Today’s Feature Article comes from Erin Finn, the recipient of the Thomas and Eleanor Means Fund, which allowed her to travel to Italy. If you are interested in this grant, please check it out here.
Italy. A place I imagined I would never get to in my lifetime, until this past April. I was fortunate enough to receive the chance to travel to Rome, Sorrento, and Vatican City for a week with my Latin class. The whole trip was quite a surreal experience. Even as I was staring out of the airplane as we landed in Italy, I could hardly comprehend that I was in another country, let alone one that was in Europe and where not everyone was fluent in the English language. That was probably the first culture shock that I had. I had this impression that I would somehow be able to communicate easily with the Italian people, which did not turn out as well as I hoped. My friends and I deciphered lunch menus, communicated with gestures (a lot of pointing), and tried our best at basic Italian. Probably one of the best moments I had was when I thanked a waiter for my food, he replied saying you’re welcome (in Italian of course) and then I had one of those gut reactions and accidentally “you’re welcome” slipped out of my mouth (in Italian). It became funny instantaneously as he began laughing and then my friends and I began to laugh as well. The next shock for me came from traveling to see sights that I have only viewed in books or on the internet through a picture. Pompeii, Herculaneum, Colosseum, Vatican, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Ostia Antica, Naples, Mt. Vesuvius, Catacombs of St. Sebastian, even just everyday Italian life. I still cannot fully process that I stood in the Colosseum where gladiatorial battles took place or the Vatican, where countless Popes have been in power. The Vatican, for me, was an unreal experience in itself because, as the center of my faith, it almost felt like a pilgrimage. I saw the stories of what I personally believe and discovered some hidden beauties of artwork that weren’t even the typical tourist sights in the Vatican, like the Sistine Chapel or St. Peter’s Basilica. My friends and I joked around the entire day that Pope Francis would come out specifically to take a picture with all of us. Unfortunately, that did not happen.
Pizza and pasta are not the same anymore. However, I have come to accept that Italian food and American food are two completely different things and although I can’t order my pizza and pasta all the way from Italy, I still thoroughly enjoy eating these back home. My best food experience in Italy would have to be the 3 courses that were given to us each night for dinner. The first night I was in Sorrento I did not realize that we would be receiving 3 courses of food. So, when the waiter came around with more pasta, asking any of us if we wanted more, I said yes, regretting it later when I was quite stuffed. After I learned from that mistake, the three course dinners were another highlight of the trip. For some reason, it made dinner more exciting, but I always felt satisfyingly full, not stuffed. I would constantly wonder what the next course would be.
There are way too many memories for me to write down on paper, sadly. I hope from the things I shared you can get a sense of how enjoyable and unforgettable my trip to Italy was. If I was to give one piece of advice to anyone reading this who was unsure of traveling to another country it would be “don’t let anything hold you back”. For a while it was unclear if I would be able to go to Italy. Before this, I had only flown once, on a short flight from Hartford to Indianapolis. That was the November before I went to Italy in the spring. I’m not great with heights and turbulence (not that anyone is great with turbulence), so just imagine me on a seven to eight hour flight across the ocean to Italy (did I mention I can’t swim well?). You probably get my point. It was not easy for me to force myself to go through security, let alone board the airplane. But I did. And I would not take any of the trip back, even the part where I freaked out three minutes into the flight to Italy because of turbulence. My conclusion to this is that you should not let anything hold you back from creating memories of an experience in another country that will last forever. Go out on a limb and push yourself to see the landmarks you want to see, eat the food you have always wanted to try, and attempt to communicate with someone in a language you do not speak.
I would like to thank the CANE Scholarship Committee for helping to provide me with some funds to help me to have this life-changing experience in Italy. If I could relive every moment, I would. Safe travels, Erin