In the spring of 2019, a friend of mine talked with me about her experience studying abroad in Bologna, Italy. I always knew I wanted to go abroad at some point during my time at college and Italy had always been at the top of my list. My mom was born in Mola di Bari, a small sea town in the south of Italy, and I have an uncle who currently lives on a small island off the Gulf of Naples. I’ve also taken three semesters of Italian and was more than ready to put those skills to use! After listening to her captivating stories, I knew that Bologna was where I wanted to be. However, worrying about the possible outbreak of a global pandemic was not exactly something I had in mind.
I left for my semester two weeks into the new year. I’ll be honest, traveling so far and alone for the first time was a little frightening. Fearing the unknown is something natural and facing the unknown can give us the answers to our most burning questions. I was desperate for those answers. As soon as I got to Bologna, I met my roommate and all of the other students in the program who came from across the United States. We lived in a dorm building that housed Italian and international students, so I was able to meet young people from all over the world!
It’s hard to put into words the feeling you get when you, for the first time, see something in real life that you’ve only ever seen in photos. Bologna might not be the first city that comes to mind when most tourists visit Italy, but it is truly a hidden gem. The city has three nicknames: La Dotta, La Grassa and La Rossa. In English these translate to the educated, the fat and the red. “The educated” is attributed to the University of Bologna, the oldest University in Europe with currently over 87,000 students enrolled. “The fat” is a nod to the delicious food that comes from the city, such as tortellini, bolognese sauce and mortadella. “The red” is most closely associated with the beautiful red and orange hues of each building.
During my short time studying abroad, I was able to see a few different cities, mainly around the northern part of Italy. I also visited the Swiss Alps and went paragliding from the mountains! But no matter where I went, I always found myself deeply missing Bologna. The city is so uniquely filled with young people, meaning it is so filled with life! It was impossible to turn a corner on a Saturday without hearing a musician or seeing artwork on the street. Walking across the Piazza was nothing short of magical. My friends and I would constantly make jokes saying that we were having a “Lizzie McGuire Movie” moment. That’s what’s so bittersweet about magical moments; they can’t last forever but they sure do make great memories.
When we first found out about the spread of COVID-19 in northern Italy, there was no sense of panic or hysteria. Besides the few bare shelves in the supermarket, life seemed to go on as normal. Of course, the spread was just beginning and much like in the United States, Italy was unprepared for what was coming. One week after news of the spread, Italy was declared a level three travel advisory by the U.S. This meant that my study abroad experience was over. I had a few days to pack up my things and find a flight back to New Jersey. Thankfully everything worked out and by the weekend I was home.
Looking back at my experience, I can’t help but wonder how many other magical moments I would have had if the pandemic never happened. However, life often throws us curve balls. Even though leaving was a bummer, I am so thankful to be home and in good health. A lot has gone on in the world since then, things that are much more important than a study abroad trip getting cancelled. I’ve taken the time to focus on these issues and realized that magical moments can happen when you least expect them to. My heart goes out to those affected by COVID-19, especially those in northern Italy. Grazie Italia, ci vediamo!