April 11, 2015 was the best day of my life.
Nearing the end of this trip, I can definitely say that I have lived a full and meaningful life. What I was probably searching for the most abroad was the meaning of life. At home I felt cooped up. I went to school 4 hours away from home, and traveled around the United States and various islands with my immediate family on vacation. But, I felt like I was holding myself back and constantly stuck in the same routine. Getting into medical school is my ultimate goal and dream in life. And I definitely don’t consider myself one of the smartest people in my classes. Therefore, I feel like I have to put in so much more work and effort, to be in arm’s reach of those who are just more naturally intelligent than I. I didn’t mind putting in the work if it lead me to my goal; but it definitely was frustrating when I had to miss out on things to prepare myself for an exam or lab report. I remember selling my Michigan vs. Penn State football game a year ago, to instead study for a chemistry exam that upcoming Monday. I was devastated to find that the game was truly one of the best in Penn State history, us winning after going into several overtimes, and I was on the same campus in a computer lab alone.
I had never been to Europe before coming abroad in January. The extent of foreign territory I previously visited was Canada and the Bahamas. This past fall I watched several of my friends go abroad, and followed their experiences on social media sites. I was so jealous taking only science classes and studying for the MCAT, while watching them pose by the Leaning Tower of Pisa or visit Harry Potter Studios. I was accepted to my Italian program in July, but it didn’t hit me that I was actually going to spend 5 months in a foreign country until after I went through security at the airport on January 3rd and could no longer see my family in the crowd. It was then that I started to feel a huge mix of emotions: frightened, alone, excited, nervous, and anxious all at once.
This experience abroad has definitely had its up and downs. The downs consisted of more homesickness than I could have ever imagined; and difficulty learning the Italian language as a beginner in the country of Italy itself, which was a necessary key to survival.
But the ups are absolutely amazing, and make life worth living. The best day of my life, hands down, was yesterday on April 11, 2015.
My program, the Umbra Institute of Perugia, Italy, offered an optional trip to my class this weekend in The Almafi Coast. The itinerary was Pompeii Friday morning, Sorrento Friday night, Capri Saturday, and Naples on Sunday.
I was a very nerdy and weird child grouping up, so I thought the bodies and artifacts being preserved in Pompeii from the volcanic eruption was so incredibly cool. I read as many books on it as I could get my hands on; and remember writing a creative story in 6th grade for a writing assignment on it. Pompeii had a lot more buildings and its site’s structure was overall more preserved than I expected. They told us that if volcanic mud lacks oxygen and therefore an item covered in in will not decompose from within, but something covered in volcanic ash will. Therefore, everything preserved on the site was covered in mud because the organic elements were still conserved. I expected a lot more bodies and animals preserved on site than there were. I only saw two casts of bodies in hardened volcanic mud, and was really excited to see more as gruesome as that is.
Skipping ahead to Sunday, we went to Naples. Naples is the birthplace of pizza and also one of the most mafia controlled regions of Italy. The city itself was ruined for me in my Contemporary Italy class, where my teacher who is from Naples told us a horrific story of how the mafia controlled her family’s lives at one point. If I had not been told that before visiting the town, I probably would have found it quite pretty. But I did get an awesome pizza that I had no problem eating in one sitting for lunch, which is an awful skill I have acquired here and am quite scared of. After a traditional Neapolitan pizza lunch, we got back on the bus for a 5 hour bus ride back to Perugia for school on Monday morning.
On Saturday morning we took a ferry from Sorrento to Capri. I thought Sorrento was quite pretty, and it absolutely is, but Capri is nothing I have and will never see again. Capri is this absolutely GORGEOUS town on the shores of the Almafi Coast. It is famous for it’s Blue Grotto, and there are tons of boating agencies that give you an ample number of flyers and brochures with all your options of getting there. Some include a boat tour around the island with a trip to the Blue Grotto included for around 17€ or some take you starlight to the Blue Grotto for around 14€. I went with a group of 45 students, and we broke up into several groups. My group turned out to be about 20 people and a man who owned his own boat came up to us and offered to give us a tour of the island and to the Blue Grotto for 15€ for 2 hours, because we were already such a large group. The larger agencies had boats leaving for the tour at least half an hour later than his offer of leaving immediately. I think I’ve gotten pretty good about reading people here that offer services, and this guy did not seem like he would rip us off or take us away to somewhere else, and the rest of the group agreed so we took him up on his offer. It was the best decision I ever made.
We all went on his speed boat and were given over a two hour tour around the entire island and it was the best experience of my life. The island’s view from the water is one that you would see from a final 2 date on the Bachelor or a challenge in Survivor. It was a place that you never thought you would ever be able to see, without being a millionaire. The cliffs and rock formations all around the island are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my entire life. The water was so naturally aquamarine blue, even at deep depths – it was magical. I was glad we took his smaller boat than a larger, touristy one because we were able to fit into caves. He would take us into caves and show us the most beautiful bright orange coral on the floor and walls of the cave. I kept tearing up, along with several of my friends, on this boat tour because of how absolutely amazing it was. We all just kept repeating how unreal it was that we were able to see all these things just in these two hours; and how grateful we are for this study abroad experience overall.
Coming out of a cave we were in this cove surrounded by cliffs and grottos. The ocean was crystal clear all over and you could see all the way to the very far bottom with fish and marine life bustling around. I swam on a swim team for 13 years. There is nothing I love more than the water. I love to swim more than anything in the world. I actually wrote a college admissions essay on it. When I swim, it’s like the whole world is gone. The only thing that exists is me in the water. Everything bad that happened that day melts away and I feel like I am in the clouds, as peaceful as ever.
So, we were about to head out to see the rest of the island and slowly backing out of a grotto. The captain of the boat showed us how the water glistened in the sunlight on the absolutely beautiful day. And it was the biggest tease ever. So here I was sitting on the boat, mesmerized by the most beautiful sea I have seen and wanted nothing more than to jump into it. Several girls in my group wore bikinis under their dresses in hopes that they would be able to make use out of them. And one asked the boat driver if we could swim. He turned off the boat and said, “Get in and swim, but I don’t want to”.
Before any of us had made a decision of whether to jump in or not, one girl from our group jumped in a dress completely clothed. All the other girls in my group started throwing their clothes left and right, getting down to their bikinis. They all jumped in one by one, two boys following in their boxers. And I had a decision to make: to jump in, or not to jump in. You see I was not wearing a bathing suit under my dress, and this is probably the heaviest I have ever been in my entire life due to pizza and gelato almost daily and little to no exercise. But I said to myself, if you don’t do this now you’ll always regret never taking this chance. So quite spontaneously, I stripped down to my bra and underwear and jumped into the water joining my friends.
It was one of the coldest things I have ever experienced in my entire life. When I came up for air I couldn’t feel my entire body. My heart rate was the fastest it had ever been, with my body trying to adjust to the drastic change in temperature. It was so cold that it was actually extremely hard to breathe. And everyone in the water agreed with me, but told me after a few minutes your body gets used to it and calms down. Another one of my friends didn’t have a bathing suit either, but was inspired by my underwear swim and joined in on the fun.
They were right. It did get warmer, or at least my body got used to it. And it was the most amazing thing I had ever done. I looked up and was surrounded by the crystal clear Mediterranean Sea, breath-taking rock formations, and plenty of sunshine. I laid on my back and floated around for a bit, the happiest I had ever been in my entire life. I understood life. I understood living. I finally understood the meaning of existence. For moments like this.
Location: Capri, Italy