This Post is for UNISGers...
I've been meaning to post recently about a recent anniversary – I’m about a week late - the one-year mark of our graduation from UNISG. This time last year we were finishing our thesis papers, returning from our internships, reuniting in The Pub of itsy-bitsy Colorno, and preparing to say our tearful goodbye’s. Mum had arrived and we traveled, ate, and drank our way around Milan, Verona, Bologna, Modena, Osteria Francescana, and Colorno. Then all of a sudden we were in Ireland. I think, sometimes more than other things, it marks a time when I have to stop saying, "I recently graduated from..." Not so recently. It's kinda like wanting to say I'm 26, two years too late.
The year of UNISG was over and Real Life began.
A lot has happened since then. I lived in Ireland. I worked in a pub. I witnessed and participated in lambing and ewe culling. I went to Holland. My brother got married. I got a new sister in-law. We celebrated our Bucknell 5-year reunion back in the cornfields of Lewisburg, PA. I was in a considerable yet injury-free car crash. I decided to stay in America. My dad turned sixty. I worked for a farm. My friends got engaged. My friends got married. Mum and I went on a road trip. It snowed in October. I decided to move to Australia. Made the most expensive purchase of my life. Smoked hookah with my family. Moved back to Ireland. Celebrated Christmas and New Years as well as charades, pub music, and intense wind in Ireland. I turned 28. Went to Dublin. Went to London. Cheers-ed life, friendship, and old age with Arina. Ate at adored Ottolenghi. Visited Singapore for 13 hours. Moved to Australia. Spent a month in summery Perth. Moved to the middle of nowhere 5 hours south.
Cried. Laughed. Anticipated. Realized. Expected. Lived. Repeat. My, how time passes.
As March imminently approached, I thought back to the year in Italy, as I often do, often as in on a daily basis, and where we all are now, one year later. Many of us are back in our countries of home; many of us are making new homes in new countries. Some of us have figured out what to do with our lives with a relevant or not-so-relevant Masters degree; some of us have an idea or two thousand; and some of us are still trying to figure it all out. No matter what though, I know that we are all continuing our paths toward greatness. And I know I, and we, regardless of how caught up with it we may get, have no doubt about that greatness.
Coincidental or not given the relative time frame, I have received many inspiring emails, quotes, and texts that deepen my love and appreciation for the year abroad at UNISG in Italy. When people ask me about the course academically, I have to rationalize the "Italian" way of things and decipher the expansive level of education we had, given the length of a year and varieties of visiting worldly professors. But when I express the other side of it, once we realized how to take advantage of this so-frustrating-it’s laughable learning system, but also how beneficial it was to master life from each other outside of the classroom, that's when my face starts to glow and I could go on and on, telling story upon story.
Despite our “amusement” over the frustration we initially felt, we learned a lot within the year; looking back, it is more than we probably can comprehend. Regardless of the nutritional facts we could rattle off, the debates we could argue about today's food systems, what a wine wheel is, the descriptions that cheese ob-lig-ator-iall-y smells, the obvious facts of the existence of terroir against NYU protestations, the way the leaves of olive trees glistening in the sun, the slow-painful-ways of food technology, the adorable enjoyments of cocktail class, how to smell tinned asparagus in white wine even if you’ve never eaten such a thing, the quick identification of wafting cured meat in the air, the warmth of that-morning-milked sheep’s milk, what mussel farming looks like, describing the palate of Illy coffee, the long history of pasta, the taste of just-made cheese, the difficulties of organics and food policies, how the body feels after tasting a 3-hour-class-worth of cured meats/cheese/chocolates/wines/honeys/beers/olive oils, how to make cured meat/cheese/coffee/balsamic vinegar/sherry/olive oil/beer/butcher meat/Spanish cookies/corks/champagne/jarred red peppers/pasta, the right way to “tap that” wheel of Parmigiano, how to style and photograph food correctly, the absurd amounts of out-of-season and far-away food from ALMA, or even the way dancing on the tables at the pub is supposed to be done while serving American-Thanskgiving turkey.....despite all that, the real lessons we learned, the real memories we will keep, are from each other, like: how to properly sing karaoke on a bus, the real meaning of banana tsunami, how to dumpster dive before going on a stage, that wine isn’t made from California grapes, the fact that you won’t die or get sick from sharing a spoonful with 26 other people, the smug satisfaction of seeing 25 other cameras pointing at food on a table, how to breath without an inhaler when having an asthma attack, the importance of cooking as a class and celebrating Fourth of July and Canada Day abroad, how to determine who you’re going to marry by sticking seeds on your face, how to speak Spanish in Italy and Italian in Spain, how to win over professors by inviting them to dinner, how to survive intense Italian summer heat, and even the way dancing on the tables at the pub is supposed to be done on a Thursday afternoon. And that’s just SOME of what we learned, in and out of the UNISG classroom.
One of the first times I realized that I was too genuinely happy to take pictures (and everyone knows I love to capture moments and take laborious notes) was in Friuli, in the mountains, as we walked down the hills of the little cheese-making farm through the wild flowers. Flowers necklaced my head like a Christmas tree. Our heads in a circle trying to fit everyone in the picture as the warm northern sun squinted our eyes as we smiled. It could not be captured enough, except in our memories.
A year was enough. A year was not enough.
Even as we (luckily) meet up post-graduation, we continue to have the same-themed talks and conversations we had when we were studying together. (studying? hmmm, that needs to be re-phrased). We had high hopes and endless aspirations, we were unstoppable, we dreamt the impossible. But for us, at those moments, it was not a dream, the world was ours, and we were going to save it. Then we part, and we go on, with the same optimistic goals, the same knowledge, the same perseverance, but without the same in-person encouragement, same I’m-with-you confidence, same unbaiting ability without each other.
“It may not seem to you this way, yet, but these steps are leading you to greatness. Just have faith in yourself. Each day is one step closer to that. You are taking big risks to live and enjoy an unconventional life; big risks = big gains. "
I have received a couple quotes from UNISG friends that I have posted, and other emails that I have forwarded to share with my family to show them that I am not the only one who has graduated with a Masters degree, spent a year in Italy hoping that it will lead me in some direction, but yet still feels a bit lost even though I am living with conviction that I will find my way. I may be a bit odd, but I am sure of myself. Sometimes, my UNISG classmates (re: friends) have similar thoughts about life and about ourselves and these lead us to follow similar paths and actions. It's absolute SYNCRONICITY. But I think, even after just one year, this shows where we came from, what we were looking for, what UNISG offered us, where it took us, where it left us, and where we are now. From these relationships made over a year and post-graduation reassurances that we are not alone, I think that UNISG left us all with a special bond, connection, and spirit that we understand in each other. We often feel as though we have to validate this feeling to ourselves and/or to others, whether it is just thinking out-loud to prove or verify it to ourselves, or actually trying to rationalize and describe it to others. But, for us, we just get it. We get each other. There’s no attesting or justification. Regardless of how much I learned, regardless of how much it cost, regardless of the lack of textbooks, regardless of what we left behind at home to try to figure it out abroad, what makes the year in Italy so worthwhile is the friendships that I have in my life right now from that experience. It's nice to know that I am not the only one feeling as I do: post-graduation, one year later. It's nice to know that even though we may be on different paths of sorts, despite our geographical locations and mind-boggling time zones of communication, that we have each other. We get it. And when we are reunited in person, these inspirational chitchats will resume, the laughter and familiarity will fill the room, and that one year, or however long it will be next, will feel as though we are back in Colorno – in the freezing classroom of the Napolean's Maria Louisa's Reggia or drinking prosecco outside on a bench at The Pub.
And really, let's be honest. The truth of the matter is, no matter how much we really love to really talk about food, we * sometimes * talk about other things too. Feelings. Life. Reality. Gossip.
Because when it comes down to it, it’s all about the Top Ten Quality Control.
So, what everyone needs to do, a forceful recommendation from one of the best and not just to me, but wiseful advice to everyone is: stand in the middle of an open, peaceful spot, close your eyes and just listen to your surroundings. Send a heartfelt message up to the sky, and then start running as fast as you can for a moment and jump as high as you can. It is sure to leave you smiling :) – RR