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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freedom found in ireland

To travel. To live. To experience. To be freed from everyday life, to let go.
I hope and pray each of you know you deserve those liberties.
This life is so short. I long to live every second of it. I am tired of leading a life that is restricted.
I am free. You are free.
This semester I have truly learned the importance of freedom.
In the city I am captive. To society, to the constant restraints that goes along with living out of my element. Despite this I have found my way, my secret places of joy and peace. I have found my nature in a cold, dark city. To me, all cities are dark for they are devoid of the freedom that nature brings. As wonderful as cities can be, eventually they all blend together. At the core all cities are the same. Though I am so thankful for all the opportunities I have had to travel and explore Europe, my home is in the wilderness, where I am free, where I am connected to God, earth, and to myself. The last six days have been my escape, my freedom, my revival, as I have been in the nature filled country of Ireland. Last semester my university group and I had an educational field trip in Sicily which I previously wrote about. This semester, our educational trip was going to be to Turkey. However, by some twist of fate the trip was changed to a visit to Ireland.

I have always longed to visit Ireland and to see her beautiful untouched green landscapes. I did not, however, know how much this trip would impact me.
From the moment I stepped off of the airplane, I was in love with Ireland.
I became enthralled with the true untouched beauty of the earth in the country.
Though I had quite a busy itinerary, I feel more at peace than I have in months.
Being in the city (Florence) has drained me of life and health in many ways. I have been struggling with various health issues this entire year I have been abroad. Yet, when in nature my spirit is given life and a sunny, peaceful glow. My trip to Ireland has been so special since I have been able to ground myself and allow nature to heal me.

While in Ireland I explored Dublin, Clonmacnoise, the Athlone Castle, the Connemara region, the Kylemore Abbey, the Glenloe Abbey, the Cliffs of Moher (Burren region), and Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains. We also visited Trinity College and this morning I took a trip to the Guinness beer factory here in Dublin. I am so blessed to have been given the opportunity to have all of these special experiences and I will not take this gift for granted.
My favorite moments in Ireland were the simple ones.
Like climbing a tree and taking the freshness of the wooded region that surrounded the Kylemore Abbey. Or sharing a deep, meaningful conversation with my sweet friend Julia as we hiked around the Cliffs of Moher as a rainbow kissed the beautiful, cool, damp sky. Visiting the cliffs was so special as well. The beauty was overwhelming and fantastic. Everything just seemed right and the earth seemed so happy which gave my soul so much peace. Another memory I will cherish was the stunning hike in Glendalough with Jaqueline and Julia. I am so thankful for my sweet friends, they are so precious to me. I am also thankful for the beautiful drives we took through the countryside, especially through the rocky, untouched Burren region. With green, uneven, rocky lands grazing sheep, costal views and soft sunlight, I was in constant awe as we drove through the majestic land towards the Cliffs of Moher.
The beauty I beheld as I looked out at the countryside as we drove by rolling hills, sweet grazing sheep and small, quaint homes was something I will remember and cherish forever.

There is something about Ireland, something special. It’s not the cities or lights that makes Ireland so special, instead it’s her simplicity.
It’s the sweet countryside, the adorable cobblestone streets of Dublin, the fun, lively pubs, the loving people, the great culture, all of it come together and make the country such a wonderful place. I am determined to return to Ireland someday and live there for a time in my life. For it would be a dream to live in a country that seems so untouched, wild and free.
The beauty of the country does not end at the scenic landscapes but reveals itself in the hearts of the people here as well. The love that is so freely given here is so unique and unlike anything I have ever experienced.
What I love the most about Ireland is that the Irish people are not only kind to other people but also compassionate and loving towards animals. The driver of the coach bus that my group was transported in throughout this trip even spoke to me about his love and respect for animals. He (John) told me about a sweet donkey sanctuary in Cork and he claimed that ‘nearly everyone in Cork is a vegetarian’. This high value for animal life is refreshing and it warms my soul. Who knows maybe someday I will volunteer at the sanctuary with the sweet donkeys. I sure hope I will be given the opportunity to do so at some point in time.
My time in Ireland was a dream. A happy, lovely dream.
Though I didn’t find a leprechaun, I did find my freedom and so much overflowing joy. I hope you too can find the freedom that I feel and I hope that you too can experience the beauty that Ireland has to offer.
Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.

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