Strong Like The Duomo

On many warm weekday nights in Florence, you would find me sipping a drink at a local outdoor café within Piazza del Duomo. The warm breeze would put my thoughts to rest and the sight of the towering Duomo that stood before me would make it all seem real. Instead of fresh blue a symmetrical puzzle of white, green, and pink marble hung above me as sky. The terra cotta bricks were the clouds that instead of creating playful wisps, created the majestic dome that sat atop Santa Maria del Fiore. My heart was at peace and my mind still with good intentions.

Some nights would go further than relaxing at the café but include apertivo as well. Apertivo, is an activity that many Italians take part in before eating dinner. It includes a drink and a buffet all for a set price, which is a very reasonable deal for a student studying in Italy. However, it was not the drink or the food that made fond memories, but rather the atmosphere and more importantly the company. Slowly, our conversations would drift from matters of the day into matters of our future and life after we left Italy. It was a difficult topic to discuss but the ideal weather simultaneously indicated the relief of the beginning of summer and at the same time, the harsh reality that soon we would no longer be in Florence.

Although we did not enter these conversations in too much depth, for all we really talked about was how it would be hard adjusting to life back home and that we would hopefully see each other again, it triggered much deeper thoughts. I have come to realize during the end of my journey that studying abroad was nothing that I expected it to be and at the same time, it is now nothing like the way it was in the beginning. I can honestly say that the feelings I have had are indescribable and it is increasingly hard to determine what changes I have undergone. This being said, I am absolutely positive that I have felt things I have never felt before, and changed in ways I never thought I could. Like I mentioned before though, I cannot even begin to describe how.

Sitting outside by the Duomo I notice travelers walking past our table, rolling luggage in the direction of the train station. Maneuvering through this piazza without luggage was exhausting so obviously, the travelers are struggling to push past crowds of people in an even crueler exasperation. This was a very familiar feeling because after living in Europe for four months, I understand what it is like to be a traveler. I also understand what it is like to not be a traveler and just living in a foreign country with nowhere to go but the place you are in. Upon beginning my journey I never realized that there was an incredible difference between the two.

During my time here, I have had realizations about many other aspects in life other then travel related ones. After this semester, I know that I am capable of being on my own and surviving. I know who my real friends are because those are the ones that have kept in touch even when we are hundreds of miles away. I have learned the value of money, hard work, experiences, home, time, and myself. In a time of total confusion where I was all alone in a foreign country and did not know what my next step to take would be, I learned that I could handle anything. This confidence is something that someone can only obtain after being so insecure and still being able to make it through on their own. At the same time, I learned that the beauty of this world is endless and it is impossible to absorb it all. I expected to have absolutely none of these realizations when coming abroad because in my own world I thought living in a foreign country would be four months of easy, fun adventures. In the end, studying abroad has not given me everything I wanted but it has certainly given me everything I needed.

As I sit with my friend gazing at the Duomo, it becomes clear why I am at peace and not distressed as I have been for the past few months. This is because returning home would be an adventure in itself. Finally, I will be able to put the skills and knowledge that I learned to use. I will finally be able to look back and say that I have learned from the mistakes I have made and that I am a stronger person because of it.

Around this time, the sun has faded and the Duomo presents a natural glow. The marble, although not completely pristine from withstanding years of history, shines as a beacon of hope for all those who travel to Florence. The structure has strong, dominant, and historical attributes. I sit back and think about how relatable the Duomo is to everyone’s lives and furthermore, my experience abroad. I speak for all travelers when I say; now that my time here has almost run out, I can say with confidence, I am strong just like the Duomo.

Melissa Calato is a student at Wagner College and an official API Blogger. Melissa is studying abroad with API in Florence, Italy.

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