The abroad article you haven’t read

Life provides so many incredible opportunities and we should take them… but not all of them. This post has been on my heart for a while, and I think it’s finally time to put it out into the big world of the Internet: studying abroad was the hardest and worst time of my life.

Let’s just fast-forward past the part where you think I sound ungrateful and horrible by even daring to type those words. On the odd chance that I can reach someone who needs to hear this, I’m going to trek on. Here’s what happened:

I went abroad due to social pressures from school and peers

I’m not placing blame, I went completely on my own accord, but everyone thinks that to go abroad is some crazy rite of passage or a do-or-die life experience that a person can’t pass up.

I knew myself but ignored it. Listen: YOU are your own best research.

Somewhere in my heart, I knew studying abroad for a semester wasn’t my cup of tea—although I did have a few wonderful cups of tea in London and Scotland—but I went anyway.

Still, I did a lot of research beforehand.

During that research phase, part of me hoped to stumble upon a blog of someone with a negative experience, or just an unbiased one, but Google is flooded with people singing high praises to Europe for its life-changing properties.

I guess I have “changed”, but not the way you think

Not because I found the best version of myself in Italy or ate so much pasta that my mind was drugged up on carbs. It’s because I underwent incredible challenges and came out on the other side. This is something that I am grateful for now. And it is tempting to say that it was worth it, but to this day I look back and wish that I had trusted myself more.

This is for anyone. This is for everyone. This is for me.

I’m writing this to myself. I’m writing this to anyone who is on the fence about going abroad and needs a different opinion. I’m writing this to those who have gone abroad and felt lonelier than they have ever been in their lives.

You don’t have to explain yourself

There were multiple reasons that my stay in Italy wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, despite how much I tried to love it. I won’t go into them because I don’t want to depress anyone and I don’t quite have the proper words to go further than what I’ve shared here… I just want you to know that it’s not your fault if you don’t want to go, or if you do go and don’t love it. It’s not your fault if your mental health gets the best of you.

It’s not your fault. It’s okay.
No matter what you choose, remember this: your experience is your own, and in that way it is beautiful.

How to Handle Seeing More Than One Museum in a Day

About a year ago, I was headed to Italy to embark on my abroad adventure. To those of you who followed me, thank you! And to those who just like to read about travel or are planning on taking their own trip, you are in the right spot! I’ve compiled below a collection of my finest abroad advice, along with some new tips on how to handle seeing more than one museum a day… because you know when you get there, you’re going to want to take it all in instead of slowing down like a sensible traveler.

So without further ado, How to Handle Seeing More Than One Museum in a Day:

  • You’re going to want to sit down for this. Literally, just rest your weary traveler’s feet and sit down for a hot minute. This serves a dual purpose: 1) it allows you to not run yourself thin after spending 3 hours in the Louvre and 2) it makes time for you to actually look at the things around you. I don’t mean the art, you’re going to see enough of that. I mean everything. There’s too much to take in, truly, but marching into museums and hoping to see and do everything will just leave you exhausted, overwhelmed, and irritated.
  • Don’t let anyone else craft your experience. Not the guy selling discount tickets on a sketchy street or your best friend who you normally aim to please. To capitalize on your time away, there’s no option but to follow your own instincts even if that means you want to stare at the same statue for 5 hours while your friends are checking out Mona Lisa and traipsing around the halls. Just don’t let the pressure of what other people want to do cloud your own desires.
  • This last point is obvious but if I’ve learned anything in college, it’s that repetition is sometimes the only way to make things really sink in: SOAK IT IN!Let the art move you. If it doesn’t, go buy a snack and people watch outside while other people look at art. No one’s making you go to these museums… but if you’re going to pay for admission, give it a try. Art has a way of sneaking up on us. It has a way of inspiring us. So let it.

Louvre statue

Also, prepare for your travels by catching up on these:

Places to see in Florence

In honor of Florence Fiction Friday coming up, I thought it’d be appropriate to list some of the best places to visit if you find yourself abroad.

Piazza Della Rebbuplica

Esp. at night people, seriously. This place always has performers, musicians, singers, magicians, painters… you name it, someone does it. And the carousal plopped in the middle is straight from a dream. It’s incredible. Right next to it is a bookstore called Red that sells primarily Italian books but is a very authentic place if you want to soak in the atmosphere.

La Milkeria 

The most amazing crepes, cheap coffee, and gelato that anyone could ask for – locals and foreigners alike. The free wifi is just an added bonus.. you’ll be so focused on the food you won’t even think about Instagramming it.


Le Campagne 

Any tourist will go to Gusta Pizza. It’s one of the best-known places in Florence. But try out this hidden gem instead. Hands down my favorite pizza in all of Italy.. and in all of the world.

La Gelateria Trinita

It was a blessing and a curse to have this on my walk to school. But hey, YOLIIO (You Only Live In Italy Once).


Pino’s Sandwiches

Delicious, low-key place with incredibly friendly workers – something you can’t take for granted in Italy. (Also, at some point go to a restaurant and try pesto gnocchi. Anywhere. Really. Just order it.)

Baboli Gardens

Finding alone time and nature in Florence proved to be my greatest challenge. For the price of 3 euros, you can explore the most beautiful gardens in the world.

Boboli Garden
Bargello

This prized piece was right down the street from my apartment. Priceless artwork from the Medici family era is located here. Many many scultpures and paintings and much less of a line. I recommend this over Uffizi Gallery if on a time crunch.

Pro tip: don’t only do the most well known things just because you feel like you should do them. It’s a waste of time. Find things from my list and online that really interest you. Do the research, you will be rewarded. 

In-Flight Playlist

When you travel a lot, it’s natural to have certain songs you come back to over and over. Here are some of my ironic airplane songs:

  1. Right Above it (Lil Wayne)
  2. Up There (Post Malone)
  3. Hamilton Soundtrack (makes me feel classy)
  4. In the Air Tonight (Phil Collins)

They give me good vibes for my travels. What do you guys listen to when you walk/drive/fly/transport yourself?

Four Final Questions for Florence  

1. How are your people so thin? You don’t have gyms, locals don’t go on runs, and your citizens drink at every meal… plus breakfast is dessert and everyone eats late.

2. Do you have accountants? I don’t understand how businesses are run here at all, they look like Mom and Pop shops with seemingly no good records–writing sales down on a sheet of paper is far behind a cash register or iPad. 

3. How do your people live here during tourist season? It’s hot as hell, there are no immediate beaches, and the tourists infiltrate every nook and cranny of the city. 

4. Have your residents always been this unfriendly and/or creepy? No one wants poor customer service or to be followed home from school. Harassment ain’t cool. 

Sicily 

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The water bleeds into the sky; it’s impossible to tell the difference. Out the window, all I see is a piercingly incredible blue. The streets wind wilder than anything I’ve ever seen. It’s like God randomly decorated the ground with rocky roads and then decided a town should accompany them.

In five minutes, I’m entranced. In ten, I’m in love. Although we have an insanely busy week ahead of us, the effects of the town are not lost on the other girls in my program. The light reaches people’s eyes, lifts their shoulders and spirits.

I expect the air to be cold when I step into the city, but instead it greets me with a reassuring warmth. Everything will be okay.

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Perceptions Abroad

I’ve been thinking a lot about the abroad experience lately, and learning about the Development of Intercultural Sensitivity has really impacted the way I view my situation. It is comforting to have a chart to make sense of my feelings and insure me I’m not the only one who has been there before.

DMIS

By analyzing Daisy Miller and Italian Journey, I found comfort in the fact that fictional and non-fictional characters both have such realistic experiences with their new cultures. Without further ado, here is my full analysis:

The Intercultural Development Model—a model typically shown with six stages that helps us understand how people experience/respond to differences from an intercultural perspective—has proven useful when reading Daisy Miller (Henry James, 1878) and Italian Journey (J. W. Goethe, 1786). On one hand, we have Daisy: an American traveling abroad who pays no attention to the rules of a new country. On the other, Goethe is traveling to Italy for the exact opposite reason: he wants to learn about the world and himself. With the Intercultural Development Model, it becomes easier to place characters on opposing sides of the spectrum. However, the model does not need to be used to pin characters against one another. It can instead provide a way to see characters in multiple stages of adaptation as they experience new social norms and expectations. To look at this further, I will analyze Daisy’s denial of Italian culture as well as Goethe’s experience of reversal in Italian Journey. By doing this, we will be able to approach reading with a new light and know better how to apply the Intercultural Development Model to other situations.

Daisy, our starlet, enters the life of a man named Winterbourne early in the novel. He notices her free-spirited attitude and is taken with her; she stands out compared to the Italians he is accustomed to, and Daisy appears indifferent to the changes around her. We can then turn to the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (or the DMIS) to make sense of how her behavior reflects what she’s feeling in light of a new culture. Daisy is likely in denial: the stage where one’s first experience is to not experience the cultural differences. Daisy wants to experience the excitement of a new culture without really understanding what she is experiencing. Daisy does not notice the class structure and social norms because she assumes everyone is the same. As pointed out by Mrs. Castillo: “[Daisy Miller’s family is] very common. They’re the sort of Americans that one does one’s duty by not—not accepting” (13) that is not the case; not everyone is the same, especially not in Italian society. Daisy is an outsider and does not notice when people try to help her adjust to society and, as a consequence, Daisy continues to do what she desires. Most perceive her as improper and disgraceful—other Americans even distance themselves from her, which could lead us to wonder what the American identity is, if it is not a young woman such as Daisy who is so full of freedom. It is possible that America, a country that is a melting pot, does not have a set identity. Perhaps they borrow from other countries in more ways than they realize, and do not have a strong enough culture to claim as their own. Winterbourne, on the other hand, sees her as innocence and exciting rather than disgraceful: “[Daisy] continued to present herself as an inscrutable combination of audacity and innocence” (37). Unfortunately, whether readers look at it as innocence, ignorance, or promiscuity, her actions in Italy lead to her eventual death.

From this, readers may wonder what had a hand in Daisy’s demise and, conversely, what changed Goethe during his travels. Daisy’s innocence, or recklessness, brought her downfall. If she were not in Italy acting as if she were in America, things may not have had such an outcome. Therefore, one may say that Italy has killed her. In the case of J.W. Goethe, Italy does just what it is intended to do. Coming from the time of the Grand Tour where everyone traveled as young men, he went abroad intending to learn about himself and a new culture. Already, he moved past the denial stage that ensnared Daisy. While Daisy had apparently done all the growing she intended to, Goethe wanted to develop himself as a man. From the start, Goethe is carefully taking in the things around him. For example, when he describes simple things such as “The gallery is too small […] But this must be forgiven for the sake of the fine museum which has been established under this colonnade” (54). I find him to be a credible narrator because he thinks before simply accepting things. As his journey progresses, it becomes more evident that he is in reversal: the stage where one considers the adopted culture superior to their original cultural. He sees the differences and prefers what he is witnessing in Italy to his own German culture. Goethe comments, “My purpose in making this wonderful journey is not to delude myself but to discover myself in the objects I see” (57). He is letting Italy show him what it has to offer instead of judging it with preconceived ideas; he actually becomes biased toward Italy instead of against it. In this way, he moves from thinking and analyzing to being further open-minded. “If I may say so, as soon as one sees with one’s open eyes the whole which one had hitherto only known in fragments and chaotically, a new life begins” (129). Italy changed Goethe. He feels enlightened by everything around him, from the way they keep time to the unfamiliar-yet-familiar objects around him.

I believe it is worth noting that Goethe’s travelogue is an account of his real travels. In the case of Daisy, she’s a fictional character. The author, James, was born after the Grand Tour in a time of Transatlanticism. James likes to focus on young women abroad and, while the DMIS can be applied to the fictional character of Daisy, it is not factual. The experiences of Goethe are authentic and not manipulated by plot or author conventions to make the story interesting. Goethe’s experience is a true reaction while Daisy’s is simply possible. No matter how strong of a writer, James cannot turn into a young woman and know exactly what someone like Daisy would think or say. He can merely speculate and create an interesting story.

Despite these stark contrasts, similarities can be draw between Daisy and Goethe. They travel for different reasons, but both get what they want from the experience. Daisy wants to be free and have fun while Goethe wants to discover himself in a new place. They must look at themselves and the relationship between their identities and environment. James, in particular, has a great interest in what happens to people when they physically move to a new country; he shows this through his character of Daisy. Goethe is interested in the same thing, but for himself. Italy serves as a character, moving the plot along as Goethe discovers Italy and Daisy ignores it. When faced with these works, the DMIS gives us a chance to look into two different character’s viewpoints and their adjustments during travel. Using the same scale as a method of measure insures we approach the way we view them equally.

All that said, readers may have questions. Was Daisy just not given enough time to mature? Travel is intended to grow a person. Leaving America should have, in theory, made her better. This brings us back to what it means to be an American. The other characters in the book do not want to be anything like the Miller family. Readers, such as myself, may believe that Daisy resembles America with her free spirit and modernity. However, she also contrasts it because America, at that time, is considered masculine and hard working. She is more like old Italy where people were playful and focused on leisure. Yet, she does not fit in there because she does not follow the rules of Italian society. Another question we may face: did Goethe’s life-changing trip stick with him or did its mark eventually fade away? As far as his journey goes, our analysis ends at the end of his text. We know that Italy had a great impact on Goethe, and we can hope he carried that with him the rest of his life.

When analyzing the texts of Daisy Miller and Italian Journey, the DMIS is a great tool. It allows us to see travelers in a fresh way and compare them on the same scale. It is apparent that when traveling abroad, different experiences occur for different personalities. This is based on people’s perceptions of their situations and what they want to get from their experience. Daisy Miller’s ignorance to the world around her eventually caused her demise, but she did enjoy her life while it lasted, no matter what people thought of her. I like to think that Daisy saw the good in people and denied the cultural differences. Goethe looked at Italy squarely. He took in everything he could; he measured what he saw in Italy to what he knew from Germany and accepted the Italian culture, even preferred it. In these ways, the DMIS provides a reliable way to analyze literature and the adjustments fictional and non-fictional characters abroad.