In reflection of Slimbach’s quote, “If we allow, global learning will not only carry us into the world around us, but also into this world within” I think that it is important to relate the aspect of a story being formed during our abroad experience. Our stories upon returning to the US are all individual to us and highlight what was most significant to us. However, what Slimbach urges is that we realize something much deeper than just a story of what we saw, touched, tasted, or heard. We must allow ourselves to embrace the raw vulnerability of being in a foreign place, surrounded by people we have never met. By embracing how clueless, lost, and alien we feel the emotional walls stopping us from interacting with the locals around us diminish. As stated by one traveler, Henri Nouwen, “When we become aware that our stuttering, failing, vulnerable selves are loved even when we hardly progress, we can let go of our compulsion to prove ourselves and be free to live with others in the fellowship of the weak” (Slimbach, 65). In this way global learning carries us into the “world within” by exposing us to weaker sides of ourselves that we have never been forced to experience. Most importantly in this process, we interact with locals of our abroad community that perhaps we wouldn’t have normally. For example, one night in a panic after almost causing a small fire in my apartment’s circuit breaker room, I was faced with having to ask for help from another resident of the building. The first door I knocked on was opened to an older man who knew not a word of English and could barely understand the little Italian I knew. I was embarrassed thinking what the man thought of me: typical American student causing problems. However, as it turns out there was a much larger issue that I had drawn attention to, and one that could’ve caused much more damage had it not been fixed. In the end, the landowner visited my apartment to apologize for the occurrence and let me know that there was nothing to worry about. I will never forget his concern when he saw how shaken I was and his kindness in not making me feel bad for the occurrence.
While traveling as a global citizen we must “welcome local residents into our lives, to know them by name, and to bridge some of the deepest differences” (Slimbach, 67). This is one of the biggest challenges for American society where we are taught to be cautious around strangers, but we only limit ourselves by doing this. A global citizen should be able to realize that they are just as much strangers to other people as strangers are to them. In other words, we are all human so why not get to know one another and try to understand what makes us different. I’ve learned that sometimes all it takes is a smile for a local to stop and answer a question or strike up a conversation on the bus. I’ve also found it extremely to accept that you can’t understand everything on your own (especially abroad) and it can never hurt to ask a local. Many times this led to further conversations such as which restaurants to eat at or where to visit the hidden gems of the city.
Before leaving Florence I made a special visit to one of my favorite locals that I befriended abroad. Marco actually sold me my leather jacket at the beginning of the semester, but he always welcomed me back for a glass of wine or for someone to confide in when I missed home. On this last visit to the leather shop, he urged me to speak as much Italian as I could with him and said that he couldn’t wait for me to visit again and again, maybe one day with my children! Visiting Marco will for sure be my first stop the next time I’m in Florence.
As my time for departure draws near I am torn with separating from my home for the past four months, but I keep reminding myself that I have the rest of my life to come back and visit, or possibly live in, Florence. I have found myself taking in everything around me in every detail as if I will never see these things again. I’ve walked to my favorite spots, taking my favorite routes through the city and stopping for one last taste of my favorite pizza, gelato, and pasta. I think in this process I am happy realizing how connected I became that saying goodbye to Florence was hard. And as my final quote before I leave, “Goodbye may seem forever, farewell is like the end, but in my heart is a memory and there you’ll always be.” This to me is a reminder not to be upset about parting with Florence, but to find happiness in the fact that I had such a great experience that will always be a part of me.