I’ll start with 3 snapshots, which are crystal-clear, vivid memories stuck in my mind.
July 2012 -Sydney Airport: A little girl, who has just turned 17, is suddenly alone in the middle of a gigantic airport, on the other side of the world. She had a connection flight to Brisbane planned, but it was cancelled last minute. She is 17, but she’s just a baby, with two very heavy suitcases, bigger than herself, which she has to painfully carry around, even if she just wants to make it to the toilet. She tries and asks help to the personnel of the airport, but she can’t understand a word they say! It’s the first time she’s alone in another country, thousands of miles away from home, and she’s devastated by a 14 hour intercontinental flight: she can barely keep her eyes open. So when she starts losing her mind and becoming totally overwhelmed by the situation her mind goes blank: she pulls out her mobile phone and calls her dad. It’s early afternoon in Australia, which means it’s in the middle of the night, back home in Italy….
July 2016, Cantanhede, Portugal– There are two girls, who left their country with the simple expectation of having a nice holiday in Portugal. They studied Portuguese all year at university and they’re eager to finally visit this dreamed of country to dive into its fascinating language and culture for the first time. They know it’s going to be a different type of holiday than what they’re normally used to: nothing has been planned too much. But they have contacts, who guaranteed them a place to stay and food in exchange for working as volunteers in the local school. How could they imagine it’s going to be one of the craziest yet unforgettable summers of their lives?
What an adventure! A house full of dust where probably no-one had been living for years, with a scary lamp in the shape of an angel, days filled with 30 screaming and tireless Portuguese children running around and who didn’t stop talking to them, in Portuguese of course, in their relentless desire to communicate. An electronic music festival on a huge and deserted beach, together with a group of Portuguese adults with children’s hearts, the night of the European cup’s final (Portugal vs. France) watched in Coimbra and the crazy scenes of the victory, with people screaming all sort of things in this loved yet somehow unknown language. The hurricane of emotions stirred up by the Serenada monumental in Coimbra. The phone signal impossible to find: it was necessary to reach a close-by establishment of a factory producing pipes.
July 2018, Poronin, Poland-There’s a wooden cottage in the middle of the Polish woods, not far away from Zakopane, a popular ski destination in Eastern Europe. The wooden cottage is called Karczma and it will be her house for approximately 10 days. The food isn’t really great: mainly soups, and potatoes, and some more soups and some strange dumplings. The other guests don’t look exactly friendly. There’s music from an old CD going on and on which gets stuck in your head.
It’s very early in the morning. Together with her team they have to prepare dinner for 40 people. And without thinking too much through it, she decides to make pizza, a very reasonable choice for an Italian girl. Everybody is going to love it, she thinks. But it’s summer, and in the kitchen of the Karczma, the temperature is boiling, especially with 4 ovens going at the same time. The cook is there to help but he’s Polish and doesn’t speak English. And she’s Italian and doesn’t speak Polish. But never mind, everybody understands body language and gestures right? And she has a very good team to rely on: made up of Greeks, Lithuanians and Slovakians. It takes 4 hours of sweat blood and tears, but in the end, they make it and it’s a success.
It was always me, in different periods of my life, always in summer, the best period to live your life (I will write an article specifically on this so stay tuned).
Just rethinking about these episodes brings about a ton of mixed feelings and memories: laughter, nostalgia, joy and melancholy.
They weren’t exactly easy situations: in two cases I was alone (in Portugal, thank God, I was with my favourite travelling companion, Benedetta, and I couldn’t have done it without her to be honest).
But somehow, I made it. And when I reminisce about all of these experiences I cannot but be happy and surprised about how I managed to deal with those situations, where language becomes a barrier, where culture destroys every concept of familiarity, where you are left alone to deal with uncertainty.
However, these leaps of faith, in unconventional and unfamiliar situations have always made me stronger and have taught me so much in terms of cultures but not only. They were veritable life lessons I couldn’t have learned in any other way.
It’s like being thrown in the water and not being a good swimmer: you find yourself thrown in a situation and you are kind of forced to find a way.
Travelling has taught me to accept that things cannot always be controlled: and you must accept it and live with it. It’s taught me to laugh about difficulties and dead end situations instead of crying. It taught me to become a flexible and creative thinker when problems occur, to come up with new and unusual solutions. It’s taught me to leave all my prejudices and being open to any new possible lesson, which can come from where you least expect it (even from a 8 year old kid).
These experiences taught me how incredible is to connect with people so far away from you because of their background and nationality, who are yet as young and full of hopes and dreams as you are and who like to party and dance and have a crazy lovely time as we all do.
They’ve taught me that I can make it alone, no matter what, if you look closer and harder, and you persist, there’s always a solution. They taught me the beauty of difference, once again showing me how people from totally different cultures deal with the same situations in completely different ways, which are perfectly normal to them as they are totally abnormal to us.
And honestly to lose myself in another person’s train of thought without resistance has been one of the most valuable treasures I could possibly discover in my life.
Long story short. Travelling, and I stress: this sort of travelling (going one week to Ibiza isn’t travelling: it’s just tourism) has shaped me into the person I am, more than anything else. And I hope I’ll be able to do it at various stages throughout all of my life, because it’s the best learning experience I could think of.