Michael 06-07

This week marked the end of the second chapter of my Italian experience and I spent it on vacation to Italy/Spain to visit some of my friends in the Malaga program. The first leg of the trip involved a visit to the Ferrari factory in Maranello right outside Modena, where we saw a huge showroom of Ferrari’s past and present. It was incredibly interesting to see the development of the engines, different car designs, and the massive amount of trophies that Ferrari has won with its various cars and drivers.
From there we headed to Milan where we stayed in a 1 star hotel, which actually wasn’t all that bad except for the ridiculously soft mattresses (if that’s what you want to call them), and the fact that we had to share beds. While in Milan we had an entire day to kill before heading to the airport and spending the night there so we wouldn’t have to pay for a night at a hostel and so that we would actually be up for our 5 o’clock check in. We saw the duomo, ate lunch at an Italian burger king, went to the Pinocoteca Brera, the Scala, the national museum of science and technology that had an entire wing dedicated to the works of Da Vinci, and even bore witness to the crazy teenagers that were standing outside of the MTV studios for TRL.
After a sleepless night in the Milan airport, we hopped a flight to Malaga where we checked into our hostel and proceeded to walk around the entire city, exploring a huge castle on a hill, saw the town hall, walked along the beaches, and saw all that Malaga had to offer. It was pretty cool that our hostel was right next to Picasso’s birthplace and in the center of town where everything happened. That night we got to experience what Malaga was all about as we went to the Plaza around midnight, hung out til about 3, then went to the various nightclubs, finally getting in around 6 in the morning. The day after was Thanksgiving, my first not at home, and we spent it in an apartment with a beach view eating paella and some delicious food surrounded by fellow Dickinson students and professors. It was quite an experience to be sitting out on the director of their program’s balcony looking out onto the Mediterranean in 75 degree weather on Thanksgiving. Afterwards we again bore witness to the craziness that is Malaga nightlife, and again took part. We had to get up early the next morning though, as we traveled to the historic area of Gibraltar. It was insane to all of a sudden happen upon what was basically a different country, as we had to show our passports and state our purpose. Everyone there spoke English because it is a British province, and it was incredible to see the diverse amount of people on this tiny little piece of land. We took a tour of the place, going into caves and seeing thousand year old rocks, climbing to the top of the rock of Gibraltar, playing with wild monkeys, and finally eating semi-American food. At the end we stood at a point that looked out over Africa, the strait of Gibraltar, the Atlantic, Spain, and the Mediterranean.
The vacation in itself was amazing, and allowed me time to reflect on my experience here so far.
While it was weird not being home for Thanksgiving and being surrounded by family and all things that accompany the holiday, I could not have been happier where I was. I was surrounded by friends that were in the same boat as I was, we were on the Mediterranean, saw Africa, dined in Milan, and stood on one of the ancient wonders of the world. It is amazing what I have done so far this year, and now that winter break is fast approaching, leaves me thinking that this year is almost halfway over. It is going by so fast and I can only imagine that the second half of the year will go by faster.
While this second leg of my journey has caused me to miss some of the comforts of home, I would not give this up for anything in the world. I can’t fathom how someone who has the means to study abroad would choose not to. While our school’s motto may be corny, we truly are engaging the world. We are speaking different languages, traveling all over the world, living independently, meeting people from all over, and absolutely without a doubt having the time of our lives.
Putting things in perspective like that make me feel truly grateful for this opportunity, and realize how much I am growing to love Europe. While I miss my family and friends, I would venture to say that I really don’t miss America and the culture that embodies the American people. This trip affords me a ton of time to reflect on my worldview and my various perceptions, and grants me the chance to learn something truly important everyday. Though it is only about 3 months into the year, I feel as though my views and feelings are changing, and as a result I am changing for the better, opening up my mind to things that living in America wouldn’t allow me to do. I just continue to think to myself that while all my friends and fellow students are sitting in classrooms back home, I am living what they are learning about, with Europe and this entire side of the world as my classroom.

This week we took a group trip to the Puglia/Basilicata regions in the south. To say that I had an unforgettable time would be an understatement. For 5 days we were more or less packed on a tour bus with 30 people, and nothing but our demented minds and each other to keep us entertained. When in such close proximity for so long, it was inevitable that there would be some confrontation, but also that we would learn from each other and subsequently become closer as a group. And that we did.
I can’t remember having so much fun just spending time with people, joking around, going out to dinner, and enjoying each others company. We were able to complain about the frigid cold and lack of adequate clothing together, go out to bars and interact with some of the nicest/funniest Italian people we have met thus far, and see some of the most beautiful sites in the world. While the rest of our friends were back in the states sitting through classes, we had five days to tour southern Italy with our only worry being what kind of delicious Italian food we would eat for dinner that night, and finding a pub to go to in order to indulge a little.
Over the course of the 5 days we visited Barletta, Trani, Lecce, Alberobello, Matera, and Lanciano. We saw gorgeous Italian coastline, pristine beaches, lush gardens, Trulli houses, the place where they filmed the Passion of the Christ, castles, caves, and magnificent buildings. We stayed in a bed and breakfast that was underground and had a hot tub within a grotto about 20 feet below the street, and in a cave that did not have running water or electricity until 1968. We saw the poorest area of southern Italy as well as one of the most prosperous. We learned of the economic differences between the north and south of the country, as well as the numerous reasons as to why things are the way they are today. We dined on traditional cuisine and because of the lack of tourists and cold weather were able to interact with the locals, getting a true feel for the area and the people that inhabit it.
As a result it was an educational experience on more than one level. Not only did we cover the academic side of things, but also the things that you couldn’t possibly learn in a classroom. I feel as though I was able to gain valuable life knowledge about both Italy and the culture as well as about the people I am here with. It was an unbelievable few days and I can’t wait for my next trip to Spain in two weeks.

Last week I celebrated my 20th birthday. Despite the fact that I am nearly a year or more younger than everyone else on this trip, I still saw it as quite an accomplishment. I have been alive for two decades. I have experienced the glories of childhood, the mixed emotions of adolescence, and now begin my journey into adulthood. I am no longer a teenager, and in the short time that I have been alive I have felt the joy of true love and friendship, the warmth of family, elation from my successes and pangs from my defeats. I have laughed, cried, smiled, pouted, helped, hurt, and tried; I have lived. I have been. My eyes have witnessed some of the most beautiful things in the world as well as some of the ugliest. Both good and bad, I wouldn’t trade my time for anything in the world. Have I made mistakes, do I have some regrets? Sure I do, we all do. In spite of it all I continue to be, continue to live.
While my time here in Italy has been nothing short of remarkable, I would be lying if I told you everything has been great, anyone who told you that would. Just because I am living in Italy doesn’t mean that I stop living. As Claudio Magris so poignantly put it, “Being hurts, it doesn’t let up, ever.” There are the good days and bad, the ups and the downs. I get frustrated and annoyed, I get homesick, I have to do homework (lots and lots of it). I have a language barrier that I am slowly chipping away at that prohibits me from fully communicating with people around me.
Then I think about it, and I have exactly that, people around me. About thirty of some of the most interesting people I have ever met, and an entire city full of crazy Italians. People that took me out for dinner and dancing on my birthday, made me ridiculously goofy cards, bought me my favorite book translated into Italian, and even a headband for when my hair gets too long. People back home that took the time to remember it was my birthday, and to call or message me wishing me the best, people that love me. And “love does not conjugate-it has its grammar, even though it doesn’t recognize tenses but only moods…When you love it’s forever and the rest doesn’t matter…Because you bring it along with you, like life…It’s there, like the starlight. Who cares if the stars are alive or dead? They shine and that’s that, and even though you can’t see them in the daytime you know they’re there.”
So thank you, to all of you, for making these twenty years of my life truly magical and worth every minute. As I continue to be, I will never forget having been, and all that you have taught me along the way.

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