I wrote this for a newsletter I curated during my time living and working in Italy.
Every Spring HUF semester packs up and heads to Abetone, Italy in the Apuan Alp mountains at the northern edge of Tuscany for a ski trip. This semester, the trip was planned for about 10 days into the program. But even before the group first arrived in Florence, the ski trip looked as if it were going to dissolve away.
Before the students arrived this semester, Abetone was having an unseasonably warm winter. There was a snow base but it was melting fast with the rains that started to fall just a few days before our trip.
Just two days before we were supposed to leave, things did not look good. But we decided to wait until the very last minute to call it off. So, by noon the day before our 6 AM departure, a decision was going to be made.
Robbie called our friend and ski-gear renter Maurizio to get the latest weather update. We were all but certain we knew what the answer would be but to our surprise, our friend from the mountains called with good news. It had started snowing overnight and with no clear end in sight, the slopes would be covered the next day, ready for our first runs down the mountain. So with 20 centimeters of freshly fallen powder, to the mountains we went.
I am by no means an experienced or expert skier, I had only been once before this trip and I had told myself, “Well, that was fun (and painful), glad I tried, but never again.” I sort of checked skiing off my bucket list of things to try in my life and retired my ski socks along with the memory of many bruises.
I had tried skiing once. I decided I wasn’t good at it and thought I would never do it again. But that’s not the right outlook to have for skiing. After thinking about it some more, I had a few realizations. Everyone falls down. Everyone face-plants into the snow. And everyone somehow accidentally and unintentionally ends up going down the mountain backward. It’s like riding a bike: the more you try, the better you get. But you don’t get any better without making a few mistakes along the way. So with this new found perspective, I strapped two fiberglass boards once again to my feet and slid over the mountain’s icy edge.
In my life so far I’ve learned that sometimes you have to just throw yourself over the edge of a mountain and figure things out on the way down, metaphorically speaking of course. The greatest lessons I’ve learned have been while doing, not while watching.
And I think that’s what this whole study abroad experience is about: plunging headfirst into an entirely new place and culture and figuring it all out along the way. There is no guidebook or website or travel blog that can fully prepare someone to experience a brand new way of life and thinking. Yes, we may fall down and icy patches will be along the way but we have to pick ourselves up, learn from the problems and bumps in the road and keep going on down the trail. Just like in skiing: the more times you try, the more you will learn.
We had three great days on the mountain. I fell. But I got up and I learned and I am no longer as afraid to slide down a mountain as I was before.
Today, the students leave for their first independent travel experience. In the same way, I went off the edge of a mountain, they are leaping from the relative comfort of our home in Florence and into the foggy unknown of traveling to unfamiliar places. It is inevitable: things will not go exactly as planned and problems will happen. But that is a part of the learning experience. Just like I put two skis on my feet and went for it, they too have to leap headfirst and learn along the way.
I am so excited to see what the students learn from this travel experience. I can’t fully put it into words but somehow traveling changes us. I guess it’s one of those “you have to do it, to understand it” kind of things