That’s the phrase I often use to describe the best summer of my life….the summer I decided to study abroad in Sansepolcro, Italy! If you want to know about a Meredith opportunity that “you just have to experience”, this is it! It will change your life, forever. While the study abroad office somehow has the ability to make just about any destination you want a study abroad opportunity, there’s really no need for that. Sansepolcro is the only place you really need to go. I mean yes, you’ll venture to other places while you’re there, but Sansepolcro is the place that’s going to grab on to you and steal a piece of your heart forever!
Most people might try to tell you about this program in more of a sales pitch style. It might sound something like “Right in the heart of Tuscany, where every view is worth more than a 1,000 words, where the food is incredible and the authentic Italian life will completely consume you, the Meredith summer in Italy program is the program for you.” While every bit of that sales pitch statement is true, what they didn’t explain to you is the experience itself, and that is the part that changes your life.
It was the summer of 2012, and I could hardly wait to get on the plane for the adventure of a lifetime. Little did I know, the adventure that awaited me would make for the best summer of my life. Once we were on the plane, I was so excited, there was zero chance of me sleeping – and keep in mind that is one long, overnight flight. After every movie, I anxiously checked the flight tracker on the tv screen to see where we were…I’m pretty sure every time I looked it was a plane emblem with a blue background for the water. You’d think I would eventually give up and quit looking. Nope. After flying over the water for what seemed like forever, we were finally approaching Rome! Rome…I could hardly believe it. Somewhere I had only ever read about and heard about growing up in the Catholic Church, now I was about to actually be there. When we landed and gathered our giant suitcases, because obviously we had to pack our entire closets for six weeks away from home, we made our way to the bus for the final stretch of our trip. After what again seemed like hours, we turned into this tiny little town with cobblestone streets, beautiful buildings lined with flags, and an open courtyard filled with tiny shops and restaurants. We had arrived in Sansepolcro, and the adventure was about to begin!
When we got off the bus, we were greeted by a tall, beautiful, Italian woman who immediately hugged our professor began conversing with him Italian – obviously we had no clue what she was saying. I watched with curiosity, wondering who this woman was and was everyone here like her. I would soon find out that no, everyone was not like her. She was special. She was the essence of the Meredith program in Italy. She was our mom away from home, our go to for gossiping, our advice giver, our translator, our tour guide, you name it, she was it! And little did I know, she would quickly become one of my favorite people that I was able to share my Meredith experience with. Sara (yes, we even have the same name), you will never know how much you meant to us during our summer with you, but especially how much you meant and still mean to me! I am so thankful that Italy and Meredith brought you and your sweet family into my life! I can’t imagine living the study abroad experience without you!
After settling in and barely unpacking our bags, we took off out the back doors of the Palazzo Alberti and ventured down the street to the main piazza. I’ll give you one guess as to what we were on the hunt for…yep, you know it: Gelato! I mean who goes to Italy and doesn’t take advantage of every opportunity to indulge in gelato. And I’m here to tell you, yes I probably tried every flavor ever made during my short six weeks, and there is nothing that delicious in the world of American ice cream. After dessert, we made our way down to a little restaurant just below the palazzo that would eventually become our favorite place to eat! We befriended Giacamo and the owner of the restaurant, and even though they probably laughed at us and our struggling Italian speech when we weren’t around, they welcomed us in regularly and even surprised us with occasional drinks and treats at dinner. That night we continued to wander around the streets of Sansepolcro just taking in the exciting atmosphere. The streets at night were buzzing with people. The bars were nothing like those you see in America. People are sitting outside just casually sipping, savoring and socializing – in fact, we were fascinated by that. People would buy one glass of wine, or one beer and make it last for hours, because socializing and being with each other was far more important than drinking. That’s one thing the Italians taught us for sure, the importance of truly being with people and embracing that time together.
The next morning, we sleepily stumbled down to class. As if trying to pay attention while living in the most beautiful city in Italy wasn’t hard enough, we were suddenly distracted by the delicious scent coming from the kitchen. Margharita, the palazzo chef, was busy upstairs preparing our lunch. It was 9:30am, and she was already cooking lunch. We learned very quickly that this was a sign that it was going to be a good day! Honestly though, every day was a good day when Margharita was cooking! The table in the dining room stretched from the windows all the way to the stairs, and it was lined with food every day when we would run upstairs at 1:00. A four course meal every day. What more could you ask for! While the first few lunches we all tried to be polite and share the food equally, by the end of the trip, we were fighting for every serving. And if there was something we didn’t particularly like, or even if it was our favorite dish, you could always count on John Rose (sitting at the head of the table) saying “Are you going to eat that??” in his adorable accent! Oh John Rose. Yes, yes we’re always going to eat anything Margharita cooked!
Now, keep in mind we were there actually taking classes, so school did take up a good portion of the trip, but it’s far more fun to talk about the travel experiences. There are a few fun stories from in the classroom though. Like the time the girls taking the “Chemistry in Art” course had all reached the point of tears from frustration, so a few of us in the other class snuck out of the palazzo and went to the closest bakery, only to return bearing soda and pastries for everyone – because in Italy, that makes everything better! That and gelato! Or the time that we enlightened our Italian professor that she looked like Carrie Bradshaw from Sex in the City which landed her the nickname the Italian Carrie. Or the nights that were spent downstairs in the classrooms, rigging the projectors to play The Bachelor so we wouldn’t be missing out on John Rose’s favorite tv show! Both inside and outside of the classroom, it’s an understatement to say that we made amazing memories together, day after day. The girls in our group quickly became more like family than friends. If you remember from my post last week, two of my best friends are girls that I spent that summer in Italy with, and I am so thankful for that!
The best memories though, happened on our travel breaks. From Florence, to Sorrento and Capri, to Rome, to Venice and Verona, and not to mention days spent in the tiny adjoining Tuscan towns, we packed as much of the Italian experience as we could into our six weeks! I think it’s safe to say that our journey to Sorrento and Capri was my favorite though. It was our first time venturing off on our own for a weekend, and we were thrilled! We checked in to Hostel 7, dropped our bags in our rooms, and then went downstairs to the bar where we met a group of guys who were backpacking across Italy. They told us all about their boat tour and day at Capri, and we knew we had to do that too! We laughed and carried on for hours with them, and even ventured out on a walk so they could show us where the local beach was. On the way back from that walk, Eliza and I somehow got lost. I mean the joke of the whole trip was that if I was ever around, all would be okay because I was the navigator – or “mama duck” as they liked to call me. But on that night, we got so lost, and we didn’t care! We found ourselves in a little park, and Miles (one of the boys we met) turned on “Call Me Maybe” and we danced the night away! From that night on, “Call Me Maybe” became our theme song. I mean if you think about it, it’s totally appropriate – “hey I just met you, and this is crazy” – that is how we all felt about the friends we made on our trip. It was completely and totally crazy how we met and how close we had all become. The next day, we had our own private boat tour that took us through all of the grottos and to the island of Capri. Eliza and I took full advantage of this adventure. We jumped in every grotto, swam through waterfalls and into secret caves, and even dodged being stung by jellyfish as we did flips off the boat into the water. That night, we met back up with the guys and sang and danced on the rooftop of the hostel. We had the time of our lives and we owed it all to study abroad.
There are so many more stories I could tell you, memories I could share, but it would take an entire blog to accurately portray our study abroad experience. Lucky for you guys, I actually kept a blog throughout the whole trip! Now, try not to judge my spelling and grammatical errors – remember I was out living it up, and blogging wasn’t my priority – but if you want to read about our other trips, feel free to check out my study abroad blog: http://italysummer2012.blogspot.it/
Throughout the entire six weeks, the scenery, the food, the lemonchello, everything was simply amazing, and no words can ever accurately describe the experience. That’s where the phrase “lost in a postcard” came from. We were hiking in my favorite little town – Anghiari – that literally looks like something you see in a fairytale, when we came upon a field of poppies that overlooked the Tuscan valley below. We sat there in awe of the beauty before us, and that’s when someone said “Isn’t it amazing here. Sometimes I feel like I’m lost in a postcard.” Those words couldn’t have been more true. Everywhere you looked you were surrounded by beauty – beautiful scenery, beautiful people, beautiful everything! We tried to take it all in, every last moment, but like I said, Sansepolcro and the Italy study abroad experience, changes you. It steals your heart and changes your life.
Saying goodbye to Sansepolcro, to Sara, to the Italian life was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I cried more tears that day than I had in a long time. When I first ventured off on the trip, I was worried I would get home sick, but at the very thought of leaving, I was actually becoming Sansepolcro sick. I knew that this had been the best summer of my life and I would never be able to recreate it. I was leaving a piece of my heart in that incredible Tuscan town, and going home. Life would never be the same.
Now if you’re reading this with thoughts of taking advantage of the study abroad experience during your years at Meredith, do it! Don’t think twice, don’t try to debate going anywhere else – go to Sansepolcro. Take on the adventure of a lifetime. I promise it will be the best thing you do, the best decision you make, during your years at Meredith. If you’re reading this and you’ve shared this same, or a very similar experience, with me by choosing to study abroad in Italy, then you know there are no words that can describe or explain the magic of Sansepolcro…you just have to experience it!