America, the Beautiful.Siena, Spring 2011

After a crazy and busy last week in Siena and a 16 hour trip, I’m back in America! The first thing most people ask me is “How was it?” And everytime, without fail, I have no idea how to respond. C.S. Lewis once said, ”Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.” I feel like this accurately describes the situation I have found myself in now. Can I say I loved Siena? It was great? Wonderful, amazing, unbelievable? All of these adjectives just don’t seem to fit to me. How in the world can I sum up my four months abroad?

I feel like I am scrambling to try and process my experience – what it has meant to me, what I have learned, how I have changed, how I WANT to change. But I think I am also finding that figuring those things out right now is quite difficult – impossible really. The attempt reminds me of going to see a painting in a huge room, the canvas stretching from wall to wall, and trying to appreciate it while standing only inches away. I can’t see the big picture yet because the experience is still fresh and I won’t know how it truly affected me for some time.

It has been hard for me to be home, and even harder to accept that my time in Siena is over. Of course I will be able to visit again, but it will never be the same as the past four months. To help me adjust back to my life in America, I must constantly remind myself of the blessings I have here, and how my experience in Italy gave me a new perspective of America.

Instead of just being an observer, I had the priceless opportunity to immerse myself in the culture and once I began to listen to the people, watch their interactions and consider their ideas, I began to appreciate their culture by understanding that there is beauty in our differences. I realized that everything they do that seems strange comes from a certain mindset or belief or tradition – and often, if I really thought about it, made more sense than what we do in America. I was able to ask questions to people with different perspectives, and even more interesting, I was asked questions by them. It forced me not only to consider why they do what they do, but why I do what I do.

After about two months in Italy, I realized something happening to me that bothered me quite a lot. I was becoming desensitized to the stunning things around me. I saw so many churches that they ceased being new to me. I could walk into a magnificent, unfathomably beautiful cathedral and not feel a thing. I was just so used to them that I allowed myself to become numb. I guess I got a taste of how Italians see their own country. To tourists it’s a museum, a postcard, but to locals it’s home. Looking out of my Italian friend’s bedroom window, I could see the tower from il Campo, the Duomo, the hills – it’s was surreal to me, but to him, it’s just the view he sees every morning. It’s no longer magical to him like it is to me.

I think this happens to all of us, and its pretty tragic if you think about it – we are surrounded by beauty every day but we often forget. We get so caught up in our day-to-day life, the stress, the busyness, the anxiety, that we forget how to marvel and be filled with awe from the things around us. I can’t tell you how many times we told Italians that we were studying in Siena from America and they replied… “but why???” To them, America is full of things yet to be discovered, full of beauty and excitement. They are filled with a wonder of America that I lost long ago, if I ever had it in the first place.

How many beautiful things are in America that I just don’t appreciate? Yes, it’s very different than Italy. But it’s no less beautiful. Colorado is one of the most breathtaking places on earth. New York is one of the most exciting cities. The Grand Canyon, the Appalachian Trail, Yellowstone, California coast, Texas hill country. Our culture is just as interesting, important and beautiful as Italys. And there are so many things I have yet to discover. I love Italy. I loved getting to know it and its culture. I miss it very, very much. But I know I still have so much in front of me. My hope is that I can continue to travel and experience and try my hardest to never become numb to the beautiful things in this world, whether it’s in Italy or in my backyard.

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