This blog has been created to share the College of Staten Island (CSI) students’ experiences around the world. Dolphins across the Seven Seas provides the opportunity for CSI students, staff, faculty and beyond to gain insight into the study abroad experience. Additionally, Study Abroad Peer Advisors provide reflections upon their experiences as well as advice to potential study abroad participants. CSI is the single senior college of the City University of New York (CUNY), located in the borough of Staten Island.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

La Dolce Vita ~Cathrine Bernardo, Study Abroad Peer Advisor, Florence, Italy, Winter 2011

During one summer when I was six, my family and I traveled back to my home country. I remember being on the plane and loving every minute of it. I specifically remember asking my grandma if we had explored all of the Philippines. She said to me, “Oh my, no! There is too much!” I argued that I do not want to leave without seeing it all and that I will keep coming back until I do! My grandma calmly smiled at me and told me there were so many other places and countries to see and visit. And traveled I did.

I was fortunate enough to travel all over the United States because of where my cheerleading competitions, my brother’s basketball games and tournaments, and my sister’s dance competitions were located. My family and I also took annual family vacations. But taking on the United States (and parts of Canada) was not enough for me. I wanted to go to a place where it could not be reached by driving a car, and would take hours to get to by airplane.

At 21 years old, I finally embarked on my journey to Florence, Italy. This time around, no family or posse of cheerleaders; just me. While most people would tremble at the thought of traveling into another country, let alone flying solo, I found it exciting and adventurous! Moments before I boarded, my anticipation had built up so much, it became hard to handle. I squealed as I entered the walkway to the airplane, and I am sure all the other passengers thought I was just a bit crazy. I could care less; all I kept thinking was, “I’M GOING TO BE LIVING IN ITALY FOR A MONTH!”

(Fast forward from my flight to landing in Rome) Taking my first steps in this Italian airport in Rome felt like I had just been hit by a whirlwind. Not only did my lack of sleep start to set in, but I remember feeling like I was in a trance. People were moving so fast all around me and talking in different languages. That’s when the panic started to set in. “What do I do? Where do I go? Where are my bags? Oh my gosh, I’m not fluent in this language!” Those where the exact thoughts that crossed my head.

I stayed still for what felt like a couple of minutes, but in reality, it must have been just seconds. My heart felt like it was beating so hard from my chest that anyone who was close enough could hear it. Luckily for me, a little girl (who must have been no older than 6-7 years old) tapped my hand and politely said my bags are on the floor. For some reason, this small, nice gesture made my panic disappear, and I was back to my calm, cool, and collected self. I said thank you very much to her, and she replied, “Prego.” That made me so excited because she was my first encounter of a real Italian!

Her parents came over from behind and smiled at me. Francesca’s dad, Giuseppe, knew right away that this was my first time in their homeland. They offered to help direct me where I needed to go and what I needed to do before taking car service to meet up with my friend. It must have been fate that brought them to me, that I dropped my belongings, that little Francesca had stopped to talk to me; without them, I believe a whole different sequence of events would have occurred, which definitely would not have had the same outcomes. Before we parted ways, Giuseppe gave me a few tips and advice, but what really stuck out to me was that he told me to make sure I live “la dolce vita,” the true Italian way.

It was during my morning class that Stefania, my Italian Language I teacher, brought up the phrase “la dolce vita,” which translates to the sweet life. To live “la dolce vita” means to live in love and happiness. And supposedly, this is why Italians do everything in a calm and relaxing manner. Stefania also said that this way of life makes sense because constantly running around and being stressed is no good; there is no time to appreciate everyone and everything all around you. Italians like to concentrate on the present, but do reflect on the past, and always hope for the best in the future. 

While I kept this in the back of mind, for the first week and couple of days after, I did not live the Italian way in the truest sense. Even though I believed I did by traveling to different places and being exposed to so many new things and experiences. During the middle of my second week in Florence, I decided to go running on my own without any of my roommates (Not only where they getting tired of me forcing them to go, but they also started claiming there was not enough time for it). I am grateful, though, that I decided to go on my own because it was during this particular run in which I discovered what living “la dolce vita” meant for me.

My run started with the regular route I’ve taken previously. For some reason, I felt like I was discovering something new and seeing something different with each stride. Then I started noticing different streets and pathways that I could swear on my life were never there. I was feeling adventurous and curious to see where all these new paths would take me. Now, when I explain what I found to others, it will not sound like any groundbreaking discoveries, but to me they seemed that way. I felt overcome with the same joy, excitement, and sense of magic, most likely similar to how Harry Potter felt when witnessed for the first time the brick walls rearranging themselves to a doorway to Diagon Alley. I got so caught up in my “discoveries” that not only did I lose track of how many miles I was running, but also lost track of how long I was running for. That’s what prompted me to look up and notice that the sun was starting to set.

I went home exhausted, but refreshed at the same time. I also felt accomplished because I ran for the longest amount of miles and time I ever had, despite the fact that I did not know the exact numbers or time. I remember thinking to myself that not once did I look at my watch or timer! This sort of “high” that I felt, appreciation for what had happened, feelings of satisfaction, feelings of accomplishment, feelings of being blessed by Florence’s beauty... all of this combined- that was my sweet life and I had experienced it! So this is what it means to truly live in the present.

Now, some of you may still be confused about what I mean or what it means, this “la dolce vita” way. That’s perfectly okay; it is something that you will have to find all on your own. You can see, hear, read, and study all about it, but until you discover and experience for yourself, you won’t ever genuinely understand it.

My advice? The best I can offer is to tell you to study abroad. Let go of the fear of what might happen and all the things that can go wrong, and just leave! (Mind you, there are precautions that must be taken in order to ensure your safety.) You do not necessarily have to be Italian to live this way; it can be adopted by anyone! You don’t even need to go to Florence. Maybe you don’t even need to go to Italy (although I highly recommend it if you want to see this lifestyle being lived firsthand). To live “la dolce vita” is to embark on a journey of self-discovery in finding and living in happiness, peace, and love. However, in order to start, you have to start somewhere, other than where you are right now. Buona Fortuna!