Why I Like Getting Lost (and What I’ve Discovered)Siena, Summer 2012

“Getting lost” doesn’t tend to be a desirable experience. The idea of being alone in a foreign city (much less one that speaks a different language), of meandering through unknown streets and unfamiliar landmarks gives many individuals a shudder to imagine. For me, however, getting lost has been the way I’ve come to familiarize myself with Siena. Armed only with a map and my horrendous sense of spatial orientation, I spent my first few days here wandering, forcing myself up unthinkably steep streets and into small alleyways that led to unnamed corridors. And I’ve found some intriguing sites and stories along the way – from the wrong turn that led me across town and somehow past the city walls (with a pit stop for tiramisu gelato in a quaint little café) to a street decked out on a Friday night with a red carpet and bouquets of flowers, prepping for none other than a kiddie fashion show, while the toy store nearby blew bubbles from its door and had them cascade through the throng of onlookers. I spent half an hour in a calligraphy shop, debating between various types of paper and seriously trying to prevent myself from buying everything in sight. And I recently took a bike ride with a friend into the Tuscan countryside, with no real rhyme or reason, and through bruised knees and vicious uphill battles, we found ourselves the most amazing sloping road that gave us panoramic gold.

Being alone and having the opportunity to figure it all out is both an exciting and scary experience; independence and loneliness coincide much closer than many realize, and it’s a lesson one learns when abroad. Studying abroad should, in fact, make you a little bit anxious; after all, you’re voluntarily relocating to another part of the world, agreeing to abide by their culture and their way of life. You use the first few days to begin anew – to figure out where you are and what you’re doing, how to properly balance schoolwork with the simple but intense desire to explore. If you do it right, if you allow the culture to shape you, to bring some new part of your personality forward and permit it to be molded by new information and experiences, you make it through with the greater understanding of just how big the world truly is.

And yes, maybe you’ll miss home at times, or what you know to be “home”, and you’ll compare the food and the people and the relative ease of life. But if it doesn’t hit you while you’re there, by the time you depart you recognize just how many things this new culture has presented to you that you wish you could keep, somehow isolate and carry back with you aboard the plane to home.

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