I walked into my advisor’s office on campus one day, looking to do more in the Journalism department or maybe set up an internship in town. He sent me half way around the world instead. It was more than a trip. It was more than a semester abroad. It was more than I could have imagined. It was an adventure, in the truest, sweetest sense of the word.
“I know your type. Come on, follow me,” he said as he came around from behind his desk. He took me to the Office of International Studies where my journey began. It ended in Tuscania; a small town in central Italy where I would call home for four months.
This old town had a medieval center, surrounded by massive, rough hewn stone walls that cradled a maze of cobblestone roads. Breathtaking scenes of bustling piazzas, gorgeous landscapes and daily life in small-town Italy played out everyday right before my eyes. I was humbled and electrified to be a part of it. But I wasn’t just passing through. I actually lived here! I had a home on Via del Giordino, I knew the baristas at my favorite bar by name (and they knew mine), I had local friends that I would call and I could actually recommend restaurants and bakeries that I felt were noteworthy. I was part of this community. That was the best part of it all.
I was shown splendors all over Italy, from the small towns in the Lazio and Tuscany regions to the grandeur that is Rome. And just the thought of being back in Florence, if only for one espresso, makes my heart throb. This type of travel, this immersion into a life that you worked so hard to get to, was more than fulfilling, it was enlightening. We were living in rich days that were full of life.
Weaving through the masses as a faceless, nameless stranger that spoke a different language and came from a far off land was a common situation I found myself in. It was in this setting that I strolled through Paris on a fall Saturday afternoon, a soft pink hue gently draped over the city like a chiffon shawl. And in Marrakech I wandered through the medina’s corridors as an unknown passerby, finding myself in an exotic world I never thought possible.
But I never felt alone in these or any other times. I had school staff members, local guides, fellow students and natives that befriended me. They were wonderful travel companions and became friends of the highest order. That’s not to say that my thoughts didn’t turn to home from time to time, but things were just moving too fast and packed with too much fun to get caught up with wonderings of what was going on in my old neighborhood. But I always made sure to Skype with my Mom every week. I may be a fly-by-night, thrill seeking travel junkie, but I’m still a good son.
Traveling is its own reward. The souvenirs I bought could fit in a Moroccan tea bag, but what I did bring back was a lifetime’s worth of memories, an endless well of inspiration and most of all – a deeper sense of appreciation. For life. For the world. For the simple things and for the barely comprehendible ones too. The days were filled with endless promise, to be shared with new friends made along the way.
Through all the wild times of hopping trains and planes and busses and gypsy cabs to uncharted regions and unknown places, I learned that beauty can really be found anywhere, anytime. It is how you embrace life, and those you are with, that can turn “any day” into “that one day.” I went searching for life. I went searching for myself. And I found them both; one in the other.