They said that while studying abroad I would have to be flexible and think on my feet to solve problems. They said that I would have to be careful because I don’t have the same protection in Italy as I do in the United States. They said to cherish my time abroad because it goes by so fast.
Three months ago I arrived in Italy eager to practice my Italian with the locals and indulge in the world’s best cuisine. Settling into my apartment with my roommates was fun and we got along really well. The first night, we went to dinner and I ate this incredibly creamy and delicious salmon and caper pasta. It tasted like heaven in a bowl, and the only thing I could think of as I chewed every delicate bite was how many sit ups I was going to do later that night to burn it off (I did at least two-hundred, if you’re wondering). The next day I swore to stick to coffee and kale.
I had been to Italy before, and I knew that eating healthy was going to be difficult in the land of pasta, cheese, pizza, and gelato. I knew that I was walking miles and miles every single day, but it didn’t matter to me. It had been over four years since I was treated for an eating disorder, and the thoughts still came rushing back in waves. I can’t even begin to list the number of things that I missed out on because I was worried about “getting fat.”
The first two weeks were the most difficult in terms of developing healthy habits. I ended up spending way too much money on a gym membership and facetiming my mom, who is a health coach, far too many times, but it helped. I developed a routine and leaned on my friends when I needed a reality check. Some of the things that helped me get over myself and enjoy myself were first, buying groceries and cooking at home! The markets in Italy have the freshest produce and as someone who loves fruits and vegetables, I bought loads. I meal prepped on Monday mornings, and I saved so much money on lunch throughout the week. Another thing that I loved about Florence is that there were so many places to run. Wednesdays were my favorite because I would get home from class and enjoy the Florentine sun with a nice, long 8 to 10 mile run. It was an amazing way to see the city and explore places I would’ve never seen otherwise. The last thing that I did when I was struggling with bad thoughts about eating is surrounding myself with amazing people. I was so lucky that three of my best friends all lived on the same street, and any time I was struggling they’d simply convince me to chill out and enjoy myself. If I knew my semester was going to end how it did, I would have happily eaten pizza, gelato, and bomboloni for every meal while I could have. To me, struggling with an eating disorder abroad taught me that I can’t control everything all the time. The whole point of studying abroad is to put yourself in a new environment and experience a new culture and face different challenges, and if I had tried to manage my diet and exercise down to the 1/10th of a calorie like I used to do, I would be miserable and miss everything that the beautiful city of Florence has to offer.
In the last two weeks I spent abroad, I visited five different countries and another continent, and spent about ninety percent of my time awake worrying about what would become inevitable in the coming days. First I was in Austria- 4 cases in Italy. Then Slovakia. 75 cases in Italy. Then Portugal. 310 cases in Italy. Then Morocco. 593 cases in Italy. Friday, February 28th, I sat down after a long hike through the Atlas mountains to find out that I must return back to the US from the nearest international airport- my belongings in Florence would be shipped back to me later. It happened so fast.
Through this awful, heartbreaking, devastation that the world is facing, I was forced to make life or death decisions without thinking. Let me just say, being stranded in northern Africa alone without cell phone service and running away from a pandemic is not how I planned to spend my semester abroad. I learned to adapt- not just to a new culture, but to unforeseen changes that really had a strong emotional impact. I learned make decisions in high-pressure situations- as difficult as it was, I had to push back any sadness I felt about going home and pay attention to what’s around me because if I didn’t, I could die (seems like I’m being dramatic, but this is how people come up with movies like Taken). And since returning, I learned how important it is to be patient and persistent. As the world seems to be crumbling in front of us, so many people are losing their jobs, and while I’m lucky to be living off of my parents who are still able to work, the internship that I had secured for the summer has been canceled. I have spent every day since coming home looking for work that will prepare me for my career, and it still has yet to come together. It is discouraging, and I’ve definitely had bad days, but I’ve learned that in crisis situations, some things just need to be put on hold.
Anyways, when they said that while studying abroad I would have to be flexible and think on my feet to solve problems, they were right. When they said that I would have to be careful because I don’t have the same protection in Italy as I do in the United States, they were right. And when they said to cherish my time abroad because it goes by so fast, I can’t help but think of all the things I regret not having done. Yet among this global disaster, I have grown, and I know that it will all be okay. Andrá tutto bene.