(Written for the Iowa State Study Abroad Center)

Somewhere in Europe

The final descent on my plane home marked the end of my four months in Europe and with it a whole new set of feelings. The afternoon sun beamed through the smallest crack in the window. My eyes glistened in the sun as I sat trying to hold back my tears. I was caught in the middle of my emotions. The joy of coming home. The sadness of leaving behind the most beautiful memories I will cherish forever.

So, how does one summarize the best four months of their life into a few short paragraphs?

From August 22nd to December 16th, I lived and went to school in Rome, Italy. On the weekends I traveled across Europe to France, Switzerland, Ireland, Greece, Belgium, Germany, London, and many parts of Italy; Sperlonga, Cinque Terre, The Dolomite Mountains, Naples, Pompeii, Milan, Florence, and Venice.

20+ flights, 50+ museums, 70+ trains, and a countless number of memories. I spent the last four months pouring my heart into each and every moment I was lucky enough to come experience.

So “how was it?” The truth is, there is no specific answer to this overarching question. I could sit and show you images of each historic landmark. I could tell you about my design studio down the road from the Pantheon, my apartment full of seven amazing friends, my weekend trips from country to country, and the “life-changing” experiences I had. But, the truth is, there is no simple answer to that question. The places, the experiences, and the people can not be summarized into a few words.

From the beginning, I questioned how it could be possible to live in such a varied community of spaces defined by diverse languages and cultures while still maintaining my own identity. The entire study abroad experience, though, is not only about your own personal identity. As visitors, we are immersed in a world that we are unable to fully claim allowing us to begin understanding the necessity for new terms in which to think of ourselves. The world is full of many distinctive cultures, many alluring landscapes, and many delicate lives within each of these. Over the last four months, I stood on the outside and looked in. I pulled myself out of a selfish role to look deeper into these new and unfamiliar people and places. I became familiar with the terrified look on a stranger’s face during airplane turbulence, the curious gaze of a child confused by our American accents, and the growing comfort of the homeless man with his new gracious visitor each day I passed him.

Each new place presented me with the opportunity for growth. School projects became even more challenging as my design style shifted with the surrounding inspiration and the help of my professors, museums, and books. I continued to learn about photography as well. Photography has always been one of my greatest passions. The beauty of creating connections between the camera and a passing moment to showcase the uniqueness of our reality drives me to continue photographing no matter where I am. My most valued shots are ones made up of the strangers I may never actually get to meet. With these images I get to imagine their life, their scars, their family, their heartbreaks, their happiness, and their stories leading them to that exact moment in time. Each moment, a memory in the making.

In my classes and my travels, uncomfortable situations uncovered my unknown personality traits. Though, the uncomfortable soon became comfortable as I learned how to adapt and alter my reactions. As I grew as an individual, I was fortunate to grow alongside one of my best friends. Our ever changing yet similar outlook on life put deeper conversations on the table and in turn, developed our new perceptions of the world around us. We discovered who we are and what our worlds could become.

The many places I traveled in Europe will hold a heavy spot in my heart. I will forever yearn to return. But, until I return or discover new things to miss, I will cherish the memories of long train rides through the Italian countryside, the airport bed of sweaters and scarves, the daily cappuccino from the cafe below our studio, the dead cellphone and disconnection from the rest of the world, the look on my professor’s face as we snuck out of class early on Fridays to catch our flight, the roommates who will always have each others backs, the Crossfit family down the street from my apartment, and so many more.

For students going abroad, I could sit here and write a meaningless list of names of restaurants and places to see, but this would be a list of places that hold meaning to me and my journey. Go out and create your own story that mean something unique to you. Ask the locals. Jump on random trains going in the wrong direction. Have dinner on your kitchen floor. Sit by famous landmarks with good company. See the world and hold it close.

If I could leave you with one request, just be grateful. You are so blessed to have these experiences, please do no take them for granted.

With minimal control over our destiny, we must live each day as if it’s our last. Explore. Face adversity. Understand that the world may not be as safe as we once thought. Live with insecurity, but don’t let it stop you. Party. Dance. Experience beauty. Travel. Be curious. Stay connected with the adventurous side of yourself.

Thank you Europe, Iowa State University, and my parents for the best four months of my life.

Behind the scenes footage below.