Experiencing Italy

By Katie O'Brien

I’ve gotten the opportunity to travel to a lot of places in my lifetime, but I never got the chance for one of those places to be outside of the United States. It was always the wrong time, we didn’t have the money, there were other things to focus on, etc. This January was a different story. After a somewhat long application process I got the exciting opportunity to spend my J Term in Italy!

Italy had always been my dream destination- somewhere I had always wanted to go for as long as I could remember. I was a big fan of Italian food, the ancient culture, the many miles of coastline. It had been number one on my bucket list that I made in 8th grade. If you were to go back in time and tell fourteen year old me that she was going to Italy, I think she would’ve fainted on the spot.

It didn’t really hit me that I was even going until I was sitting on the plane about to take off for Amsterdam. I had gotten just the right luck to have a whole row to myself for the 8 hour flight, so the trip was already off to a great start. We started our journey in Milan, and that was where we spent the first two days of the trip - one of those days being my birthday (the best way to spend your birthday? I think so!). We traveled all across the country: Milan, Parma, Bologna, Volterra, San Gimignano, Lucca, Pisa, Matera, Bari, Naples, Sorrento, Amalfi, and Rome, going from the top of the boot to the bottom. Even though it was a lot of unpacking and packing and a whole lot of travelling, I’m glad we got to see so many different places and experience every quirk and difference among the different regions of the country. Sometimes the big cities got overwhelming; there was people everywhere, the streets were narrow and very busy, and we were told to make sure to make eye contact with the drivers so you know that they see you. It wouldn’t have been all that great to be hit in a foreign country. As someone who grew up in a small town and lived in the country, my favorite part was spending time in the region on Tuscany. Tuscany was filled with beautiful rolling hills with breathtaking views and a significantly smaller population of people, which calmed my anxieties a lot. I will say though, nothing could beat the views we saw on the Amalfi coast. We were driving up winding roads up in the mountains with a fantastic view of the sea - so many dazzling shades of blue crashing up against the cliffs and shores - and tons of buildings built into the side of the mountain. It was kind of crazy to see it all.

The class was called Eat! Italy, and we did exactly that. We toured many cheese factories, wineries, pasta factories and got to eat the best that Italy had to offer in every region, from Parmigiano Reggiano to Amalfi calamari to tortellini… I ate so much food. There was a different pasta for each region and a different sauce to put it in; there was something new to try with every meal. It’s been almost a month of being back and I still miss the food terribly. Italian food is so authentic and carefully prepared, you really can’t compare.

Rome was especially cool because all those stories you hear about the Romans, all those facts you learn in history class happened in that city, and I was standing right where famous and infamous people stood all those years ago. It’s a weird feeling. That feeling was in places all over Italy, not just in Rome. We visited the Colosseum, the leaning tower of Pisa, the Trevi Fountain, the Roman forum, the Sistine chapel, St. Peter Basilica, and Amalfi coast, all places I’ve always heard about. Every time I walked up to these famous places it was different than I expected, but in the best way.

The whole trip was a lot moving, and we didn’t always get a chance to slow down and take it all in, but in the end I don’t know how much I would’ve changed about the trip. I am so thankful to have see all that I have seen and tasted all that was given to me. I learned a lot about the history and about the culture today and I also learned a lot about myself. It’s not always easy to be away from familiarity for three weeks with almost thirty people I barely knew. All in all, going to Italy was everything I dreamed it to be and more. I wouldn’t have traded that experience for anything.