As I’m preparing to leave for Rome, I’m starting to realize that preparation is simply decision making. In some ways, thinking of preparation this way makes it easy to stomach: it’s just one choice at a time. You decide to practice tirelessly for a performance or recital; you decide to study in the most effective way for a final exam; you decide to sit in silence as you brainstorm for your next big project. Preparing for a semester abroad in Rome means that I have a lot of decisions to make. How much stuff should I bring? Four pairs of leggings or three? How do I budget my time and money? I’ve come to realize that the most important question, the one I’m still thinking over in the shower, is what type of experience do I want to have? This is the essential question of every type of preparation: Do I want to do well during this performance? Do I want to ace this final? Do I want my next big project to be outside of the box?
Obviously, I can’t control everything about this trip; there is no magical button I can press to ensure that I have a great time, all the time. However, I can control my attitude, the people I surround myself with, and the chances I take. If I put myself out there and speak Italian, if I go shopping mostly at a market in a piazza rather than a supermarket—these choices will shape my experience. A “full experience” (whatever that means to you) will not just come to me. I must go out and seek it for myself. There’s legwork and risk in truly experiencing another culture. I could approach Italy with a surface-level amount of immersion and exposure, or I could really delve into its personality. Of course, it’s a lot easier to convince myself to take chances when I am sitting comfortably in my Pennsylvanian-Suburban bedroom; but this is the preparation everyone traveling to a new place should be going through.
In many ways, these types of decisions are more difficult to make than most because no one knows how things will turn out before they happen. Maybe on the plane, I will feel a sudden nervousness and sense of fear that will cause me to stay in my shell throughout the entire trip. Maybe I’ll find that I am braver than I thought. The scariest part about this decision is that whatever experience I have while abroad ultimately says something about me as a person, about my sense of adventure and spontaneity. While most decisions say something about you as a person, this one has a lot of gravity to it. My time in Rome will show me how I deal with change and unfamiliarity, how well I can handle being alone or lost and communicating with someone who doesn’t speak the same language I do.
I’m not saying that this trip will change my life. I’m saying that it could. And no matter what I choose, it will be different. No, not everything will be perfect. But, I’m making the choice to learn about Italy, Europe, and, hopefully, myself as well. I’m putting myself in the mental state to speak Italian and make mistakes, travel and navigate in an unfamiliar space, and confront Rome face-to-face.