Jamie and Senior Ruth Nordquist enjoyed their millionth serving of gelato outside of Paris' Pantheon Oct. 25. Photo submitted by Jamie Hudalla

Gelato, swans and druids

in Culture Arts & Lifestyle by

Bethel Junior learns how to truly experience her study abroad trip through the UK.

By Jamie Hudalla

On Oct. 28 my alarm woke me up at 7 a.m. I hesitated to open my eyes, because in one hour I would be gallivanting from France to Italy without my 18 peers and professor, but with two other girls. My concerns were dwarfed by excitement over the ideal image of Italy: domed buildings, blue-green water and plates of pasta. I swallowed the uneasiness and moved on to the common mistake of a traveler: having expectations.

I was told free travel checked items off of one’s bucket list, provided life-altering moments and awe-inspiring sights – if I didn’t get daily shivers I was doing something wrong. Somewhere along the way I learned to shed this expectation and find contentment in arbitrary things—like Oreo gelato for lunch, petting an ornery swan, or encountering a druid named Terry.   

In the last few days of free travel, my group landed in Rome and didn’t waste time rushing to the Colosseum. We didn’t check the weather or worry about directions, because we only cared about one thing: the Colosseum promised free entry on the first Sunday of every month. Our determination to spend less blinded us from the darkening skies. A block away from the Roman ruins, the tranquil sprinkle morphed into a monstrous storm. Luckily, I had smelled like my socks and suitcase for days, and the rain worked as a makeshift washing machine.

In the midst of searching for the entrance, a young man sporting a megawatt smile and official-looking ID lanyard flagged us down. He was in the market for clueless tourists, and we were prime candidates.

“Scusami, Signorinas,” he called, ushering us under his umbrella. “Come with me for a tour. You won’t get in if you wait in line.”

My attempt at not looking like a touristy American was as convincing as Amanda Bynes pretending to be a boy in She’s the Man.

Because we’re polite Midwesterners, we couldn’t ignore his plea – even after he asked for 20 euros. This was a common occurrence in Italy. I had already been duped into buying a bracelet, a rose, and other “free” giveaways from persistent street vendors. I wish I could say these were the only instances I felt naïve, but studying abroad has been jam-packed with humbling moments.

There was the time the French bathroom attendant taught me how to use a sink by tapping the foot pedal to pump water, and the time our Sri Lankan landlord showed me how to open our door with the key (in my defense, it was a volatile lock). No matter the country, I always found myself asking, am I doing this right? My attempt at not looking like a touristy American was as convincing as Amanda Bynes pretending to be a boy in She’s the Man.

This constant state of confusion was exhausting, but by the end of our eleven-day excursion in Italy I felt a little less clueless. I knew Italian drivers rarely stopped for pedestrians at crosswalks, what a city tax was, and that it didn’t mist like it did in the UK – it poured.

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Rome’s flooded streets Nov. 5. Tourists had to hop the stones to make it back to the streets.

On that Sunday at the Colosseum, I stood inside the archway, looking out at the vast stone structure as Neptune unleashed angry raindrops and lightning bolts. An eerie thunder rolled overhead. But I only thought, most tourists experience the Colosseum for a hefty price on a summery day, and I get to see it in this rare form. I didn’t focus on what panned out or what belly-flopped – I twisted events in my favor. Getting caught in a downpour at the Colosseum? So what. Search for the rainbow at the end (metaphorically speaking, although there was a physical one). Having my phone glitch from water damage that resulted in fuzzy photos the next day? So what. I told everyone the fuzziness stemmed from the angelic glow over the city of Rome. Losing feeling in my frozen fingers? So what. My shower felt warmer.

Over our 11 days we had countless misunderstandings. Sometimes we didn’t get into museums because we didn’t buy tickets in advance. Sometimes we missed obvious instructions because we didn’t ask questions. Sometimes it took us longer to reach destinations without a map. But my “wing it and hope it works out” philosophy didn’t make me careless – it made me forget expectations and realize sometimes there is no Danny Tanner life lesson at the end of the day. Sometimes there is only this: veni, vidi, amavi.

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