There’s something truly ungodly about modern technology. I just flipped through my camera roll, holding down the right-arrow button out of nothing more than boredom; with that, my life literally flashed before my eyes. Sure, each image flew by too quickly to merit appreciation, but in some ways that’s appropriate—we rarely recall the specifics anyways. With one push of a button and six minutes of free time, I relived every quirky outfit choice, every fleetingly beautiful view, every friendship made and lost, every tree-trimming party and family vacation and awkward selfie and memory worthy of preservation. I’m not quite sure why it elicited such a visceral response, especially since this astounding phenomenon, that of photography, is less than new technology: a preexistent part of my world, that’s for sure. Nonetheless, I think there’s something worthwhile in a bit of reflection, something… moving. Indeed, my breath was running short by the roll’s end. The end of an era, the Pre-Italy Era, and the beginning of another.
Glittery “photo shoots” in town park, tear stained faces as I say my goodbyes, cliche touristy pictures from Milan; my first night out with newly-found friends, my first time eating lasagna, at least thirteen random cats I’ve found on the street; cloudy, underwhelming days in Florence, forty nine iterations of the same headshot, every Greek sculpture I could find maintaining at least one limb. The unfinished adventure of my lifetime, wordlessly inscribed in pixels. Looking hard enough, you can see the gradual changes in my disposition, see the wide smile soften into something more genuine, see the shoulders drop and jaw unclench. I’m a different person than the girl I see here, the girl from six months ago… and what would I say to her now?
You think you know what you’re in for. You think that because you’ve dotted every “i” and crossed every “t” and picked out your shoes for the plane ride, you’re somehow prepared. You’ve got this mental image of what your world will look like, of walking across cobblestones, gelato in hand, laughing with equally sophisticated friends and trying not to scuff your Italian leather heels. You’re so sure that’s what your future holds, absolutely, unwaveringly certain. And you know what? You’re not entirely wrong. There will be moments like that, moments when you look around and feel like you’re living a Hallmark film. But there will be so much more.
You’ll go on adventures, completely spontaneous and horribly planned. You’ll see new things and meet new people, and push through sleep deprivation by the sheer force of adrenaline and independence (not to mention espresso). You’ll consciously experience a thousand unforgettable moments, and subsequently forget them all. You’ll marvel before centuries of artwork and architecture, taste biscotti cookies with a secret ingredient that’s been guarded for generations, dance onstage at a hidden Roman amphitheater, and then later explain yourself to security. You’ll take the bus, miss the bus, and, when you’re language comprehension switches up the details, wind up in marvelously wrong places. You’ll climb Vesuvius and discuss the David, give tours of Pompeii and glide along the Grand Canal in Venice, and live out your dreams so many times over that you can’t quite separate reality.
You’ll also be incredibly bored. You’ll wake up every morning at seven a.m. and go to school, try (and fail) to break your newfound caffeine addiction, and silently pray that your math teacher is sick. You’ll sit at home and binge Netflix shows, you’ll curse at the weather, you’ll walk the same streets with friends night after night after night, until you almost convince yourself that life would be better, more exciting, even, if you’d just stayed home. It would definitely be easier. Because the one thing you’ll surely find, within the first hour of arrival, is that this is really hard.
You’ll cry in the bathroom three times your first day, and avoid phoning home because you can’t bare to see your parents faces, to hear them speak. You’ll shrink into yourself when meeting new people, embarrassed by your pronunciation, and start to shake when strangers laugh at your foreign mannerisms. You’ll do homework in another language, you’ll procrastinate homework in another language, you’ll whine and moan about it until somehow it gets done, and then you’ll realize you’ve gotten the grammar all wrong. You’ll try to take up journaling, and blogging, and then forget about it for three months (sorry readers, I’ll get better). You’ll struggle making friends and silently panic every time you sit alone, then, later, wonder if your friends really care, or if they’re merely enthralled by the fact that you come from the same land as Beyonce. You’ll question yourself: if you’re strong enough, smart enough, confident enough, reckless enough to survive another day. You’ll wonder if you’re on the right track, if there is a right track, and if you’ve really done all you can do to ensure this year is a “success,” whatever that entails. Most of all, you’ll wonder why you ever thought this was a good idea.
But then, about three seconds later, you’ll mentally slap yourself. You know you’re being stupid. You know that you’re incredibly privileged to be here, that this is the definition of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You’ve never had better friends, never felt so safe and yet so challenged, never learned and seen another world through another set of eyes. You’ve never flipped through pictures on your camera roll and laughed at how little you knew. You’ve never been this happy in your entire life, and now your only remaining fear is that, once you leave… you never will be.