It truly is weird times we are living in. I sit here at my kitchen counter writing this post on our university’s spring break. I can’t help but think how I would be exploring Washington D.C. with some good friends of mine right now, had it not been for the sudden and devastating arrival of COVID-19. Time, money, and feelings of wanderlust were invested into planning our trip only to be wasted.
I’m sure a lot of you reading this blog post can relate, as I’m sure your spring break travel plans have come to an abrupt end as mine did. I was so excited to get out of town and see a different place with different food, people, and things to do. My wanderlust is at an all-time high right now, so what else am I supposed to do but reflect on the past amazing experiences I’ve had abroad?
I know that the outbreak of COVID-19 has affected every single person in our world differently, and for me, it has made me appreciative of the little things. In this time, I am thankful for my good health and the extended time spent with family that I don’t get to see very much during a regular academic year. I am thankful for technology and the ability to communicate with those who I can’t see in person. I am thankful that I had the chance to start the year 2019 in Italy.
I kicked off 2019 by flying across the ocean to Sicily, an island off the coast of mainland Italy. I went abroad with a group of 15 other students in the honors college and 3 professors. Y’all, let me tell you, I could not have asked for a better group to travel with. These people made me laugh so much. I only knew several people well, but we were all so close by the end of the trip. One of my close friends (and also my sorority sister) went on the trip, and we built such a strong friendship after this trip, which I am thankful for. I made so many new friends and saw so many things I never thought I would ever get to see. We were only in Sicily for about 2 weeks, and we all wanted more than anything to stay and keep exploring.
I’m naturally an anxious person, and I mention this to say that this trip changed my life. I might be exaggerating just a little bit, but this was my first time going to Europe, and my first time traveling very far without my family. I was so worried that I would be in a constant state of anxiety during the whole trip and not be able to enjoy it. However, when I stepped foot in Italy, I felt like I was a new person. I had survived the 8+ hour flight overseas and arrived with such joy and eagerness. It was a moment where I realized just how strong I really was.
We flew into Palermo, the capital city of Sicily. We spent the next few weeks traveling to various Sicilian cities, including Cefalù, Taormina, Catania, Syracusa, Agrigento, and more. We went to museums, historical sites, had mini-lectures “in the field”, and ate our weight in pizza and pasta. For the “class” itself, each student was in charge of doing a 15-20 minute presentation on a historical Sicilian landmark or artifact that they researched. We did all of our research ahead of time, starting in early November. I am pretty sure this was the most time I have ever spent on any assignment. I researched the Greco-Roman theatre in Taormina, which is now one of my favorite places I have been to in the world. As I sit here and write this, it is hard for me to recall many fine details of the trip itself. This was one of those trips where I loved every second, and wish I could remember every single detail exactly as it was in the moment. Here is a highlight list of my top 15 favorite moments from the trip.1. An Italian floral vendor gave me a piece of mistletoe for free, just because I thought it was pretty and was taking pictures of it.
2. All the cannoli. All of it.
3. Eating the best pasta and fish of my life.
4. Seeing Christmas decorations all over the city still up for Epiphany.
5. Trying authentic gelato, which has always been on my bucket list tbh.
6. Visiting old churches and monasteries that took your breath away as you walked in.
7. Exploring the ruins of many Greek temples.
8. Petting so many stray dogs and cats that just ran around the island, because, why not?
9. Seeing the theatre I spent months researching.
10. Catching many sunsets by the sea.
11. Seeing the cutest Sicilian balconies.
12. Seeing orange and lemon trees for the first time.
13. When it started snowing while it was still sunny.
14. Seeing a volcano. Yes, an actual volcano. Shoutout to Mt. Etna!
15. Seeing parts of our world I never thought I would see.
My heart goes out to all of Italy, and especially Sicily, as I know they have suffered greatly from the devastation of COVID-19. Several videos of Italian citizens singing on their balcony amidst the chaos have gone viral online. I am so glad I was able to experience the beautiful Italian culture, even if it was only for 2 weeks. When this pandemic gets better, as we know it will if you ever get the chance to study abroad, take that chance without hesitation. It will give you a different perspective on our world and make you love it and those who live in it even more.
-- Caroline Wetsell, Alpha Chi Omega