It’s been 122 days since Day 1 and a lot has happened.
I’ve traveled all over Europe – to 11 countries and over 25 cities – but on the last day of my semester abroad there was no place I’d rather be than in the city that had become my home and with the friends that had become my family.
To be perfectly honest, most of the day was spent packing (which was incredibly depressing). But that night we decided to recreate our first few days of the semester. We started with dinner at Spontini, the place we went for our first Italian pizza (though technically it’s Sicilian “sfincione” pizza). We had gone after Italian class our first full day in Milan, and it’s so delicious and wonderful it’s been our go-to whenever we’re near the Duomo and craving pizza (which is a lot of the time).
Our next stop was right across the street at Cioccolati Italiani for the what is literally the world’s greatest gelato. They fill the cones with melted chocolate and they swirl the gelato so pretty and the flavors are sooooooo good and just oh my goodness I promise you this is the best gelato ever! There’s always a line out the door, but one of the perks of living here is that we can go on off hours, and let’s just say that we go to Cioccolati a lot. It was sad knowing this was our last Italian gelato (devastating really), but at least we knew we were ending with the best.
We made a stop at the Piazza del Duomo so that we could meet Julie’s family who had just flown in that day. The Piazza was packed because the Filarmonica della Scala (La Scala’s philharmonic orchestra) was performing a free concert with David Garrett (the equivalent of Thor if Thor played the violin). Knowing this would probably be the last time I would see the Duomo and Galleria, it was nice to just stand there and soak in the beautiful surroundings and enjoy the company, all while accompanied by some classy music. It was a fitting goodbye, quintessentially Italian.
With a last glance at my favorite place in Milan, we moved on to Movida, the aperitivo place in Navigli that we went our first night out. It was too late for aperitivo and we were already full of pizza and gelato so we all just sat at our usual table and got drinks. I got a Movida, because when something is named after the place you know it’s good (case in point my favorite Armani Cafe from the Emporio Armani Caffe…oh Italian coffee how I’ll miss you).
We didn’t stay out all that late (we left Movida around midnight which is early by Milan standards), but we wanted to get back to Arco to watch the recap videos that Nina and Ana had made. We were expecting to cry, but we have so many funny videos from the semester that we ended up laughing hysterically instead. We had agreed that we wouldn’t sleep that night since we wanted to be awake for our last few hours in Milan together, so we just hung out in Ana’s room playing poker and trying to ignore the clock as it got closer to 5am when the vans would pick us up to take us to the airport. At 4:30am we had no choice but to get up and get our huge suitcases from our rooms down to the lobby. As we waited for the vans to show up, the tears really started to fall as we looked at our empty rooms and said goodbye to Julie who was staying in Europe to travel with her family. The drivers were super nice and patient with us as we, our ginormous suitcases, and our tears slowly made our way outside and in to the vans. It was painful to watch Arco and the rest of Milan disappear behind us as we settled in for the hour long drive to Malpensa Airport.
And so begins the airport saga. It began with more goodbyes, as Tia, Lan, and Nirali had to go through security almost immediately since they had the earliest flight. This was followed by a very long and aggravating phone call with United as I tried to figure out why our United Airlines app was saying the flight Nina and I were on was canceled. Turns out our plane had some kind of mechanical issue, so I managed to get us on a Swiss Air flight connecting through Zurich. Unfortunately we were stuck in middle seats, but on the plus side we would get to go to a bonus European city and also get an extra half hour in Milan. Our flight was leaving at 11:10am, later than our previous flight.
With our remaining time, we waited in an incredibly long line to nervously weigh and check our bags, claimed my VAT refund (value added tax – I spent enough at Armani that I could claim it as a non-EU resident woooooo!) which was shockingly easy, and then hung out in the cafe in the food court. I had a croissant and my last Italian cappuccino *sob* as we sat reminiscing and once again trying to ignore the clock. We stayed there as long as we could before Nina and I had no choice but to head towards security along with Ana who had a flight leaving soon as well. I had held it together pretty well up to that point, but I realized that after security there was no going back and my study abroad semester would be over, so I lost it when I had to get up from that table because I really really really didn’t want to leave. We said goodbye to Ryan who was flying out the next day, and the three of us made our way through security trying not to make scene but not being able to stop crying (yes, we were those girls).
Nina and I said goodbye to Ana, and then we boarded our very tiny plane to Zurich. We cried when the plane took off, but we were so exhausted we slept the whole flight even through it was only an hour long. I wish I could say that we enjoyed our stop in Zurich, but our connection was only about a half an hour, so all we did was run through the airport and stress as we waited at Customs. I will say however that the airport was new and beautiful, and the view outside was very green and pretty because it’s Switzerland and they’re awesome. We managed to catch our plane and settled in to our flight. It didn’t feel that long since we slept most of the way and Swiss Air also has excellent food by airplane standards.
We landed in Chicago around 3:45pm which was an hour earlier and our original flight would have been. We were quickly through Customs and then were reunited with our families. From there it was home, reunited with my dog Buddy and my favorite deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s.
I was pretty much on the time zone already, so now it’s just time to get used to life in America again. I’ve heard the culture shock coming home to the US is always way harder than when you’re actually going abroad, and so far it’s been 100% true. The mental shift you have to go through is dang hard to begin with, and even harder because you don’t want to actually make the shift. Yes I miss the food and traveling and of course I miss my friends like crazy, but what I miss the most is the version of myself that I was when I was over there. I loved that I had become the kind of girl that booked last minute trips to Cinque Terre and learned to surf and went to extreme lengths to track down a tennis player. I don’t want to stop being that kind of person, and I’m terrified that I’m never going to feel that happy and free ever again. Because now I’m back to having legitimate responsibilities and now I feel kind of rudderless because I had been looking forward to studying abroad for so long (I knew I was going to do this before I even started high school), and now I don’t really know what to look forward too.
I know I should probably stop scrolling through the pictures and re-reading the blog and opening the emails with discounts for Hostelworld and easyJet and thinking what I would be doing right now if I was still abroad. I’m trying not to be that obnoxious person who can’t talk about anything but her study abroad experience to everyone who stayed here and just doesn’t understand, but it’s part of the healing process. Because even as much as it hurts, I wouldn’t choose to have done this semester any other way and I don’t want to forget that. My life is infinitely better because I studied abroad – I’ve traveled all over the world, learned about other cultures, broadened my horizons, built amazing friendships, become braver and more confident, and fallen head over heels in love for my host city. Not only did I find out more about myself and develop a never ending desire to travel, but I found a place on the other side of the world that I will always call home.
I don’t want to say arrivederci, so I’ll just say ciao for now ❤