I believe in the importance of travel. A year ago on this day I was about to embark on a journey most college-age juniors take: I was about to go abroad. Italy was my first choice from day one. As I said goodbye to my mom at JFK airport I remember the look on her face, like she was losing a daughter. To her, four months seemed like an eternity. To me, it seemed like a decently long vacation. When I arrived at the Florence hotel some twenty hours later, I was overcome with excitement. I wanted to eat a cannoli, see Michelangelo’s David and drink red wine to my heart’s content. Within a week’s span I did, and all was pretty fantastic. However, I started to realize that this wasn’t the vacation I had once pictured. For the next four months this was my life. The more I traveled around Italy, the less I wanted to seem like a tourist. I wanted to eat what the Italians ate, dress like them and most of all master the language. It was a struggle trying to gain respect from these cultured and sophisticated people. Ordering a sandwich became a difficult task, as my pronunciation usually got me a scoff or a scowl and a back-waiter to come and translate. I missed my friends, my family, SUVs and Starbucks. I began to cover myself with leather, order cappuccinos for breakfast and smoke cigarettes at the bars. I was trying to fit in when in reality nobody even cared but me.
Not until some reflection on my trip did I realize why my mom looked at me the way she did that day at the airport. It takes a strong person to leave her comfort zone, her familiar surroundings, and her home and still remember who she is and where she came from. For me, this was difficult and a constant daily battle while in Italy. Now, I no longer tell people that I’m Italian. I’m Italian-American. Traveling has helped me regain my identity and has reminded me of how important it is to stay true to myself no matter where I am or what I’m doing.
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