How do you describe an experience that completely changed the way you see the world? How do you explain what it’s like to feel as if you’re completely drained of yourself and just made up of emotion? How do you put into words something that you’re still trying to mentally process? How do you unpack six weeks of being an ocean away from your comfort zone?

I have absolutely no idea, so if anyone has any insight, I’m all ears.

I just got back from my study abroad trip about four days ago, and everyone keeps asking me how it was. I generally say something in the vein of “Oh my gosh, it was so incredible” and then proceed to make some fervent hand gestures and facial expressions. How do I put my experience into words that make sense while still doing it justice? It was incredible, but it was so much more than that. How do you explain what it was like to see buildings that were older than your country, or to see artwork that changed the landscape of society when it was made, or to taste the food or smell the smells… for six weeks, I was on complete sensory overload. Now, my senses are trying to recoup fast enough to be able to share that experience with the people in my life. I guess now’s the time to start figuring out how to sort through all those feelings and senses so that I stop seeming like a confused mime.

I am a huge homebody, so being away from home (without my boyfriend, without my cat, without my family, and without Netflix) for six weeks was definitely weird. Pretty much every moment was one spent out of my comfort zone, and that comfort zone wasn’t something that I could easily default back to if I was having a bad day. It forced me to think fast to bring myself out of the inevitable stresses of being a student away from home, and those stresses happened. Being away I learned to rely on myself more than my comfort zone to find a way to move past bad circumstances or situations. My time in Italy had an expiration date, so I was hesitant to allow anything to detract from that experience for too long.

While we’re on that subject, what an experience… like I said, sensory overload. All day, every day. I’m still trying to fully comprehend the magnitude of some of the things I was able to experience– to see the pioneering architecture of the Florence Duomo, or the stained glass of Santa Maria Novella, or Michelangelo’s David… holy cow. Those are the kinds of things I always thought I would learn about but never get the chance to see. There’s nothing quite like the moment when you see the David for the first time, at the end of a hallway lined with unfinished prisoner sculptures… especially when that moment is completely free of any other people. Standing there, seeing veins and tendons and thought in a block of marble, I was completely empty of anything besides pure human emotion looking at another human being, because that is what Michelangelo sculpted–human beings. Out of marble. There’s a reason he’s the one they all talk about, and I found out why that day.

I walked the same streets as Michelangelo and Dante and Machiavelli and so many other world-changing men whose achievements I have little complete comprehension of. Learning about the time in which they lived and thought and changed things, you begin to grasp the magnitude of how they thought and how they instigated change to shape the world a little bit more into the one we live in. These were people who thought and created to be closer to God and to make things better for the humans around them, something which is so difficult to understand (although I’m trying to). There is something profoundly spiritual about the moment when you look at the David or read a sonnet by Michelangelo or a novel by Dante or a play by Machiavelli… there is a moment of connection with human beings who left pieces of themselves behind to remember them by and to continue teaching those who are willing to listen.

There are so many lessons I’m still trying to learn, even though I’m back on my homebody couch in my homebody sweatshirt. Now, it’s my turn to find what words I will use to be part of my own spiritual connection or world-changing step forward. Okay, so maybe that’s a little dramatic… a blog post won’t change to world, but it’s a step in the right direction. With each day I was in Italy, I felt a piece of myself change and grow in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible. When I look in the mirror, I see a very different Katlyn from the person I saw deciding which clothes to pack and how much sunscreen she needed. Now, she’s trying to figure out how to unpack everything she’s brought back with her (and no, I don’t just mean cute shoes).

Life is full of moments of wonder, moments of growth, moments of connection… and those are all things I’m trying to organize as I try and recount my path from point A to point B, before I start on to whatever point C I’m headed to. Studying abroad gave me more moments than I know what to do with, and each one was another piece fitting into my crazy journey onward. It’s hard to talk about study abroad because I’m trying to fit it into a singular event, but it wasn’t just one– it’s a collaboration of movements, moments, feelings, and events to tie together more pieces of the past, future, and present and then somehow tie them back to me. Studying abroad made me feel more connected with myself and with some of those great thinkers and world-changers… who knows, maybe after I unpack, someday I’ll be a world-changer too.

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