When I stepped off the plane in Italy for my fourth excursion during my year abroad, I realized that I would be spending a total of two weeks in another country that wasn’t Spain. In calculating that amount of time spent away from my host country, I had to look at why I kept booking more flights back. It wasn’t just so I could experience cities, see friends, and buy my favorite childhood snacks—although the latter was a clue into the deeper motive.
To put it simply, I’ve had a sort of love affair with Italy. When I first contemplated studying abroad, my plan was to spend a semester in Málaga and a semester in Bologna. After discussing with advisors, and hearing the advantages that came from choosing to stay in one place, I was convinced that Málaga would end up being the better option, if only for the fact that I would finally become fluent in Spanish. And essentially, I have; so, one goal has been accomplished. However, as the months have gone by, I have found myself wondering if I made the right choice. Logically, I know that in the long term, this was the best option: I’ve been able to master the language of my heritage, I have the opportunity to do an internship and an independent study, as well as being able to truly get to know my host city.
But it was wandering again through the streets of Bologna that I realized my love for Italy came from another place entirely. This sentiment transcended my appreciation for the food, the culture, and the language. I was coming back, because this felt like home.
Finally naming this feeling that can only be described as a homecoming, it became clear to me. I was three years old when I left the United States and of that time, I only have vague memories of Florida. But my most vivid memories of my early childhood, are that of Italy. My first concept of home was formed among these iconic multicolored houses and cobblestone streets. It was the sound of nonstop Italian and those exquisite flavors. It was being here again, re-experiencing everything as mundane as familiar grocery brands to the more profound, appreciating the centuries old art. And it goes even deeper when I recall the memory of being about 4 or 5 years old, when I described myself as Italian, only to discover the concepts of nationality (American) and heritage (Mexican-Peruvian- Native American…) thanks to my parents.
For me, coming to Italy was never just about seeing the museums or enjoying the pizza. It was returning to the one place on this foreign continent that not only felt familiar, but it felt like a piece of home. It was a place where I have come back rejuvenated, and at peace. It is a place where I can relax from the stress of being so far away from normalcy, where I can leave feeling at ease. Truthfully, I recognize that a good portion of this feeling must have something to do with the fact that I find myself among people I love and adore; these were my people from before my time abroad, whether it is adopted family or dear college friends. So in some ways, Italy not only represents my past home, but my current as well. Growing up the way that I have, without any roots, has always left my idea of home to be secured in people, rather than places. So I suppose finding my past and my present combined in one moment, one country that makes the parting so much harder.
Now don’t get me wrong, I do love Málaga and I do love Spain. But the truth is, there is nothing like your first love, and for me it will always be Italy.