At 18 years old I hadn’t seen much of the world I knew lay beyond my own backyard. This isn’t your typical story of a small town girl pursuing big city dreams, but rather a big city girl chasing foreign ways of life as a means of understanding the people of the world, and also an excuse to consume all the gelato and pizza possible over a 3 month period.
After graduating from high school, I left Texas to work as an au pair in Verona, Italy for three months over the summer. If I was going to Europe, a short vacation would not suffice. I wanted to soak in the Italian culture, see its people, experience the sweet and slow Italian way of life. So I found a way to live and travel Italy to do just that. Speaking only English and arriving with seemingly little knowledge on how to navigate foreign lands, you could say I had a lot to learn.
Through it all, I never once experienced culture shock, but rather walked through each day with eyes wide open. With each passing day, a new routine, a new sense of normalcy, unconsciously developed. I soaked in the ways of life of those around me and allowed myself patience and time to leave behind old habits and learn a new way of life. I learned to navigate the train systems that would take me through humble Italian villages and large flourishing cities alike. I learned to respect time as the Italians do; shops close at noon and reopen in the evenings, some shops close on Sundays.
My new routine looked something like waking up early to walk the streets, taking in scents of fresh bread and cups of espresso being shared over intimate conversation. After a day of work I would, once again, walk the streets of Verona listening to the cheering children running the plazas with a scoop of gelato in hand (pistachio, of course). With my weekends dedicated to traveling, it was only a matter of where I chose to wander to. Hiking Italian coast of Cinque Terre through one sleepy fishing town to the next, walking among the Roman ruins, getting lost in the canals of Venice, and gazing at the many art museums and cathedrals in Florence, not to mention wandering the countless tiny Italian towns along the way.
I arrived in a foreign place having a way of life separate from my own; but time, patience, and observation work wonders in helping one to adapt. Only when you wander to places unfamiliar do you realize just how many types of normalcy exist on this one planet we all call home. With each life lies a different world.
Do not get so caught up in your own that you forget to experience another’s. You may just find that a newfound normalcy suits you better than one you’ve been living all your life.