This semester in Italy has been a game of prioritizing, and no priority has been as great as travel, most especially within-Italy travel. Since returning to Italy from Christmas break, I’ve become very aware of how little time I have left here. I don’t want to return home after a year in Rome and regret not having done something. The niggling fear of regretting regions that go unexplored has had me traveling all but two weekends this semester—in the past two months I’ve visited Venice, Verona, Florence, Pisa, Naples, Bologna, and rural wine country in Tuscany (not to mention the week I took to traipse around Ireland and the UK, and the coming weekends I have planned in Berlin and Sicily). I’ve travelled so much with so little sleep that the dark circles under my eyes have become my most prominent feature. Let’s just say I’m glad the one thing I didn’t shy away from packing was industrial strength under eye concealer!
Physically and mentally I’m so exhausted that at times it’s best to not think at all. To live life as a sponge for enthusiastic experiences is a job so high-energy that it’s best to absorb now and process later—there’s no time for both when you’ve blown through your second wind and are flying through the third.
When the 18th German novelist Goethe came to Italy for a year, he said: “Nothing can be compared to the new life that the discovery of another country provides for a thoughtful person.” Now, anyone who’s actually read any of Goethe’s journals about his travel through Italy knows that it would be an insult to his 18th century ego to call him polite, but there’s still something to be said for his overall sentiment here. In fact, its this idea of new life and discovery (in other words, being a sponge) that’s motivating me to continue to travel and attempt adventure—I keep waiting for the “new life” to transform into new energy, but maybe that part comes later once I’ve had some time to reflect.
Since Goethe’s collection of letters and glorified diary entriesThe Italian Journey was the first book I officially read months ago in Rome, I thought it might be a good idea to keep a journal of my own thoughts and observations—the ultimate account of my sponging around Italy and the more scenic parts of Europe. Like Goethe, I gave myself a year in Italy (his year stretched on to two, but the principle remains the same). A year away from my home school, my family, my friends—a year in a country I’ve always wanted to explore, with the opportunity to do almost anything I wanted. (Well, not anything—I learned early on that they arrest you for dancing in the Trevi Fountain, so that want will have to remain unfulfilled.) But still! A year to explore, to adventure, to experience. And now that I’m closing in on the last few weeks of my Italian journey, people are starting to ask me what it is I’ve learned from it all.
Goethe said that because of his Italian Journey he “believed (him)self to be profoundly changed.” As for me, I’m not so sure yet. It’s an odd feeling to pause mid-adventure and search for major developments within yourself, but (if the rhetoric of study abroad programs is to be believed) major developments do tend to happen. I’ve yet to find a major change within myself, but to be fair I haven’t exactly been focused on personality tweaks—too busy sightseeing and sponging up experience.
Maybe it’ll take being back in a familiar setting with familiar people to understand the differences in myself. As for now, I’ll be here in Italy, sponging on—I’ve still got a month left, the journey is far from over!