Today marks the one week point of my hundred-and-five day study abroad program,
here in the beautiful little city of Firenze. Funny, as I write this I realize just how arbitrary the word “program” has become to me. Three months ago, I was practically shouting from the rooftops about this “program” had been accepted into. Saying that every other breath I exhaled, clung to the phrase “study abroad program,” is less of a dramatization than I care to admit. But now, I cannot help but eye-roll at this past self of mine. By no means, out of embarrassment by my initial excitement; I have been immersed in this fairy tale long enough for it to be reality and believe me I am shouting louder than ever.
It is just so mind-bogglingly crazy to me that this “program” has not changed. What has changed is my perspective.
Three months ago “Firenze” was just Florence, a faraway land that, I craved so deeply… without even really knowing exactly what I was so hungry for. Update: it was the pasta. Yeah, definitely the pasta. I’m joking (kind of)… but really though, do not even get me started on the food; my mind literally just left this post to reminisce over the Radiatori al Pesto I completely #mang’d on this weekend. Oh yes, I am entirely capable of taking any language and forming my own “Ericacoined” slang from it, and yes I have been known to utilize this talent at both appropriate, and less than appropriate times. Needless to say, it has proven itself to be both a blessing and a curse.
Okay so if it somehow has not been ridiculously blatant up to this point, I sometimes tend to lead with comedy. And by sometimes I mean always. Let me be clear, I mean this in the least negative way; in fact, my sense of humor and lightheartedness are among my favorite traits. They have carried me far, in good times and bad. However, before my London transformation, this humor posed as more of a mask than an accent to my truth. Just the thought of opening up to anyone about anything, even my hometown best friends of practically a decade, made me physically nauseous.
I am still not sure exactly why I was the way I was for such a major part of my life. All I can tell you is that this Erica is no more, and I could not be more grateful. I mean, sure, every now and then I still find myself fronting, but never about anything even remotely heavy enough to shake me or the progress I have made. It’s funny, the more weight I displace from my shoulders, the stronger I get. And I’m still hilarious! Look at that! Being able to love and even more so, be loved; and to never question if you are loved, has been one of the most humbling, yet fulfilling experiences of my life. Truly deep human interaction is a gift I will never stop myself from receiving ever again, and you should not either.
Speaking of gifts, I would like to say that, against every advice bracing me for the “ultimate culture shock” here, I have assimilated quite smoothly. The only form of culture shock I have experienced so far is the struggle to learn the language. And believe me, ya girl be STRUGGLING with that one. This was made painfully evident when a man in the world famous Piazza Del Duomo (where the Florence Cathedral/Dome is located) tried to spark a conversation with me in Italian! Needless to say, he was shocked and a little disappointed (guess you could say I’m breaking Italian stallions’ hearts out here… naturally) at my response. “Mi dispiace, no Italiano”, an apology I have become discouragingly familiar with. He laughed, saying, “What do you mean you don’t speak Italian? You LOOK Italian!” If only that were enough, pal.
Other than that, amazingly enough, I feel at home here. I feel so at home that when the faculty, here at FUA (Florence University of the Arts), talk about us “going home” in May, it does not apply to me. I have come to realize that these four months really are just a “program” to them, and maybe even my peers agree… as it technically is, I suppose. But not me. Obviously, I do understand that I will also be boarding that plane in just a few months time, what really is a blink of an eye. But I am adamant about one thing: This opportunity, this culture shift — this life shift — is so far beyond a mere “program”. To undermine something so great with such a small, formal word, is just something I will not do. And as I write these words, I find myself more appreciative and open and ready than ever.