Words by Kiana Duncan

I didn’t cry when I got on the plane, or when I left my parents, or when we finally landed at the Florence airport. I didn’t cry when, in a panic, I’d forgotten my Kent State ID, or when my dad told me we were going to be late to the Pittsburgh airport. I knew it would be OK because, you know, I’d done this before. To be honest, actually doing the thing you’ve been filling out paperwork for, preparing for, telling everyone you’re going to do and basically rearranging your life for is pretty strange.

I’d flipped through several pages of friends’ crash courses to studying abroad they’d kindly written, and packed as well as I possibly could’ve. And by that, I mean I have three shirts in the same exact color and style.

I’d been to Europe before for two weeks. I was fine. Plus, who’s actually good at going through airports? *crickets* That’s what I thought. Everyone sucks at it.

Nearly 24 hours later, I found myself dragging my luggage up three flights of stairs. Sweaty, yet determined, I was repeating a mantra of the self-made woman who would emerge from this experience somehow much better off (probably).

Before I go on, I feel the need to disclose that the doors here are insanely old and hard to open. Now read that again. We’ll proceed.

I jiggled the key. I pushed. I pulled. I yanked. I ran up and down flights of stairs, buzzing each apartment, hoping someone, anyone—even a part-time serial killer—could give me some inkling as to how I could open my door.

Frustrated and on the verge of tears, I sat against my suitcase, hoping to find Wi-Fi to contact my school. After an hour of realizing that I was the only person who could help myself in this scenario, I stood up and, with one last attempt, I thought to myself that one little door in Italy wasn’t going to stop me. I put the key in and turned as hard as I could while angrily shaking the door back and forth in utter frustration, asking why I had to be the first person to arrive.

As if by magic, the door popped open and I stood in stunned silence at my new four-bedroom apartment that so many students had lived in before me.

So why am I telling you this semi-embarrassing story?

Because there is one thing that is so important to realize before you study abroad, but you can only realize while you’re here.

Our director said something that really stuck with me during orientation: “The city of Florence isn’t designed to make you comfortable. It’s designed to make its residents comfortable.”

Growing can be painful, and it should be. Everyone wants to travel to gain new perspectives, to grow as a person and to find themselves. The truth is that when you grow, you are changing things about yourself. That does not come easily and I am so glad it doesn’t. If it did, I would have never gone to Milan, cooked dinner with my roommates, laughed so hard I cried nearly every day, booked solo trips all across Europe, gone to the beach and swam with jellyfish while huge mountains towered in the distance or ordered food in Italian. And I most certainly never would have gotten on that plane in the first place.

To be willing to grow, you have to be willing to make mistakes. In this case, you have to be willing to accept that some doors are just really freaking hard to open.