Exactly one month ago today I left for Italy with a flux of emotions. As my parents drove me to the airport, my hand clutched a tissue to dry my eyes as I thought about all that I was leaving behind. Before we even left the driveway, tears gradually started forming, and once I said goodbye to grandma and saw our street in the rearview mirror, my face was stained from the drops.
It is difficult for me to say what exactly led to these tears. One might wonder why someone who was about to embark on a four-month adventure in Tuscany would do anything but smile. Although I was certainly excited, such tears were the combination of equal nervousness, fear, and angst about all that was to come. Having never been abroad and having not practiced my Italian in over six months, I felt a rush of anxiety as I sat in the car with my packed suitcases secured in trunk. From the moment we pulled out of the driveway to the time I stepped out of the car at the airport, my grip on the tissue was rigid and damp.
Such emotions and tears from the car could not begin to compare to those that came while I stood in the airport and prepared to say goodbye to my family. In my three semesters at college, the longest I had ever been without seeing my parents was approximately three months, but, with Skype, texting, and constant emailing, our geographical distance did not compromise our communication. Italy, however, represented another story. In the eight hours it took for me to fly to Italy, I could have driven from D.C. to Rhode Island. Even more, being overseas meant a six-hour time difference, thus making communication even more difficult.
But even as I expressed my worries through bouts of tears, my parents reminded me about all that lay ahead. The food, the fashion, the language, the people. With four years of Italian language study under my belt and as a self-proclaimed foodie, Italy was my ideal destination. While of course I would miss my family and friends and familiarity of America, immersing myself in the Italian way of life would not only enable way to learn about a different way of life, but it would also allow me to greater appreciate those things that I do have in the United States.
Ironically, it was not until I went to Brussels for the weekend that I realized how much of an opportunity this semester abroad truly is. As I stood in the main hall of the Bozar Museum of Fine Arts in Belgium’s capital city, a painting immediately struck me. Titled the Fountain of Inspiration by Belgian artist Constant Montald, the painting was a unique mix of blue and gold shades depicting a group of figures near a beautiful golden fountain. I stood for nearly five minutes not only marveling at its beauty, but also marveling at my fortune to find it.
In looking at the image, I realized that I am like the figures in the painting. Living in Italy and having the opportunity to explore the country, and also to explore Europe, is like drinking from the fountain of inspiration. For me, drinking from the fountain does not mean simply cupping my hands for taste of water; no, my fountain serves up pasta, risotto, gelato. The sounds of my fountain are words like dolce, passeggiato, divertente, cena. The people surrounding my fountain are dressed in fine fur coats, genuine leather boots, and carrying Prada, Gucci, and Armani handbags. Italy is my fountain of inspiration. Although I might have cried tears before I came, those tears represent the original source of a fountain that has since transformed into so much more.