Words by Kiana Duncan

Hey, kids. What’s happened since we last talked? Well, kind of a lot. There’s Oktoberfest, laying out on the beaches of Croatia, finding the best pizza in Florence, cliff diving and shopping in Milan … Yeah, I know. Life has been pretty rough. Luckily, there’s always pasta at arm’s reach when life gets a little rough.

I hadn’t planned on doing a lot of intentional soul-searching while I was here, but something about little, old Italian men cooking, snow-capped mountains and clear blue water really makes you think about life. Like a Tumblr post on steroids. One second you’re staring into the water, the next you’re thinking about that time you accidentally called your teacher ‘mom.’ (Totally never happened to me. *sweats*)

I never really considered myself a type A person at all. But the more I’ve been here, the more I’ve realized that I was clutching onto my straight-A streak and mile long list of extracurriculars with white knuckles as if they were the only thing that defined me. So I’ve had to make a conscious effort to live in the moment and not feel like two separate people when I’m taking in the sights of Cinque Terre on the weekend and taking notes in class the next day. Truthfully, it’s enough to give you whiplash, but it’s also the best experience in the world.

We went to Venice this past weekend and visited a little shop owned by a man named Paolo Olbi. (Finally found my Paolo!) His family has been making their own photo albums, journals, notebooks, etc. for several generations. Even as an older man, I watched Olbi make conversation with nearly every student who came through his store. He had a guest book he pulled out for the girl in front of me, showing her all of the different locations in the United States people had come from, speaking only in Italian, with a hopeful smile that she would understand. I felt the urge to take something from this place to remember it, and even with a small blue notebook in hand — that Olbi insisted on giving me — I realized what I needed to take from this place was something that couldn’t be bought. I needed to take something more permanent. Something that would live on past Olbi and past my trip. As I watched him through the window, it hit me and I ran in, begging one of our program coordinators to ask him for an interview.

I experience little moments like these every day, and it is so overwhelming: Meeting people from all over the world while camping in Munich, starting conversations with people on trains, playing calcetto (Italian soccer) with refugees, finding small shops in Italian cities and learning from some of the best professors in Italy. It doesn’t come without learning curves, though. You know when you’ve done something wrong when you’re little and are waiting to be scolded by your parents? That’s basically grocery shopping here. You aren’t supposed to touch the fruit — it’s rude. You assume all the fruit is good. Staring at the fruit too long to find a good one is also rude and sketchy, and weighing the fruit is a process. Basically, unless you have some time, just watch other people deal with fruit first.

What I’m trying to say is the world is bigger than a perfect GPA, a flawless Instagram caption, the right resume builder and networking opportunities. I still struggle with this each and every day. It’s really hard to let go of grades and your tight grip on your planner, so I am focusing on the things that I am certain about at this moment only:

1. Live with other people besides your family at least once. It’s the most fun you’ll ever have in your life. It’s like having a live-in best friend (or five).
2. Croatia has the bluest water in the world.
3. Tomorrow will be great, but today is better.
4. Always buy the cannoli.
5. Always drink a stein at Oktoberfest, even if you don’t like beer.
6. Gelato is never a bad decision.
7. Home is a feeling, not a place.
8. Pomalo.
9. Forget your phone once in a while.
10. I am 100 percent beginning this journey of letting go by writing this blog instead of studying for midterms.