Since my freshman year at USM, my best friend, Bethany Desrosiers and I have used the term “friendship field trip” to describe an excursion that creates a fun memory for the two of us to reminisce on later. It includes going to Old Orchard to meet with photographers for her budding modeling career, or going to the beach and eating Cheez-Its with whipped cream for dinner, among other recollections. All of these things, big or small, will still have us giggling years later. Bethany became quite the world traveler, going to South Korea for the fall semester of 2021 after going to Japan in high school. I, on the other hand, had only ever been to Canada.
Bethany approached me in October with a brochure from a study abroad fair. She proposed that we embark on the most epic friendship field trip yet: Italy. The brochure came from a representative at Florence University of the Arts, with the opportunity for a three week intensive program in January, just before our final semester at USM. It didn’t take much convincing for me to agree to go on this adventure with her, as she cited how fun it would be for us to experience something like that together in one of the most culturally-enriching places in the world. Together, we would eventually find ourselves in Rome, Florence, and Venice.
We had decided to spend a few days in Rome before our program began in Florence. On our first day, we reconnected with one of Bethany’s friends from high school, who lives in Rome, and he took us to the best local pizzeria in the city center. I also used my four years of high school Spanish to engage in almost seamless conversation with our taxi driver, which remains a highlight of the whole trip. Visiting the Vatican brought a whole swirl of emotions. Not only was it neat to just be inside one of the biggest museums in the world, but I thought it a privilege of some sort to see some of the world’s finest paintings in-person, after learning of them exclusively in history books. Seeing the likes of The Creation of Adam, The School of Athens, and the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling with my own eyes filled me with awe and wonderment. We later rang in the New Year with fellow exchange students from the U.S. we met while looking for somewhere to dance to good music.
Florence brought a newfound sense of independence. Bethany and I were stationed in separate apartments around the city center of Florence, with university buildings, such as our classrooms, spread throughout the city. After setting down my bags, I immediately put on my headphones, and walked freely around the cobblestone streets while listening to none other than Taylor Swift’s Welcome to New York. Ironic, I know. Anytime in the past that I had visited a city, such as New York or Boston with my family, I had always wanted to walk around by myself to experience the faster pace of life on my own. Not having anyone telling me to stop walking so fast or to wait around was freeing. Walking around the city became a daily hobby, not just out of necessity, but for meditation and reflection. I wanted to stay present as much as I could over the course of the trip, and found myself etched into the new daily routine of going to class, museums, reading in coffee shops, watching the sunset over the city, and hanging out with newfound friends most evenings.
My class was titled “Food, Culture, & Society in Italy,” which taught the culture of food in Italy. In other words: wine tastings, cooking labs, and a lot of lectures on bread and olive oil. Against my inner academic, I spent these mornings in class with a new friend, Paige, from Boulder, Colorado, doing the Washington Post’s daily crossword. Regardless of how important our professor felt the wine classification system in Italy is, I found it much more engaging to see what my record for finishing the daily crossword would be, followed by the Wordle.
Florence also gave me the experience of having roommates for the first time ever. I graduated high school in 2020, and started that fall at USM, where Residential Life gave most students their own rooms due to heavy COVID-19 precautions. I then became a Residential Assistant (RA) on campus for the next two years, which also exempted me from needing to cohabitate with someone else. I wasn’t at all nervous, but more so excited to experience something new. I returned from my initial stroll around the city to find three guys standing in our shared two-bedroom apartment, all of whom went to the same school in Long Island, New York. The funny thing was that none of them had met before, given how large their university is. I would tell them how perplexing that was to me, considering how small USM’s Gorham campus is; even though I don’t know everyone on campus, I feel as though I have seen everyone’s face at least once. Among my roommates and some other friends we had made, I quickly became known as “The One from Maine,” where my rural background contrasted heavily with their life in close proximity to the largest city in the country. My roommates and I would go out to dinner a lot, and we’d talk about the differing portion sizes served in Italy. The organic ingredients used in Italian food allows for a fuller feeling after eating, even with a smaller plate. Additionally, the cost of living in Italy was much lower compared to in the United States; a week’s worth of groceries (sandwich ingredients, snacks, milk, etc.) for four people evened out to be €20-30, as opposed to around $50-60 in America. One of our favorite pastimes was to go to a panini joint, All’ Antico Vinaio, where one of my roommates went almost everyday, and would be sad if any of us went without him.
The experience of traveling abroad, especially with great friends, is nothing short of amazing. I look back on this experience with a heart full of gratitude to have been able to experience this. I don’t miss the city so much as I do the friends and memories I made within my program. While some of the friends I made also go to USM (shoutout to Keely, Maia, and Gretchen!), a lot of them live in different parts of the U.S., and even other parts of the world. While I miss them and our memories dearly, I will also miss the delicious pizza, pasta, paninis, and gelato that I ate every day. A part of me will also miss Italian meats, where I stopped my three-year pescatarian streak so I could eat whatever food I wanted to. I am excited to be back at USM for what is going to be my final semester of undergraduate studies, and experience my real first graduation ceremony in May, since COVID impacted the latter half of my senior year of high school. My adventure in Italy is a short chapter in my life that can only be described as the best friendship field trip ever.