Today, I bought my plane ticket to return to Italy for a post grad trip. I’m obviously pretty thrilled. I loved living there and can’t wait to go back. I studied there for a semester my junior year and have missed it ever since.
Now I know that everyone comes back from study abroad saying these things and I don’t want this to be cliche. This isn’t about seeing a new culture or having to figure out things on your own. Those are amazing parts of the experience, but this post is about something different that happened for me abroad.
When I moved to Bologna, I knew one person in my program and no one else. To understand why this mattered so much, you need to know that I went to school with more or less the same people from kindergarten until senior year. Then, I went to UNC. I met tons of new people, but there were still 20+ kids around campus who had known me for a good while. This meant that Bologna was the first time since I was 5 that I was starting from scratch with friends. They didn’t have any presuppositions about who I was supposed to be and knew nothing of my past.
The other important piece of this puzzle is that I had just changed my major to graphic design. In Chapel Hill, I felt awkward telling my old friends. I was always qualifying my decision. I found myself saying, “I know I’m not artsy, but..” and “I don’t know that I’ll end up doing this, but…” It wasn’t that I was unsure about the decision, I just thought it didn’t match the reputation that I had built up for myself in the past 20 years of my life. I wasn’t cool enough to do design. I wasn’t artistic enough to do design. I was book smart. Probably going to be a psychologist or a lawyer or something else reasonable sounding. I didn’t think my friends or old classmates would take me seriously as a designer.
So when I moved to Bologna, I made all new friends and got to tell them who I was and what I wanted from life, on my own terms. It was amazing, The more people I told I was a designer, the more I really believed it. Being there, building up my confidence for a semester, allowed me to return to Chapel Hill and tell people this was what I was going to do. I got home and really dove into what I was learning, knowing that it was okay for this to be what I wanted to do.
It’s important to note that I wasn’t misleading my new friends, creating a new self and abandoning an old identity. I was just changing and the new environment let me feel comfortable claiming these new parts of my identity.
The human brain doesn’t stop forming until you are 25. This means that I had time to change my plans, habits and myself to better match who I wanted to be. It means that I still have time to keep doing that as I find what I love.
The confidence I found in being able to start over and tell my own story allows me to try new things now and to continue to refine myself. For me, this is what Italy symbolizes. It’s a blank slate and my starting point for chasing what I want.