I was 19 the first time I made the decision to move abroad. Growing up in a small town, I spent my childhood dreaming of other places, wishing I could escape and see the world and all of its wonders. I developed a fascination with Ancient Egypt, learned French so I could order a café au lait without an accent in Paris, and made a list of all the places I would go when I was old enough to have the chance.
The first chance came in college when I studied abroad in Venice for three months. Although I had traveled some when I was younger, those three months cultivated my love for visiting new places and sparked a spirit of adventure. So it was no surprise that when I graduated from college, I decided to return to Italy. This time, to a new city.
Living in Florence pushed me in ways that I never thought it would. I had little choice in who my friends were as a foreigner — it was hard to find others I could relate to. I was also living on an extremely tight budget and struggled with adapting to new cultural norms. I had almost completely forgotten the language from my time studying abroad in Venice, which made it difficult to communicate when I missed my train and more challenging to connect with locals. So, I spent most of my time with Americans.
I learned that I was more self-sufficient than I had ever thought possible when my roof started caving in, and I managed to convey the problem in my sparse Italian to the workers drilling a hole in the plaster ceiling above me. I spent time reevaluating who I was and what experiences I wanted to shape me. The truth was, the difficult times taught me more than the easy times ever could have.
There were also times when I missed my family and friends back home. I had broken phone calls and long Skype conversations, but it wasn’t the same as being there in person. I couldn’t attend my brother’s high school graduation, and I wasn’t there to comfort my best friend during a breakup. I had no one nearby to support me when times were frustrating and I felt alone. But I had chosen this life —how could I complain about it to people who missed me and wanted me home? How could I describe my feelings to people I had only just met?
After landing a job with “USA Today,” I decided to move to another area of Tuscany for work. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to after the my last experience. I worried that I would have the same thoughts and feelings of loneliness and isolation. I didn’t want to navigate the difficulties of not knowing the language and missing friends and family back home again. But this time, I knew what I wanted. I settled in Lucca, a town not too far from Florence. It was a clean slate—a new place to call home.
This time, I knew the challenges of living abroad. I was intentional about making friends with locals to avoid loneliness. Though the language barrier kept us from connecting on a deeper level, they were truly invested in our friendships. I have fond memories of meeting over an espresso, of talking about the challenges of being a woman in every country and society.
I was more equipped to face the difficulties placed in front of me. When my boiler exploded, I was able to fix it on my own, bleeding the radiators into a coffee mug. When I found myself struggling to communicate with my neighbors at the grocery store, I returned to the classroom to relearn the Italian I had forgotten. I was able to take charge of my life–something I never would have been able to do if I hadn’t faced those problems before.
When my boyfriend from New York visited Lucca, he reminded me that what I had chosen was indeed magical, and it helped to recapture my childhood excitement for seeing new places. I left Lucca saying this was the last time I would ever live abroad. But I was wrong. I have plans to move back to Europe in the near future—this time, a little less alone, a little wiser, and much changed.