Goodbye Firenze, hello Malibu, and a new chapter at home

Sometimes saying goodbye is difficult.  Sometimes saying hello and moving forward is challenging.  Sometimes, however, when the time is right the hellos and goodbyes don’t seem too bad. It has been exactly one month today since I said goodbye to Florence. I said goodbye to Europe, to my study abroad experience, and to my new found “home” on April 15. It is hard to believe that was already one month ago. Saying goodbye was not too difficult since I saw more than I ever thought I would and I grew and matured in ways I am extremely grateful for.

Many people, during our final week in Italy, rushed around the city and seemed stressed with the pressure to see and to taste the things they had previously hoped to taste and see while in Italy.  I, however, after eight months of travel and study, relaxed and did not become too preoccupied with what I did not do while abroad, but instead I marveled at everything I was able to do while abroad. Because, when I look back to my time abroad, I am thankful and fulfilled.  I was able to travel to Italy, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Hungary, England, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Belgium, Spain, Ireland, Morocco, Greece and Vatican City. I saw the islands Sardinia, Sicily, Santorini, Burano and Murano, among others. I was able to visit over 100 cities; yes 100, I counted if you don’t believe me. I hiked the Alps in Switzerland and Italy, road tripped in Tuscany, walked over the Pyrenees in Spain and I have memories that I cherish dearly which will last me a lifetime.  I’d say my year has definitely been a memorable one. I am excited to see where life takes me next. Even though it has been one month since I returned home, I do not think I have fully processed my journey yet. The beginning of my time in Italy was actually quite difficult since as my time in Italy began, I was still trying to process my journey on the Camino de Santiago. I have too many thoughts to think about and ponder at the moment. But, it is my hope that my journey will help me to relate to and understand others in a more impactful way in the future.

Some of my highlights include the quiet freedom I felt when hiking the dolomites, seeing the Tuscan countryside and taking in the beauty of multi-colored houses in Cinque Terre.  I will always treaure the time I spent with my Italian relatives as well; I got to spend Christmas and Easter with them and go hiking, caving, and visit thermal springs with my family as well.  Other precious moments include embracing the beauty of new cultures and customs, meeting the smiling people of Ireland, hearing the call to prayer and walking through the souks in Morocco.  A more difficult yet impactful memory was when I visited the Dachau concentration camp and felt the pain and suffering that once occurred there while I attempted to fathom the plight that the Jews once faced in Nazi Germany.  Other moments I will never forget: seeing Papa Francisco twice and watching the sunset in Santorini and Sardenia. Those are only a few moments that come to mind when I recall the past nine months of my life, but there are many more, too many more stories waiting to be told.  One thing I am extremely grateful for is that this year I learned the importance of presence and of experiencing moments to their fullest.  I learned to take life less seriously, to laugh at my rediculious tendencies, to value true friendship and relatonships.  Most importantly, I learned to love others in a deeper way.

Some pictures from my highlighted moments:

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During our final week in Florence, we had a final banquet. The Gala was held at the top of a beautiful hotel that overlooked the Duomo, I have pictures to share below!

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Here are a few photos of my Italian friends and sweet Antonella (a Florentine resident who I worked with regularly who has downs syndrome). Sweet ones Sweet Antonella Italian friends My Italian friend

The Gala was one of the final dinners we shared all together and a time we were all able to honor the teachers and talk about the year. At the end of the banquet, I read a poem that I wrote about our time we spent together in Florence. It is simple, but I will share it with you all below.

 In September we came

Feeling excited and a bit afraid

A new country, a new place

A new chapter up ahead

Strangers we all were

Surrounded by the unknown

We walked into a building

That we would soon call our home

The excitement and thrill

Uncontrollable and intense

But soon reality set in

And life seemed to change on a whim

Firenze, we never knew

The challenges we would face

The happy moments and the tears

The facing of our fears

It felt hard, it seemed impossible

But we soon did adjust

We traveled, we experienced

We began to see the world

We found our little niches

Our sweet places of freedom

We cherished new friendships

And grew in unexplainable ways

Winter break soon ended

A new semester, a new start

New faces and new transitions

Welcoming in nine new additions

We set out for semester two

Some excited others blue

Others didn’t quite know what to do

But we all did learn a lesson or two

We traveled to find

What we needed was here all along

A community full of laughter

And a household of love

Now we sit here together

Only seven days left

Where did time take us?

We think and reflect

Emotions are now flowing

The reality has not yet set in

Yet now the goodbyes soon must begin

We say goodbye to

the pizza, the pasta, the Duomo

The gelato, the palazzos,

The statues and fine art

Goodbye to the Italians,

To Viale Milton

Goodbye most of all,

To who we once were before our journey had begun

Firenze how you would change us

Was unclear from the start

But we leave here with memories

Thanks to the city of the arts

We soon will enter our homeland

But before we depart,

Goodbye sweet Firenze,

You’re forever in our hearts

As a house, we left a gift for the future students who will be studying in Florence. We decided to leave a “yearbook page” meaning that the house would come up with a superlative for each of us, which would be placed by an individual photo of our choice and a quote. I was so honored because the superlative that was given to me was “most likely to save the world.” I don’t think I deserve this superlative, but I am more than honored that my peers gave me such an honorable title. In reality, I know I will never be able to change the world. All I hope to do is to love everyone and allow God to work through me, for change only comes from God. I feel as though I have been given so much and I often wonder, “Why me?” None of us will ever discover the answer to the question “Why us?”  I think the question that I will begin to ask myself is “How can I use the gifts and the experiences I have been given to help others?”  Maybe that is the question we should constantly ask ourselves. Matthew 10:8 says, “Freely you have received; freely give” I hope to model my life after this. I hope to give to those who have nothing, I want to share the love I have been given with the voiceless and the broken hearted. It is not a command that I have to do this, but instead a burning desire within my heart, one I have possessed ever since I was a child. Whether it is through spreading cultural awareness and acceptence, contributing to the world in using strong intercultural communication skills, or helping a child who is suffering. I hope that whatever I do, I will do it for the good of others and mostly; I will do it out of love.

After my time in Florence, I flew directly to Malibu. I stayed on campus with my dear friend Jennifer for a few days. Being back at the Malibu campus was refreshing. I was able to spend a good deal everyday at the beach, have a sunrise devotional, catch up with some great friends, visit my favorite acai juice bar Sunlife Organics, volunteer in the projects in downtown LA and even go to the campus ministry formal. I have a few pictures below from my time in Malibu.

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When I arrived home, it felt like a dream. I was tired, jet lagged, excited, and my mind was overloaded. While abroad, though I did not blog about this (I will explain more in future posts), I was actually ill. Even though I did travel throughout Europe, I suffered from various health problems throughout my journey and visited various Italian health physicians. Though I had originally planned on interning in Washington DC this summer with Pepperdine, I had to withdraw from the program in order to heal. So, this summer will be one full of relaxation and healing which is a stark contrast to my last nine months abroad. Since home I have been eating a raw, vegan diet (I have been vegetarian for 12 years, vegan for 4), doing yoga regularly, reading, spending time with family, and relaxing outside. It has seemed almost like a relaxation retreat. I have also been filling out various scholarships and other applications as well. What’s next? Well, as of now this summer will be one of healing but I am volunteering at a weeklong foster kids’ camp in June and will be hopefully traveling to Puerto Rico and backpacking (if my health allows) as well. I was just accepted into a Jewish Studies Scholarship Program, which will sponsor an internship in Israel next summer (or the following one), which I am excited about. I get excited thinking about living in the Middle East, I cannot wait, but until then I will continue to rest and hopefully my body will be healed soon. I will be posting regularly throughout the summer despite the fact that I will not be abroad, so keep your eyes open! Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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tanti auguri di buona pasqua

Easter is a beautiful holiday, I’m sure each of us have memories from this special day.  Memories from Easter bunnies and baskets to sweet treats and good eats, but, I’m sure that most of the special memories we have during holidays are thanks to those we were with.  Family is what makes easter such a treasured day.  This Easter was quite different for me; there weren’t even any Easter baskets or jellybeans.  But, Easter was a special day, because I got to spend it with my dear family in Northern Italy.  This year just so happened to be on the weekend two weeks before finals, meaning the week following my Easter getaway was jam packed with projects, papers, various presentations.  That, however, did not stop me.  I left for Gallarate on the morning of Good Friday and returned to Florence on Tuesday morning just in time for my 10:00am class.  The four days I spent with my family were days smothered in love and tradition, and I cherished every moment I was given. 

Rather than giving a low down of my itinerary, I am going to share with you a few of my favorite, most treasured moments from my final travel weekend with my family.  One thing I really enjoy about the Italian culture, as I have mentioned before, is their emphasis on the importance of a family meal.  How special it is to make and enjoy a meal together, especially around the holidays.  I shared my secret bread recipe with them and made both rolls and monkey bread for my family with the help of Umberto.  It was a special American treat that they certainly enjoyed!  Another highlight was attending mass on Good Friday and Easter with my family.  The priest at the Easter mass spoke about the importance of peace and love, specifically that which can be seen through the eyes of a child. It was such a lovely talk. 

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My family planned three different hikes that we did together. One was a gorgeous hike to beautiful white marble waterfalls and scenic views.  After the waterfall hike I took with my family on Easter Saturday we stopped by a beautiful indoor and outdoor thermal spring spa.  It was relaxing, detoxing, and revitalizing!  It was much cleaner than the springs in Saturnia since it was a spa, but it was absolutely refreshing! 

Beautiful waterfalls Family time Amazed at the sight Rock formations Beautiful waterfall

On Easter, we took a little trip to Switzerland to see and hike around incredible ancient rock formations.  Unfortunately, during our hike in Switzerland sweet little Umberto, my dear cousin, slipped and fell, breaking his arm when we were playing tag in the forest. He was quite excited about breaking his arm and getting a cast, so I did not feel too bad!

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All of the hikes were especially fun, but one of the things that I cherish most about hiking with my family was the fact that every one participated, from 11 year old Umberto to 78 year old Caesare.  Being together in my favorite place (nature) was something I will cherish forever.  And, getting to participate in that tradition of Pasquetta, or Easter Monday, was special too.  It is a cultural tradition for Italians to go outside and hike or embark on a little pilgrimage on the Monday following Easter.  And, we did just that.  The Pilgrimage to San Pietro al Monte Pedale was so gorgeous we even picnicked during our hike!  Afterwards, we stopped by Lake Como afterwards and my dad (through the magic of credit cards) treated all of us to pizza.  It is those moments I cherish most, those moments all around the dinner table, where everything seems simply perfect since we are all together, united with love. 

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What was so special about this trip was the closeness I felt with my family.  On my first two visits with my family, the foundation of our relationship was built but on this trip, my third and final visit with them, our relationship gained depth.  We spoke about philosophy (in Italian), live, meaning, and God.  I shared my dreams, hopes and aspirations with them and they did the same with me.  My family in Italy has stolen apart of my heart and I cannot wait to unite with them again sometime soon.  Until then, I will continue to treasure the moments I have already had with them and I will open my heart up for whatever God has in store for me for the next chapter of my life.  Stay true, live justly, and always travel on.  Peace and Love.  

a very tuscan road trip

 When you think of the Italian culture, what do you think of?  A society defined by tradition and their significant history?  A collectivistic culture centered around family and the dinner table?  Well, those are all things I thought of prior to my life in Florence.  Though the Florentine culture does not particularly seem to be characterized by any of these ideas, the small villages and more southern regions of Italy certainly are.

The rural and more southern villages of Italy have not only a more corrupt government system than the North, the south also contains more poverty.  However, in contrast to what one would expect, from my observations I noticed that the people in the south seemed to be more family oriented, open, welcoming, and happy.  How did I discover this?  By visiting seven villages throughout the regions of southern Tuscany and Umbria over the course of a two-day road trip!

  

During my time in living in Italy, I had always dreamed of going on a road trip through the Tuscan countryside and traveling from city to city just embracing the Italian culture first had.  Myself and four of my dear friends decided to rent a car and embark on this adventure during one of our last travel weekends in Italy.  We set out on a Friday morning and returned by Saturday evening, but we were able to stop at six cities including the most “perfect” Renaissance city, a city known for her healing waters, a city with my own name, Amelia, and we even stopped by Narnia as well (The Chronicles of Narnia are by far my favorite children’s novels).   

    

The cities we stopped through were Montepulciano, Pienza, Amelia, Narni, Lago di Bolsena (Marta), Saturnia, and finally Pitigliano before we headed back to Florence.  The drive through the Tuscan countryside was a dream, an incredible dream.  And, the farther south we traveled the more smiles and “ciaos” we received and the more warmth and love we felt.  These gorgeous cities were nestled amongst the rolling hills of Tuscany and Umbria and are stoned, Medieval villages, each with their own unique history.  Montepulciano, the first city we stopped through was actually a city during the filming of Twilight Saga’s New Moon, little did we know.  Walking through the city was incredible, seeing the gorgeous views of the campagna (countryside) and walking through the sweet streets was very special.  

  

The next city we stopped through was Pienza.  Pienza is known as the  “ideal” Medieval city and it is known as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The entire neighboring valley is also one of UNESCO’s World Cultural Landscapes as well.  This city is characterized by the symmetries and architectural idealism of the Renaissance.  The city was actually rebuilt from a village called Corsignano, as was commanded by Pope Pius II in 1459, since he desired his place of birth to be transformed into an ideal Renaissance city.  Pope Pius II was successful in his wish and Pienza is visited by thousands of meager tourists every year.  While visiting this gorgeous city we stopped for lunch at an adorable restaurant and enjoyed a delicious meal.
  

After our time in Pienza, we headed towards the beautiful hillside city in Umbria called Amelia.  We were able to catch a glimpse of a gorgeous pink sunset from the top of this city.  While walking through the city that was seemingly empty, we met an incredible local woman whom was friendly and we talked with her for over 20 minutes.  It’s moments like that that really reminded me the true essence and beauty of the Italian culture.  Seeing Amelia was special to me since my father always ranted and raved about the beautiful Italian village that shares my name with me. 

After visiting the sweet city, we slept in our parked car in the parking lot at the bottom of the city.  Sleeping in the car was an adventure and it was convenient, I figured, why not make the car double as a hotel too?                   On Saturday morning we headed to Narni, which is a city about 20 minutes outside of Amelia.  Narni is a magical small Umbrian village, fun fact: in Latin Narnia is the name for Narni, so my childhood dreams did finally come true!  Narni was gorgeous, overlooks snow covered mountains, has a wonderful atmosphere and a gorgeous castle. After rummaging through a sweet open air market in Narni, we headed towards Saturnia to do as the Romans did and bathe in some natural healing waters. 

  

On the way to Saturnia we passed a beautiful lake, which I insisted we stop at, and that we did. While there, I met the sweetest group of older men who were walking along the lake. They were kind, friendly and even hugged me! You can’t find that in Northern Italy! While looking out at the glistening waters, I was reminded that it’s the moments of pure bliss and joyful living that make all the dull, dreary moments bearable and livable. While standing in front of the vivacious lake, I took in the beauty and I embraced that present moment. I became fully present and alive while staring out at that lake. That moment made my past seem unimportant and my future unthinkable. It made me remember what living really feels like. You see, most of the time we just exist, we go through the motions, we press on, all without truly living. It’s the moments of life, it’s the moments where we are actually present. Those seconds, those vivid occurrences make all else seem okay. I have learned to carry those moments with me since they remind me of the peace that can be found within life’s constant beauty.

 

Ever since coming to Florence, I had hoped to travel to Saturnia and visit the thermal baths. One thing that did surprise me, on the way to Saturnia and actually throughout my entire Tuscan road trip, the countryside was filled with natural, thermal springs! On arriving to Saturnia I was pleased to find that the springs were crowded, but not with tourists, instead with locals. It felt like such a cultural experience, bathing in thermal baths with other Italians in this remote village.

  

The water was definitely natural and organic as there were little worms in the water. This didn’t phase me but some of my friends left when they noticed the little worm friends in the water! After the springs, we all definitely smelt of sulfur, but we didn’t let that stop us!  We then headed to Pitigliano. This city was similar to the others we saw, but a bit more artsy. Walking through this city at dusk was epic.  I was surprised to find that many of the shops were adorable vintage and resale stores.  After some window shopping, we found a cute cafe where we sipped on hot chocolate and played cards. It was a wonderful night and a perfect finish to our adventurous weekend.   My last week in Florence was pretty hectic but reminiscing on the peaceful moments from this trip pulled me through until the next weekend of fun.

Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

running into papa francesco

Italy is a place of wonders and a country of immeasurable beauty.  On one of my final trips I visited Pompeii, Naples, and Capri and ran into the pope along the way!  My trip began early on a Friday morning as me and various other students headed out to the train station for a Pepperdine sponsored trip to Pompeii.  We trained to Naples then took a bus to the ancient ruined city.  We visited both Pompeii and Herculaneum, two ancient cities that were destroyed by the deadly flow of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD.        Walking through these two ancient cities was strange, moving, and also humbling.  To see the thousands of empty homes and to imagine the fear the citizens felt during the eruption of the volcano was overwhelming.  How humbling it was to imaginr the thousands of nameless lives that were lost in these cities, the thousands of unknown faces that once walked through the city, the city that individuals visit out of mere fascination today.  One day we too will be dust, we too will be forgotten, just like the individuals in Pompeii, since all life is fleeting.  But, what we stand for and the good we represent, the love we share, that, even when all is long gone, will still remain.

After Pompeii, myself and four other friends stayed the night in Naples.  We stayed in a beautiful Airbnb that was in a wonderful area of the city.  While walking through the city, we quickly discovered the Pope would be doing a procession on the very next day!  However, we had already planned to ferry to the beautiful island of Capri for that day. So, I did not think I would get to see the Pope while in Naples, but I will address this later. While in Naples,we went to the world famous, family owned pizzeria called Sorbillo, which many locals had suggested to us.  If you are traveling to Pompeii, I would highly suggest a visit.      All day on Saturday we spent on the beautiful Island known for her crystal clear water and sweet lemon cello, Capri.  While there, we took a gorgeous boat tour around the island and visited the green grotto, white grotto, and the coral grotto.  The island was absolutely stunning, though the weather was cold, windy and unfavorable, this did not diminish Capri’s natural beauty.       

  

  

   After visiting Capri we headed back to Naples to catch our train back to Florence.  On the walk to the station, we ran into a large crowd and within minutes the pope came by on the pope mobile!     Seeing the pope was so great but,what was greater was seeing all of the individuals who came to see the pope, a man who stand for so much peace and so much love.  The fact that crowds were drawn to see a man who represents God’s light in this world of darkness, is a miracle. Moreover, it’s a sign that there is hope amongst the brokenness of the world. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.