Today I head back to Milan after several weeks in the States for Christmas. Back to my now “home” and to (thank God), a brand new job. New year, new beginnings as they say. My flight back after the Christmas holidays always brings a familiar scene at the airport: groups of excited students ready to embark on their semester abroad and their anxiety-ridden parents following them as far as they can through the security line.

That was me exactly 9 years ago.

January 8, 2007, I departed for Siena, Italy for what would be my semester abroad and incidentally, an experience that turned into most of my twenties.

Only my second time out of the country, (my first was spring break in Acapulco, which I’m shocked I even lived to tell about), I remember awkwardly standing around with some of the girls I would live with for the next five months and our parents: my mom still asking the same inane questions nine years ago that she does today, and me promising to text and “use good judgement.”

The next five months was, as they say, “life changing”. Fast forward to May 2007 and I was bawling my eyes out the night before I had to come home. I just did not want it to end. I vowed I would get back to Italy, but never as a tourist, I would have to live there.

As you can see, I follow through on what I say.

It’s been one of the best adventures, full of highs and lows, happy moments and times when I just wanted to pack it up and move home. I am definitely not the same person today that I was nine years ago. So whether you’re embarking on your study abroad semester, thinking about going to live abroad or already living abroad, here’s some things I’ve learned over nearly the past decade of my life going back and forth between Rhode Island and Italy:

You will really learn what it means to keep in touch. Yes, distance makes the heart grow fonder and you’ll surely have those friends you can not talk to for months and then pick up where you left off, but it’s still nice (for me at least), to somehow stay in the loop even if I’m not there. Text, Skype, Facebook message and send hand-written letters if you have to. It’s almost too hard to not keep in touch these days. I’ve lost touch with so many people over the years that I used to be close with, from high school to college and even after. But this now 5-year stint in Italy has really taught me the importance of keeping in touch with friends and family that are near and dear to my heart. Of course I’m also a firm believer that those who are meant to be in your life will stay, whether you’re 2 streets away or 2 continents away, but it’s been so reassuring to know that our friendships have not skipped a beat due to the distance. Trust me, they’ll find ways to incorporate you into their daily lives as my beautiful friends and family have:

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Mother’s Day at Geppetto’s Pizzeria with my family and best friends

 

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By best friend Kimi’s 30th birthday

You will have to learn to say goodbye more than you’d like. And not just to your friends and family at the airport. I love expat living, but you’ll find it’s a revolving door, people will always be coming into your life and walking right back out. People studying abroad for a few months, those passing through for an overseas experience or families here on temporary work assignments. Everyone’s just working on borrowed time. I’ve met some people in Milan that will be life-long friends and had to bid them all farewell on to their next experience, next country, next chapter. When my good friend was preparing to move last year, it was hard to think we would never have this experience again. We would never again live in Milan together or have another Saturday hanging at her apartment. But temporary as it may be, you will truly learn to cherish the time you have with these people, never take it for granted, and find comfort in knowing they played a part in one of the most important chapters of your life. And those are memories that will never escape you.

You will roll with a very international crew. This year I had Thanksgiving with three Italians, a Finn and a Peruvian. Doesn’t get much more international than that….except that a Ukrainian was supposed to be in attendance if it weren’t due to her cold. You won’t just make friends with people from that country, but you’ll meet people from all over the world. And really, what’s cooler than that?

thanksgiving in Italy

Your life may not be as glamorous as your friends at home. I always say, if you choose to live abroad, you’ll be about 5 years behind everyone else at home. My friends in Rhode Island are having babies. I feel like I live in squalor and can barely afford myself. And I’m now desperately wishing I could sell the $500 Roberto Cavalli sunglasses I bought when I was 20 and somehow more financially stable than I am now. Italy was not exactly the most lucrative option, but that’s not exactly why I chose it. Try to keep things in perspective. If your study abroad turns into most of your twenties like mine did, expect to put a hold on the “three Ms”: money, mortgage and marriage. Not always a bad thing. And when you’re home visiting, your life, like mine, may not be so glamorous. The past three weeks I was cruising around Cranston in my mom’s mini van and using this ancient gem:

old cell phone

old cell phone

Seven years ago this was no big deal, now I pull this thing out of my bag at home and people look at me like I’ve just flashed them a hand grenade. Just remember, the grass is always greener. Someone at home is living a cushy life with a decent paycheck and secretly wishing they could be you for a day.

Your confidence will grow tenfold. Remember what I said about people coming and going. You’re always going to have to make new friends. You will have to put yourself out there, go to dinner and happy hours with people you barely know. For some reason, everyone I became friends with over the past few years seemed to leave in this past year. I came back in September and said, dammit, I’ve got to recruit some new friends! It’s been an interesting few months getting to know new people, but you do what you’ve gotta do.  It will test your patience, self confidence and at times, force you way out of your comfort zone. But trust me, it will change you for the better.

You will appreciate your city, state and country so much more. When I left Rhode Island to move to Italy, I had had it with this place. Now five years later I appreciate just being able to mail a package in under 10 minutes without the headache while I’m home. You don’t realize the beauty of where you come from until you are forced to deal with another country. Unless of course it’s Switzerland, or somewhere else that has their shit together. For as beautiful as it is, Italy has its problems and something as small as an orderly line at Starbucks makes me want to bow down and praise the organization of my own country. Hell, maybe even move back to it some day!

Life goes on without you at home. I came home this Christmas and forgot I was waking up to just Mom and Dad in the morning. My brothers moved out, one’s now engaged. I kept asking, where are the boys? Like, can’t they just sleep at the house for the entire 3 weeks I’m home?? For me?? Apparently (I’ve been told), that’s too much to ask! I feel like I closed my eyes five years ago and opened them in 2016 when everyone’s engaged, married, pregnant, moved to another state or off somewhere pursuing their dream job. And why shouldn’t they be? But there’s a weird part of you that will expect things to be just as they were and it’s sometimes a hard pill to swallow when you realize it’s not. But such is life, right?!

You will have so many stories to tell. I love to laugh. I always say, surround me with people who make me laugh, and I’ll be good. If you’re like me, I can promise you that your time abroad, as long or as short as it may be, will give you a lifetime of laughs. I always say, this blog writes itself. The characters I’ve met along the way have contributed a little piece to my life and this blog. One time my friend and I were out in the Amalfi Coast and got a wedding invite for the following day. We ended up crashing an Irish wedding in Sorrento Italy, danced with the bride, drank with the family….and that’s just the tip of the iceberg….

irish wedding

Our Irish wedding “dates”

People are going to wait around for you to “get serious.” This is my favorite. Let them wait, and don’t let it get to you. For people who make this whole travel or live abroad thing more of a permanent situation, you’re going to hear this alot. You’re going to meet people who will go back home because they “need to start getting serious about their life.” As if being abroad is playtime. It may well be. I can’t speak for those people, but I’m staying put, thanks. It’s a simple concept: life is too short to not do whatever the hell you want to do. Whether that’s going home, staying put or moving to Africa, just do it. People always ask me when I think I’m going to go home. And I can simply answer: when I feel like it.

So, what I’m trying to say is, expats, I get you, study abroad students, I envy you, and those on the fence…take the plunge!