As I promised, I’m going to continue on this idea of “home.” But this is also about my Thanksgiving travels.

A few weeks ago, I did another full week of traveling with two new friends I made at OUA.  We took an overnight train to Vienna, Austria, where we saw some wonderful museums, shopped at the twinkle-light Christmas markets, befriended a nomadic Kiwi, miraculously found a can of root beer (!) to go with our schnitzel, and realized my years-long dream of seeing the band MUSE live in concert. (I could make at least one full blog post about that concert, but it seems kind of irrelevant to the study abroad experience, so we’ll leave it with the commentary that I almost don’t like to listen to their recorded music anymore because it was so much better live.)

One of the highlights of my year–hearing Matthew Bellamy shout out “How are you feeling tonight, VIENNA?”


After a few nights in Vienna, we headed up to Prague.  We exchanged our Euros for Czech Krona (1000 krona = $50. It was dangerously like having a pocketful of Monopoly money) and found our beautiful (and apparently eco-friendly?) hostel. 
Everyone has always told me that Prague is “like a fairy tale” … and they weren’t lying.  The whole city was magical, from the river to the “dancing building” to the castle and—my favorite—the astronomical clock in Old Town Square.








It was in the UK that I realized my confusion with the whole “home” thing.  In discussions with the other OUA students we had met up with in London, I found myself using “home” in three ways.

  1. (Sitting around the English pub that was the first floor of our hostel drinking Strongbow cider)  “It’s too bad I won’t be able to drink this for another two years when we go home.” (Here meaning the states.  I’m 19, and totally not a lawbreaker, if you need some context there).
  2. (Inside the National Gallery looking at some uber famous super amazing paintings) I don’t want to spend all day here because there are other things I want to make sure we see in London before we fly home tomorrow.  (Home here meaning Arezzo).
  3. (Taking pictures of Big Ben and Westminster) We can head home and check out that Christmas market by the London Eye on the way. (Home here meaning…..wait, a HOSTEL?

Let’s break from this list thing. Did I really call a HOSTEL “home?”


You bet I did.

We only stayed anywhere a maximum of two nights.

We never had a room with less than eight people in it.

We kept our bags in locked lockers and had to pull out a slip of paper to remember the combination to get in the front door.

But it was home.

Just for a few days…it was home.


That’s completely crazy, isn’t it?



Disclaimer: This window has nothing to do with this post. I just really love it.

Despite my best efforts, the thing most on my mind lately has been this concept—home.

I say “despite my best efforts” because the last thing I want to be doing in my final ten days in Italy is thinking about leaving it. But in my studies and in my travels I keep coming back to this idea—home. I consider and I wonder (like the over-analytic freak that I am)…what is home? What does that mean to me anymore? I call myself a global student; I call the world my classroom. But am I a global citizen? Is the whole world also my home? I can’t seem to escape the question.

It doesn’t help that I have six songs on my iPod all dealing with “home” (three of which are literally titled “Home.” I don’t have any other repeats that dramatic—maybe this concept has been more important to me in the past than I knew?).


To share these thoughts with you (and of course give some updates on my time in Italy as it comes to a close) I am going to make a series of blog posts, starting now and ending when I fly back to the States, about this idea of home. And I’m going to share some of these songs. Hope you enjoy!


**Gabrielle Aplin- Home** – this is my most recently-dicsovered (and favorite) “Home” song that I have.  My friend Ashley shared it with me a few weeks ago, and it’s quickly become the theme song of my semester.


We learned in Immigration Class that the Italians in the days of their mass emigration (1800s, mostly) had a sort of catch phrase with which they consoled themselves – tutto il mondo e’ un paese. Or “all the world is a home town.” Through the generations they had learned that they could bring their culture with them wherever they went and be happy anywhere in the world.

Before I had ever heard this phrase, I made a similar comment.

This summer, my best friend and I backpacked around Europe for a week before our semesters started. We traveled through Edinburgh, Sheffield, London, and Luxembourg, and by the end I decided that the lesson I learned (and I pull this from a travel journal, I’m not just conveniently making this up) was “With good friends, good coffee, and the good Lord, you can feel at home anywhere.”

(Edinburgh especially felt like home becuse we found my new favorite coffee shop ever)

Guess I was already more Italian than I thought.


Read more

A week or so ago, I made the quick comment on Facebook that “it’s impossible to be upset about being so overwhelmingly busy when all the things competing for my time are so amazingly awesome.”  I didn’t go into details at the time—because I was just too busy.  But now, as I have hit a rare relaxed weekend, I would like to elaborate.


Here is what the past few weeks looked like for me:


One of these days, I’ll get the Facebook/selfie picture-taking thing down.

Wednesday, October 17th – Finish up midterms

As I believe I have mentioned before, we actually take classes here.  And while I personally adore all the classes—and the fact that there are about 15 students in each one, that the professors are so passionate about what they’re teaching, and that we’re actually learning about things in context of the place where we’re living—midterms are never fun.


Friday, October 19th – Monday, October 29th –Parents Visit!

Yes! My parents got to come visit me in Italy! It was something I never thought would actually happen.  My parents, who hardly ever travel, took off work for 11 days to come halfway across the world to see me.  I took a 4-hour train to meet them in Venice, and over the course of the 4-day weekend we explored Venice, Riomaggiore, and Pisa.  I left them in Florence on Monday night when I had to head back to Arezzo for classes.  Our Art History class was in Florence on Wednesday, so I met up with them at the Academia Museum (where our class was learning about Michelangelo’s David).  They came back to Arezzo for a tour of the town, our school, my apartment, etc. (and they later declared it their favorite city in Italy), and by Friday, when I was done with classes for the week, we were heading to Rome for the last four days of their trip. Daughter, Student, Tour Guide, Immigrant

As the middle child in our family, it’s been rare for me to ever have one-on-one time with my parents.  Add to this that I truly feel in my element while I’m traveling, and this week was really something special. It would even have been completely stress-free…if life could have stopped in the mean time.



Tuesday, October 23rd

My Tuesday classes run from 9am to 4:30pm.

In a break between classes, a few of us went to a coffee shop to meet some local college students who are about to graduate with “American Studies” majors and need conversation partners to help them with their final film projects. …My academic tracks at OU are International Studies and Broadcasting and Electronic Media, so this was absolutely an opportunity I couldn’t turn down! (not to mention that I’ve been dying to hang out with local students!)

After classes, our Student Advisory Council had “training” for our biggest event of the year—a Halloween “Fright Fest” for local children.

After that, I went all around town with a woman from OU’s College of International Studies who was visiting OUA to work on some amazing publicity materials for the program here.  Again, a fantastic combination of International Studies and Broadcasting/Electronic Media that is exactly up my alley.  I was fortunate enough to be recommended to work with her, and we spent the evening walking around town getting pictures and videos of Arezzo for an upcoming coffee-table book and iBook.

Then I got home in time to read up on Michaelangelo’s statue of David, which we were to see the next day.

It was one of the most overwhelmingly awesome, custom-made-for-Shelby, miraculous kind of days…could I seriously complain that I was tired as I collapsed into bed? Absolutely not!


Saturday, October 27th

While sitting on the hotel bed after a very long day in Rome (and anyone who has been to Rome knows that any day in the city is a long one—it’s just so overwhelming! Again, in an awesome way.  Can you seriously complain that St. Peter’s Basilica is simply too magnificent or the Colosseum too historical?) I remembered that my enrollment time slot had opened up…and I was still somewhat indecisive about what classes to take.  I’m looking at trying to do another semester abroad before I graduate, and depending on if I want to go to South Korea or Romania or on an OU Journey summer program etc., everything changes. But seriously, could I complain that there were too many exciting options to choose from? Of course not.  But it was still a bit stressful.


Tuesday, October 30th

My parents caught their 6am flight!

After another 9am-4:30pm day of classes (wait, has it seriously been a week since the last crazy Tuesday already?), some of us from the Advisory Council ran over to one of the apartments and began turning it into a haunted house for the next day’s festivities.

At 5:30, a group of us went up the street to the Children’s Library to do a Halloween story time and monster-balloon craft with a handful of local elementary school kids….or we thought we were going to have only a handful.  …The library was overrun. We prepared fifty balloons for the craft and didn’t have enough for all the kids until we made some more.

…More than fifty kids to listen to us read “Go Away, Big Green Monster” and “Where the Wild Things Are,” and to sing “the head bone’s connected to the neck bone…” ?! It was OVERWHELMING…and AMAZING.  What a cool show of what awesome community support we have here in Arezzo!  I suppose we should have taken it as foreshadowing of what was to happen at the Fright Fest the next day…

And from there it was back to OUA for a festive, good old American pumpkin carving!

The logo for a Canadian travel show I adore! …only one person understood the reference, so I’m planning a watch-party. 🙂


Wednesday, October 31st

Florence for class again!  This was one of the most overwhelmingly awesome “classroom” experiences of my life—as we got our lecture on the architecture of the Florence Cathedral from the special-admission-only balcony on top of it.  400+ stairs to the top of the duomo, a baptistery from the 11th century, and a Medici-commissioned church later, and we were on the 3:00 train home. 

As soon as we got off the train, we dashed to our respective apartments to grab costumes and a bite to eat, and then we headed over to OUA for the party.
OU does nothing halfway, so we had plenty of things to occupy the six-and-a-half trillion children (and their parents) who showed up for the duration of the party—thank goodness!  Mummy races and face-painting, coloring and cookie decorating and, of course, the haunted house were all smash hits.


Dirt ‘n’ Worms…cider…such lucky kids. 🙂


And now for the self-analytical part of this blog (you can’t escape it with me!)

I have found myself caught in a dichotomy here. 

On the one hand, I want so badly to make the most of this experience, so I have been volunteering myself for any and every opportunity that arises.

On the other hand, I want just as badly to get a chance to live the Italian lifestyle…which with its slower pace and emphasis on “tranquillati” (relax yourself), doesn’t mesh well with day calendars packed and color-coordinated.


Regardless, I have now had five much-needed days of alternating hibernation and study time, and only just found the energy to write this very long, drawn-out blog post.  But I re-iterate: I am not complaining about any of the things on this list.  How could I?  Everything that has happened in the past few weeks has been something so far beyond good.  I have been overwhelmed, but overwhelmingly happy.


My solution: discover the cure for the necessity of sleep.


A dopo



We finally found someone to get a picture of the three of us!



Oh yeah, can’t forget this thing…

One thing I learned about Italy – Until you can no longer physically jam the doors closed, it’s acceptable to squeeze more people onto the bus…at least in Rome, and at least when the Blue Line of the metro is down.


One thing I learned about myself – I’m not incapable of speaking Italian…I’m just a chicken.  When placed with people who know no Italian at all, I gladly rose to the occasion and managed to have a ton of conversations in Italian.  I’m sure I don’t sounds like a poet, but as far as I could tell I didn’t mortally offend anyone, and we always got where we needed to be.


Best thing I ate – It’s a toss-up.  It is either 1. The three-course dinner of pear risotto, roasted potatoes, and lemon chicken that my parents and I had at a local trattoria or 2. The BBQ Burger with caramelized onions and bacon that I had at the Hard Rock in Rome (hey…after 2 months away from the states, I’m allowed to enjoy a nice burger and free drink refills).


Italian Word of the Week: “Spaventoso” – meaning “scary” or “frightening.”  I.e. Are you sure it’s a good idea to come in?  This haunted house is molto spaventoso.


Travel Quote of the Day

“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” – Dagobert D. Runes



In Bordeaux, France, meeting a German student

This last week was a mixed bag of emotions, frustrations, confusion, but also memories I hope never to forget. In my last post I talked about my trip in Sharm As-Sheikh to keep me busy, but I’ve still been very homesick with no way to hear my mother’s voice.

How we all feel after trying for hours to get the internet in our dorm

I finally spoke with her a few days ago and I was so relieved, I cried at the sound of her voice over the phone, thousands of miles away from me.

My beautiful niece in 2008

My best friend since I was 2 years old

Yes, my emotions these days seem to run quite high, I am embarrassed to admit.  But out of it all I spoke with and became closer to people with whom I never expected to have much contact.  I took too many pictures…I don’t know if it really has sunken in that I will be here in Egypt for an entire year.  Time moves so slowly and yet so quickly concurrently.

The newest addition to my heart. Lameese and I are two peas in a pod

My parents. I miss them like crazy

My mom, brother, and newest addition to the family, my niece Rowen

My confidence in my abilities sky-rocketed even after a brief chat with my mother.  I recently realized how important it is to keep good ties with family members and friends back home in order to keep yourself grounded and sane.  No contact with my family until quite recently has made me feel vulnerable and fragile, ready to blow away by the first wind of criticism or disapproval.

Awesome dorm-mates and new friends

One of my sisters in Christ, Kelly!!

Even the sound of my mother’s voice makes me feel so safe, secure in the fact that people are persevering with me in spirit, thousands of miles away from me.  It’s heart-warming, really.  It gives me the courage to continue in my endeavors and increase my motivation for self-sufficiency in a country with which I am completely unfamiliar.

New friends in a new program! Grace and I

Summer domestic flagship, last summer in Austin, TX

I’ve come to the conclusion that new experiences and new friends are always a treasure, and we should never fear stepping out from what is comfortable.  I feel that is rather clear.

My sister in Christ, Xin Zhang, in Archachon, FR

However, this does not by any means imply that through this, we break and lose the ties to those who know us best.  There is value in expanding our horizons, making new–and perhaps lasting–friendships through our adventures.

Arcachon, FR 2011

But perhaps that which is priceless is our closest or oldest ties, those relations that we forget are so valuable because of our close proximity.  I have always loved to travel and jump into the next thing, but that oftentimes causes me to take for granted those whom I love so dearly, cheering me on in my wake.  As wonderful as the future always appears in our dreamy thoughts, the present is a gift in itself and should never be pushed to the side.

Bordeaux, FR 2011

To all of you who I have left behind for these trips and adventures I feel I “need” to take: I am sorry for the times I caused you to feel that I didn’t care or didn’t try.   I am sorry for making you feel like you don’t matter.

Austin, TX at the ESL dinner with lovely Eman

Fayetteville, AR 2012Another fabulous niece, Cassie

Because in truth, I am only here today, living my dreams, because of you.  Your influence over me has been crucial, and will remain a part of me forever.  I love you all, and I thank you for your unwavering support and encouragement, even when you did not understand my intentions or goals.  Thank you for standing with me in spirit.  It is the cornerstone on which I base my life.

Best friend forever, Tiffany, in Cali. I've known her since I was 7

My sister in Christ and partner in crime, Hannah. 🙂

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