that happens. 

On Tuesday, June 5, I leave for four days in Berlin, and I am ecstatic. Monday is my last day at school (it technically ends the following Friday but I'll still be in Berlin). Everything is ending and everyone is leaving. I don't really know how to take all of this. Soon I'll be back on my native soil and this whole year will seem like a dream, and that is the worst thing of all. 

My home.