I have been in Italy working as an au pair for over a month now, and I have yet to write about what it is like. I still have seven weeks of backpacking through Europe to write about, which I want to tackle in some kind of chronological order, but all of this is going to have to wait. It is going to have to wait because I have to write about what I feel now, or else I am going to explode. This post may come across as a rant, or a diary entry, or a self-help manual, but I hope that whatever it sounds like to you, you, or hopefully someone reading, can benefit from it.
Let me start this post by saying that living abroad has been a dream of mine for many years. In college I wanted to study abroad, but took the more responsible route of graduating early in order to save some money. In the following three years I would come to regret my decision that I never had the chance to live in another country, Europe, to be precise. I knew that I could still go abroad, but there were lots of things holding me back, my fear of leaving my family, and making enough money were two of the bigger reasons.
But, after seven weeks of traveling Europe (on what was only supposed to be a three week trip, you can read about that here) ,and many signs from upstairs later, I got a job as an au pair in Rome. I was going to live abroad! And now, I am living abroad, in Rome!
But, living abroad is not all sunshine and roses. Let me preface what I’m about to say with how thankful I am that I have had the chance to not only travel abroad, but work and live abroad. Working and traveling abroad are two completely different beasts that I will tackle another time.
So, I am thankful, and living abroad in Rome is incredible in so many ways. I get to experience things, and see places, and do things that so many people never have a chance to do. If I want to go to Florence for the weekend, I go to Florence for the weekend. In fact, I went to Florence last weekend with some friends. And it was incredible.
If I want to walk past the Colosseum, or stop by and take a quick walk around the pantheon, I can, whenever I want. I get to live in the eternal city. And it is stupendous.
I eat the best pizza, and gelato, in the world, every weekend. I see new historical sites every week. And I don’t do it alone. I now have friends from all over the world. Literally, I have friends from Germany, and Denmark, Scotland and Australia, Switzerland and Croatia, Hungary and the USA, none of whom I had ever met before. And we’re exploring this incredible city together, day by day, discovering everything that Rome has to offer.
Sometimes, I pinch myself just to make sure I’m awake and that this is my real life. I really live in Rome!
It is magnificent, but its also really hard.
Being away from the US really started to hit me a couple of weeks ago. I miss the US, I miss normalcy, I miss things being easy. Today I stood in the middle of an aisle in an Italian grocery store, just staring at all the unfamiliar food, wishing I could be back in the US and see a familiar label. I bought myself a coca cola to feel better. But some things in Rome are hard.
Like trying to ask someone where the dressing room is in a clothing store when you only know a few words in Italian, or having people try and tell you something in a gas station (even though you tell them ‘non parlo italiano’ (I don’t speak Italian)), or dealing with the general madness that is driving a car in Italy. Or, coming to grips with the fact that nothing gets done in Italy, NOTHING! Sometimes I just want to throw my hands up in the air in exasperation at this country.
Part of me cannot wait to get home. I want to be surrounded by a familiar language, with street signs that I can understand, where I know the customs. I want to be with my family and my friends and celebrate the little things that, to be quite honest, I took for granted before I came to Europe. I want to be back in America, where even though it may not seem like it, the American dream still lives. I want to be home.
And on the other hand, I am terrified of going home. I was frustrated with Americans before I left America, what am I going to be like when I go back? What am I going to think? There are hundreds of questions in my head. A big one: how have I changed?
My friend and I were talking about how much we have changed since being in Italy, and we realized, we’ve changed quite a bit. Traveling does that to you, living in another country does that to you, slowly but surely, so what exactly happens when you go back home?
I know I am going to miss Italy, and the slower pace of life. I’m going to miss my stress free life and visiting new places every weekend. I will miss having conversations with my friends from every corner of the earth, those conversations that are unlike any I have ever experienced before.
I have such polar opposite feelings about wanting to stay in Italy (or abroad in general) and going back to America. It is like being pulled in two opposing directions by such powerful forces. I don’t know exactly what I feel, and here is what this post is really about, it’s okay.
Everyone (well, all of my friends abroad) feel the same way that I do. Part of them misses home, misses familiarity. Things that they took for granted in their home country before, they ache for now. A girl from Denmark told me one day, “everything in Denmark is so much more advanced than Italy, everything is smoother and easier.” And then, on our way back from Florence, my German friend said in exasperation after our train was delayed, then cancelled, then we were told we had to pay a higher rate to get back to Rome, “This would never happen in Germany” the Italians standing next to us shrugged and said, “that’s Italy” without a hint of malice or frustration. The point is, we all miss things about our home countries. We all miss our family and our friends. Part of all of us are excited to go back home.
But, we also have another part of us. The part that lives for exploring new places in our little city every weekend. A part that enjoys talking to, and learning things about each other. None of us would trade this experience for anything in the world. It has, in a short amount of time, changed all of us. In little ways, almost not perceivable. But we notice that we’re more outgoing, more self-sufficient, confident, calmer, nicer, more accepting, more worldly, more grounded, we can get ourselves out of any situation, we can handle whatever is thrown at us. We feel powerful. And we also feel wiser, and more humble, we’ve seen the world, and the people in the world, and we feel honored and blessed and excited. Even though we know more now than what we did, we realize we still have so much left to learn. A part of each of us does not want to go back home to our routines, but wants to keep on discovering and learning new things.
Its hard to want to go home, and not want to go home, so badly, at the same time. It is frustrating, and confusing, and tiring. But,it is okay . That’s the way that it works. It’s okay to feel both a strong pull for your home, and a desire to wander the earth.
But what to do? A few of my friends are cutting their trips short, others are extending their trips, some changing locations, and the rest undecided. As for me, a little thing called the Schengen agreement made my decision for me. Unknown to me until a few weeks ago, the Schengen agreement allows US citizens to stay in Schengen states for a period up to 90 days in a 180 day period, then, 90 days has to be spent outside the Schengen states. Unfortunately for me, I did a bit of traveling before coming to Italy, luckily for me, Serbia didn’t count. So I have to leave the Schengen area (essentially all of Europe) by October 21. I bought a place ticket for October 19th and will arrive back in the US on October 20. And as you can tell, I have mixed feelings about the whole thing.I am both happy and sad, relieved and heartbroken, excited and scared.
But I’m okay with these feelings. I have learned over the past couple of months that I can be happy wherever I am. I can love life and have adventures no matter where I call my home. And I know that this traveling thing isn’t over for me. I still have so many places I want to see, for every place I check off my list I add five more. With every place I visit, I meet more people who I want to see again. It is amazing. I am so thankful for everything that I have experienced, and I am so so so thankful that there is more to come.