One week. Seven days. One-hundred and sixty-eight hours. If you couldn’t tell already, time has been haunting me and the rest of us here in Perugia as we come to the realization that our time here abroad is limited, fleeting, and temporary. Only temporary. I remember writing about the temporariness of these past four months in my travel log from my first week in Perugia. I saw this temporariness as something positive due to the homesickness that I was just starting to overcome. However, as time has passed and as I have developed from a liminal being into an enculturated global citizen, I now view this temporariness as something unfortunate the more fleeting it becomes. As excited as I am to return home, catch up with family and friends, give them Italian souvenirs, and share my stories with them, I am also beginning to experience the very beginning of the “bitter” of this bittersweet time between the liminal and reincorporation phases of my Rite of Passage experience.
Richard Slimbach writes, “If we allow, global learning will not only carry us into the world around us, but also into this world within” (Slimbach 54). After reflecting upon this quote, I have come to the conclusion that there are two meanings that from “this world within.” First, I believe that Slimbach is referring to the interconnectedness of our global community — how each global citizen’s actions and choices impact others overseas. Slimbach touches upon this aspect of the “world within”: “The well-being of persons is inseparable from the well-being of others; of the various institutions that ‘fix’ social existences; and of the earth, the natural world that surrounds and sustains human life” (Slimbach 46). This is the connected power of the global community; as members of it, what we say and what we do affect fellow members and the environment around us. For instance, there have been many times where some roommates of mine have complained openly and publically about the cultural differences between Italian and American way of life. Not only was I embarrassed to overhear them, but I was even more embarrassed that local Italians overheard them. It makes me frustrated knowing that there are people traveling abroad with me that are not seeing these cultural differences as global learning opportunities, nor are they respecting the natives of our host country. We are global visitors, and, as visitors, we should be respectful to our host country’s people and environment. These personal experiences of frustration have taught me to be patient, because some members of the global community adapt to diverse cultures at different paces than others.
Another underlying meaning that the “world within” holds is the developing consciousness and character of the global citizen throughout their time abroad. As Slimbach writes, “We have the unique opportunity to connect an inner journey of self-discovery with an outer journey of world discovery” (Slimbach 47). By interacting with fellow sojourners and local members of the Italian community, I have been simultaneously interacting with my inner self. Learning a new language, adapting to a new culture, and living with people who have personalities different from mine has allowed me to strengthen my patience. As a perfectionist with a Type A personality, I have always envied those who are down-to-earth. I was convinced I would never be able to relax, to be at ease, to put less pressure on myself. However, now that I have learned how to interact with personalities different from my own and enhanced my problem-solving skills, I have been able to cope with both personal and mental challenges in healthier ways with a clearer mind.
Many people who have studied abroad or travelled have said cliché things like “I found myself” After experiencing this reflective journey myself, I have come to the realization that there is no such thing as losing yourself and finding it while abroad. Each individual has weaknesses that they may or may not be aware of. However, by displacing oneself from their native community and placing oneself in a new setting in the global community, one is able to discover the strengths that they have always had, the strengths that have been resting latently in one’s character until they are brought to life in new, transformative experiences like Rites of Passage. Slimbach states, “To change the world requires that we change our consciousness” (Slimbach 44). By discovering these strengths, we are obtain our new status as a more world wise global citizen and reincorporate our new selves back home, changing our local community for the better.
The last week that remains is symbolic of my segue into my second Rite of Separation. My closest friends and I have already began the series of planned rituals in order to cherish our last moments here in Perugia. We have planned to go out to dinner at some of our
favorite restaurants, the majority of the students from the Umbra Institute has organized a big potluck lunch this Saturday, and the faculty are holding a “Farewell Apperitivo” for us at a local trattoria before our departure on Friday. As much as we will all miss the delicious Italian cuisine, and as significant these social gatherings may be, another thing that we will all miss are the friendships. This being said, another ritual that many have us have began is writing farewell letters to each other. Since the Umbra Institute does not have yearbooks published that we can all sign, we have decided to purchase our own journals and notebooks for our friends to fill with memories, goodbyes, and warm wishes for the summer ahead. This will allow us to have a written record of all the good times we have shared while abroad that we can look back on in the future. Relationships are a major factor in defining these Rites of Passage and transforming us into the individuals we are today.
A quote that expresses my current thoughts, feelings, and actions at this moment in the experience is the following from American legal theorist, Elizabeth Foley: “The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart.” Just as we have helped each other to grow through our Rites of Passage experiences, it does not mean we will stop growing or cease all friendships as we separate and return to our local communities. Thanks to social media and technology, we can still remain connected, especially as we undergo the Reincorporation Phase. Many mentors have told me that reverse culture shock tends to be worse than the first. This is when the network of communitas that we have formed while abroad is so important to refer back to when we need that support. I am so grateful for all the friends I have met here, and I firmly believe that I am more mentally and emotionally prepared to reincorporate myself as a global citizen back into my local community.
Slimbach, Richard. Becoming World Wise: A Guide to Global Learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus Pub., LLC, 2010. Print.