Buongiorno, amicis (Good Morning, friends). A week of stay here in Perugia, Italy is already in the books…wow. Although it has only been a week, so much has happened aboard this emotional rollercoaster we call the Rite of Passage study abroad experience. I have met so many people, learned so much about the traveling process and the Italian culture, and, most importantly, learned so much more about myself. However, the one way I came across these lessons was through facing unforeseen challenges as a liminoid.
Goodbyes and separation at Logan Airport were going smoothly until it came time to say goodbye to my parents. As soon as their eyes filled with tears, mine followed suit. As hard as it was to say goodbye to them for the next four months, I knew that my Separation Letter that they saved to open for their car ride home would put them at ease and dry their tears. Last but most certainly not least of the goodbyes was my boyfriend, Chris. We have talked extensively regarding my four months abroad prior to this moment, especially how we need to rely on trust, support, and love in order to make it through. The trusting foundation we have built these past four months of being together definitely facilitated saying goodbye to him. We both mutually know that as much as I will love this experience abroad, this love will never come close to the love we have for each other.
My excitement for the upcoming semester abroad overshadowed the fact that I have never traveled alone before, nor have I ever been to Europe. The first leg of my flight was successful until I reached London Heathrow to prepare for my connecting flight. It turned out that my luggage was not checked-in for the second leg of my flight to Rome. Although I had a four hour layover with plenty of time to spare, I panicked over the thought of losing two full suitcases of belongings. I did not want to wake my parents and cause them distress (it was 5am in London, but midnight in the U.S.), so I called my boyfriend who was awake for help since, at the time, I was too overwhelmed to understand how I needed to solve the problem at hand and clearly explain it to a nearby information desk. I finally calmed down as I waited in line to reclaim my baggage and undergo the security process one last time for the second leg of my flight. This baggage mishap was when I felt like a liminoid who was “betwixt and between,” slowly progressing from Separation to Liminality. I was in the United Kingdom planning to depart for my final destination, yet I was relying on help from home to help me calmly take the next step.
Liminal beings, like myself, often participate in communitas–otherwise known as unlikely friends facing challenges together. Even Slimbach in Chapter 6: Living With Paradox tells his readers, “Expect to encounter gurus, companions, and mentors along the way” (Slimbach 164). To my surprise, as I waited to board the second leg of my flight (from London to Rome), I met a girl named Dara who was also on her way to study at the Umbra Institute with me. I took this opportunity to get to know her, as well as her reason for studying abroad. It also gave me someone to confide in for support along the rest of our travels. I also met an elderly Catholic priest in the same gate who overheard me and Dara’s excitement to study abroad. As a Roman Catholic myself, I viewed this second unlikely friendship as a comforting sign that the remainder of my travels would go smoothly–and they did.
My communitas began to grow as I was greeted at the Rome airport by two young Umbra Institute interns holding green signs that marked my final destination, a group of fellow Umbrian students sitting together behind them. We all welcomed one another and got to know each other better both on the bus ride to Hotel Gio (the hotel we would stay in that night before heading to the Umbra Institute the next day) and throughout our temporary stay there. My comfort and excitement was at its peak until it slowly sank during the night at Hotel Gio. I felt stuck in this unfamiliar place and began feeling homesick, in need of the familiar to comfort me during this “betwix and between” phase of Liminality. As Slimbach writes in Chapter 6: Living With Paradox, “…culture shock implies a state of relatively short-term emotional, mental, and physical dis-ease that we suffer when transitioning from an environment in which we have learned how to function effortlessly and successfully to one where we have not” (Slimbach 153). Since I was experiencing these kinds of emotions, I decided the best thing to do was confide in Ardra, the girl who was not only my roommate in my hotel room that night, but also my roommate for the semester at Umbra. Ardra truly became an unlikely friend that night and for the remainder of that week in Perugia. She has had a great deal of experience traveling and being away from her family, so she was so supportive when I broke down. I am so glad I shared my feelings with her, and I will never forget what she told me: “As soon as tomorrow comes and we are at Umbra, you will feel at home. This, too, shall pass, Tay.”
Thanks to building communitas so early on in my Liminality phase, I have made my apartment my home away from home. I have come to terms with the fact that the only thing that stands between me and my experience are my thoughts and emotions. After going to church this past Sunday with some other members of my communitas, I decided that I would begin writing in my journal. The last few paragraphs that I wrote last night about my first week here reflect how my personal strengths and weaknesses have influenced my time here thus far:
“I made myself at home, packing away my familiar clothes into unfamiliar drawers, hanging familiar coats and scarves in unfamiliarly tall closets, draping my Rhode Island flag over my unfamiliar Italian desk, placing my Rosary beads from my heart surgeries with the handwritten farewell letter from my parents inside my unfamiliar nightstand drawer, fitting the pillowcase with my family on it on my unfamiliar pillow where I would rest my head and all other thoughts and feelings that would fuel this emotional rollercoaster called my Rite of Passage, called study abroad, called my temporary home.
It truly amazes me how these waves of positive and negative emotion can come back like deja vu as you recall them through the pen. As challenging as it was to reach my final destination, I look back on all the lessons I have learned: about travelling; about how fortunate I am to live such a privileged life back in the States, filled with the most incredible people who have loved and supported me every step of the way; about love and how distance truly makes the heart grow fonder; about how perfectionists like myself struggle the most when it comes to adapting to change and coping with culture shock; about how I need to expect the unexpected; about how gaining a sense of direction starts by losing direction and jumping into the unfamiliar–not all who wander are lost; about how cliche quotes are so incredibly true; about how there is a good in goodbye, a strength in weakness, a light in the dark, and a smile after every tear.
There was a time earlier on in this journey when I was honestly counting down the days until April 29th, until my return home. However, as I scrolled through my Instagram feed not too long ago, I came across an ironically appropriate post by one of my friends. She posted a picture of a staircase with a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. that read ‘Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.’ My friend’s caption below this picture was: ‘Usually the most rewarding experiences in life are the most challenging.’ Although the beginning of my study abroad experience has been hard, I know that, with faith, I will be able to take the steps toward making my time in Perugia one I will never forget, nor ever regret.”
I decided to display the same picture that I came across the night I wrote this journal entry. It best describes my journey to date because, like my unexpected challenges that I faced with my luggage and my homesickness, I cannot see what this journey has in store for me beyond today. I need to take my experience one step at a time in order to cherish my time here before it slips away and effectively immerse myself in the Italian culture. Now that I have undergone and learned from my challenges, I have used a few strategies “to invite the unknown.” On one of the sunniest days this week, I went by myself for a walk around local Perugia with my Canon camera to capture its beauty. Although my sense of direction is not the keenest, one of my goals for studying abroad was to sharpen it. As I made my way down both familiar and unfamiliar roads, I successfully navigated my way back to my apartment without feeling lost or unsafe. I not only took a step toward achieving my goal of gaining confidence in my sense of direction, but I also took a step toward appreciating the little
charms of Perugia, like the colorful art district decorated with remnants of the Natale (Christmas) celebrations that I came across along my walk.
Many of my friends here are so eager to travel that they are already planning on going outside of the country this weekend. The thought of this overwhelms me since I am still getting the lay of the land around here. I need to take my traveling experience slowly, but surely. I plan on going for more walks with members of my communitas this weekend throughout Perugia and in the neighboring town of Assisi. I have come to realize that I am always in fast forward, just like the culture is in America. In Italy, on the other hand, they take their time, are very laid back, and live to work instead of working to live. Taking in the sounds, smells, and scenes of Perugia on my walks allow me to clear my
mind, reflect, and enjoy the present moment. Taking my journal with me has allowed me to do so, as well. It has especially allowed me to be honest with myself and reveal any thoughts or emotions that are hiding in the recesses of my mind. I have faith that my strategies to take this Liminality phase one step at a time with my network of communitas will help me to immerse further into the Italian culture and make this place my home away from home.