Six countries and 13 cities visited all in just two short months; this was the rollercoaster that was my half-semester abroad last spring in Torino, Italy. With so many distinct experiences in all kinds of different locations, I find it difficult to select a mere handful of moments that sincerely capture the essence of my time abroad. After writing to you from behind the screen for two weeks now, I’m sure you’re curious as to what my highlights from Europe were. After a great deal of pondering and emotional reminiscing, I present to you my top five moments studying abroad.
5. Lasagna in Bologna
Of course, food has to make an appearance on this list — I studied in Italy after all. Lasagna is an easily recognizable dish known throughout the world, but did you know that it originated in the city of Bologna, Italy? The gastronomical capital of Italy, Bologna’s many restaurants have some of the best food found in Europe.
A few weeks into my semester, a group of friends and I took a four-hour bus ride from Torino to Bologna for a weekend. During our stay, I was in charge of the restaurant itinerary. After extensive research, I found a promising spot for our first night’s dinner. After waiting close to an hour for a table, our patience was rewarded. I enjoyed a serving of the best lasagna in the world, along with some local wine that was on the house because of how long my group had to wait.
This was not your grandmother’s three-day-old Tupperware lasagna. This was the real deal. It was pillowy and immediately melted in my mouth — words cannot properly describe the experience of eating a dish like this in its place of origin.
4. Surfing in Malta
The week that my program shut down, due to the rise in COVID-19 cases in northern Italy, two of my friends approached me with the idea of escaping on a plane headed for Malta. Malta is a small island nation in the Mediterranean Sea directly south of Sicily. After all the stress and uncertainty brought about by our program cancellation, the idea of spending some time on a small island in the sun seemed incredibly refreshing.
I shipped the majority of my belongings back home, moved out of my apartment in Torino and flew to Malta; I was hungry to prolong my semester in Europe as long as possible. On the way, I realized that I might finally have an opportunity to surf again. As an avid surfer, taking a two-month hiatus from the waves was brutal. After researching places to surf in Malta, I discovered that there was little to no surfing culture on the island as it hardly gets any surfable waves. However, I eventually stumbled across the Malta Surf School website. I found the phone number of the man who ran it and I reached out to inquire about rentals. The owner was more than accommodating; I gave him the date that I would be in Malta and he provided me with directions on how to find the small beach where he operated. I also lucked out in that I would be arriving on the day of a small wind storm, meaning the waves would be very surfable.
My first morning in Malta, I took a quick bus ride across the island to Ghajn Tuffieha beach and finally got my wave fix. All the stress from the past week melted away; it was just me, my board, the sun and the Mediterranean. I spent the whole day at Ghajn Tuffieha surfing, chatting with the surf school owner and hiking the surrounding hills. To learn more about this experience, check out my video here.
3. Pizza Dinner with Relatives
A major factor in my decision to study abroad in Torino, Italy was because I have relatives on my mother’s side about an hour from the city. Nestled at the base of the Alps in a remote commune called Villar Pellice, my relatives reside quietly in a house that has been passed on for generations. My great grandmother lived in this house during her youth before immigrating to the United States. At first, communication was difficult with my relatives. I spoke very little Italian and my cousin’s wife was the only one in the family who could speak a little English. Their 11-year-old son was understandably shy at first. I wanted to bond with him, but the language barrier and age difference made things tricky.
However, on our second night together I made a breakthrough. My relatives brought me out for a pizza dinner in town and I got to sit right next to him. As the night progressed, we began messing around with crumbs on the table; we stuck them to our fingers like they were eyes and poked at one another. By the end of the night, we were goofing off like two brothers. I miss him dearly and hope to see him again when he is all grown up.
2. Barely Catching a Ferry
During my stay in Malta, I took a day trip north of the main island to an even smaller island called Gozo. After a quick ferry ride, my friends and I rented some e-bikes with intentions to loop around the whole island and back to the ferry port. Toward the end of the day, we found ourselves admiring some enormous cliffs on the west side of the island. We jointly decided that to cap off a perfect day of riding, we had to witness the sunset at the cliffs — it was only fitting.
Once the sunset was over, we soon realized how far we still needed to travel to get back to the last ferry on time. At this point, it was completely dark and we had no reflective gear or lights whatsoever. Moreover, there was not a single bike lane to be found on the small island community of Gozo. The next 45 minutes consisted of the three of us racing down the roads of Gozo as fast as our little bikes could take us, narrowly avoiding cars and people and barely being able to see much of anything. Luckily we made it back to the main port just in time for the last return ferry to Malta, each of us without a single injury.
1. Last Group Dinner in Torino
I developed some incredibly close relationships during my time studying abroad. Adapting to the culture shock of a new country with a group of people you barely know builds trust and friendship very quickly. Even though I only had two months with the people in my program, the life experiences we all shared made it feel like we had all known each other for years.
When we heard the news of our program’s abrupt cancellation, we were all devastated. None of us were ready to say goodbye.
Throughout the semester, my group of friends and I would gather regularly for a group dinner at someone’s apartment. We would all cook, talk and plan future adventures together. During move-out week, we all met for one last dinner before going our separate ways. Towards the end of the night, we went around the room one by one, each sharing a good memory we had of someone else in the room. Needless to say, there was not a single dry eye by the end of the night.
I am so grateful for the impact these people had on my life, and I will continue to reflect on this final night with many a bittersweet memory.