I booked my departure flight a year ago, when leaving for nine months felt like the craziest decision I’ve ever made. People have many reasons for leaving: maybe it’s the experience, the fact that all your friends are going, or the chance to see a new place. Perhaps you’re running to a place or away from somewhere, but everyone is starting somewhere new. For me, it was the clarity of making a decision for only myself, a choice that nobody else took a part in, to go and live a life in which I knew few people, little culture and barely enough language.
In New York, I left behind my dad, grandma and brother, to name a few, as well as places that have been most familiar to me over the last few years. I knew they would wait for me and that I could walk into that same café nine months later. When boarding the plane, I knew it would once set down again in that same airport, in that same state, and I would return to a similar life. Leaving Florence is different in that one monumental way. After nine months I have a life here, one that I truly love yet also one that I may never return to again.
It is simple to say that I will miss walking past the façade of Santa Maria Novella four days a week on my way to class or the distracting classrooms in which frescoes are painted on the ceilings. I can say that I’ll miss walking past the Duomo in the evening or jogging around the Fortezza da Basso in the late afternoons, as well as the countless places where an incredible aperitivo can be purchased at dinner, my plate piled with food. What is harder to touch upon is the small countless things that I will miss, the ones that will come up months from now when I am in a New York City apartment and I least expect them, staring out at a city that is filled with the opposite of Renaissance charm.
I will miss the bar where I get my cappuccino every morning, and occasionally in the afternoons, the way the baristas and I jumbled through Italian small talk, and the way they would let me sit for hours at one of their tiny tables filling journal pages with my thoughts. I will miss my cozy apartment and the neighbor’s dog that would run through their cracked door to greet me on the steps as I trekked up. I will miss the small, curving streets lined with the cutest cartolerias and vintage shops, begging me to stop inside. I’ll miss the way this city decorates for Christmas, the way it captures sunsets, and the way you are always running into the people you have previously met. I will miss piazza Santo Spirito on a warm Friday night, a mix of people from many cultures, drinking wine out of plastic cups and knowing that this moment is a perfect one. Mostly, I will miss the way this city welcomed a 20-year-old American girl and made her feel at home among the uneven streets.
After my time here, I am a girl who would rather sit with her cappuccino for 15 minutes than take it to go, a girl who eats a panino for lunch and spaghetti for dinner and forgets what calories are, and a girl who, after nine months, could never imagine touching a vegetable with her bare hands in the market. I greet with kisses, slow down for conversations and forget what it’s like to have an iPhone when walking down the street. I have become someone who moves at a slower pace, stresses less and appreciates more. It’s hard to say goodbye not only to this beautiful city, but also to the girl I am right now, a person who will be different tomorrow, and next month, and next year.
It’s easier to say thank you to Florence than to say goodbye. Thank you for welcoming me, releasing me and teaching me. I am better because of what these cobblestone streets have done for me. I will return to the same town and the same life in New York, but I will be different—that is why I came abroad and that is what I have Florence to thank for the most.