Two days ago, I returned to Florence after a long, 10 day fall break and realized that somehow, I’m already more than halfway done with the semester. Although there are still so many places I want to see and so many things I want to do, there just isn’t enough time. One of my fondest memories from our 10 day trek across Europe was standing on the edge of a 702 ft cliff in Ireland. Heavy winds blew against my face as I stared into the abyss below, watching the waves hit the edge of land and wondering what it would be like to jump off. If the wind had propelled me two steps forward, that would have been the end. It was in this passing moment between life and death that I realized how little time I have; it’s important that I enjoy life while I can and do the things I’ve always been afraid of doing. Choosing to live in a foreign country for my fall semester sophomore year was one of those things. And honestly, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
My freshman year of college was memorable, sure. I went to parties, joined a few clubs and made the most of college life in the city, but I was never really living in the present. For most of my life really, I lived in either the past or the future. All of high school, I put grades first so that I could get into the college of my dreams. Once I got into college, I lived off old memories, constantly counting down the days until I’d see my then-long distance boyfriend once again. I was there, but I wasn’t really there.
Coming to Italy was a fresh start for me, so I took full advantage of this change of scenery. I’ve been traveling almost every weekend and spending late nights out with friends despite having class in the morning. I made an effort to get to know other students on campus (having a small NYU Florence community helped), and I’ve met the most interesting people, some who grew to become my closest friends here. Most importantly, adjusting to a new culture forced me to put my well-being first, something I often forgot to do last year when I was still in a long distance relationship.
Some time during this semester, something changed in me; it was as if someone had switched on a light in a slightly dark room. Never in my life have I been more content, emotionally and mentally. Somehow during my semester abroad, I realized how much I missed out on life when I was too busy worrying—either about my grades, jobs, or relationships. I can’t put my finger on the exact moment I had this existential awakening, but I can say that finding my independence again was one result of this epiphany. The people I’ve met, the places I’ve seen and the experiences I’ve had: they are all unparalleled. This semester forced me to rethink everything, from my friendships to my beliefs. Although it’s difficult to put “happiness” into words, if you asked me to describe the feeling of absolute contentment, I would say this is it.
Leaving the comfort of home fundamentally changes a person. If you’re considering studying abroad or living in another country for a while, I’m advising you to do it. Life is too short, and we often forget that time is working against us. It’s necessary that we step out of our comfort zones in order to challenge our way of thinking and to learn about other cultures as well. There is so much that we don’t know about ourselves and the world, and never will, unless we take that leap off the cliff. Find yourself. It’s a beautiful thing.