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June 8, 2013

A new home in a different world

Though difficult at times, the experience of a year abroad will no doubt prove unimaginably valuable and rewarding.

There have been a lot of difficult moments during my year in Italy. Having to make a foreign world your home is terrifying and incredibly difficult at times. When I got here, everything was a challenge. Everything was different. Probably the scariest part of all was trying to make this place my home—trying to make a life and a family-like support system here—with a language barrier on top of it all.

I’ll never forget the time I nearly started crying in the middle of the grocery store because I had no clean clothes and I couldn’t figure out which bottles were dish soap and which were laundry detergent. I was so nervous the first night in my apartment; I had forgotten to buy food in the rush of moving in. I stood in front of my roommate’s door for at least a minute, considering whether or not to even knock, thinking of what words to use, and lamenting my own stupidity (though, in retrospect, I don’t know why this was such a big problem). But I went ahead and knocked. I have no idea what I said, but my roommate shared her dinner with me and then took me out to a live concert—ever since, I have loved her and my life here in Bologna.

I was scared to leave Chicago, to be so far away from home. I was scared something might happen and I wouldn’t be there. I was scared to open myself up to strangers, and to make friends knowing that in a year we would go our separate ways, possibly for the rest of our lives. I am even scared now, to leave my home here, and have to go back to a place and people who have changed in my absence. However, in spite of these fears and challenges, there is not a moment of this year that I regret. In fact, I think I’ve stopped regretting every decision I’ve ever made in my life—no matter how rash they have been—because they all brought me here.

It’s easy to say that study abroad has been fun. It’s easy to say that I’ve learned very much about Italian history and culture. It’s easy to say that my language skills have improved to the point where a volte non sono sicura se parlo italiano o inglese—or, rather, sometimes I’m not sure whether I’m speaking Italian or English. But I can’t even begin to explain how this year has changed me.

This year was a long leap of faith. I had to have faith when I decided where to live, signed a lease that I didn’t understand, made friends with strangers, and more. Often I never knew what lay ahead of me and there was nothing to do but smile and go ahead, trusting that no matter what happened it would be fine. And it wasn’t just “fine,” it has been amazing. In doing all of these things, I have had to let go of all of the rules and limits I have set up on myself—defining who I am, what I should be doing, and even who my friends should be.

With all of the distance, the required self-reliance, and the changes, I’m finally getting a chance to know me. I never would have learned any of this if I had not decided to leave my “world” and live in a completely different culture. It took putting myself in the midst of a chaotic and incomprehensible world for me to hear my own voice for the first time.

Going to college is a big change, but it is nothing compared with what my year has been. At college, generally, you meet a lot of people who have made rather similar decisions and all ended up in the same place where they are searching for the same things—an awesome career, a community of curious intellects (yes, I meant that in both ways), or simply fame and glory (joking)—and all do the same thing (i.e. the Core). You certainly do find people who are very different in college, but it’s not as extreme. Going abroad, I’ve met people whose entire life courses have been determined by different values and ideas of the past and future than mine. Even those who decided to go abroad were often looking to make a dramatic change in their lives.

In conclusion, all I can say is that if you ever get the opportunity to study abroad or to make a dramatic change in your life and surroundings, be scared, but go anyways. For better or worse, it will be the best thing that ever happened to you.

Noelle Turtur is a third-year in the College majoring in History.

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