When the Grandest Adventure Isn’t the One You Planned
In the middle of January 2016, I landed in New York City with the suitcase I’d packed for the 90-day European internship I had just quit. I didn’t have a job or an apartment or a clue how to use the subway system. I slept on my brother’s sofa for a few nights, and then wheeled my suitcase across Upper Manhattan to my own Craigslist apartment find – the first of many in a string of sublets.
I started interning at nonprofit organizations and working temp jobs at night. I learned how to read the subway map and became accustomed to holding my own with an air of confidence, no matter how shaky.
Before that moment, I’m not quite sure I’d ever taken a proper leap of faith. Perhaps that’s what drew me to Europe two weeks prior. I had wanted adventure and spontaneity. I was ready to see the world, and I had a one-way plane ticket to prove it.
On January 1st 2016, two weeks after my last college final, I boarded my first solo flight. Destination: Milan, Italy. I said a prayer, tucked my Italian version of an Italo Calvino book into my backpack, and hugged my parents goodbye.
For the first time in my life, I decided to quit something and walk away. But that is not what this story is about. This story is about trusting the journey – even when it feels uprooted.
After a quick layover at John F. Kennedy Airport in Brooklyn, a subtitled movie marathon, and a gourmet meal of plane biscuits and apple juice, I landed in a damp, grey city. I felt right at home.
I collected my baggage and strolled to the bus stop with all the faux confidence a 21-year-old who has never been to Europe can muster. When I arrived at the train station, I strode to the counter and, in perfect Italian, ordered my ticket to Vicenza. Too perfect Italian. The teller immediately mistook me for a local and, in the native tongue, rapidly asked me a few follow-up questions. If there were ever a moment in my life I resembled the quintessential deer in headlights, this was it.
With as much grace as I had at my middle school dance, I mumbled something in broken Italian about being from America and just needing the one-way ticket because my cousin – she cut me off. We finished our conversation in English, and I went on my way, making a mental note that free phone apps can only teach you so much about another language.
After nearly 20 hours of solo travel across the ocean and then some, to say I was relieved to see my cousin was an understatement. He, his wife, and I went out for pizza – my first Italian meal. It did not disappoint. From the thin crust to the real toppings, I decided – at that moment – that I would live in Europe forever. I woke up the next morning to the smell of chocolate chip pancakes. I could definitely get used to this.
Logic would have told me to fly home to Pittsburgh. To regroup. To catch my breath. To figure out what I was doing. But logic doesn’t always come easy.
The weekend I spent with them was a small window into the world of European life. I was enamored. But it was time to move on. I had come to Italy with the intention of staying for 90 days in an unpaid internship position with a travel company. I did not stay for 90 days. While still in the orientation period, I decided to leave. For the first time in my life, I decided to quit something and walk away. But that is not what this story is about. This story is about trusting the journey – even when it feels uprooted.
In the two weeks I was in Italy and Switzerland with the company, I traveled into the Swiss Alps and mingled with local skiers and snowboarders. I had stumbled through ice skating in Interlaken and eaten gelato in Florence. Every moment was newly magnificent. And I walked away from it all.
I hopped on a plane to Northern Ireland, where a friend and his family graciously took me in and showed me all the beauty of their country. I’d never seen grass so vibrant. I’d never been more uneasy driving on the wrong side of the road. Europe – though brief – was a taste of the unknown that I desperately craved. But it wasn’t my story.
Logic would have told me to fly home to Pittsburgh. To regroup. To catch my breath. To figure out what I was doing. But logic doesn’t always come easy. Instead, I bought a one-way ticket from London to New York City, the cheapest flight back into the States. The cheapest flight to the most expensive city.
I flew to Europe after my college graduation in the hopes of breaking free from the path of predictability. I was ready to take the world by storm and that world – so I thought – began in Italy. I never imagined that two weeks after I flew across the Atlantic, I would be returning. I never imagined I would land in a city that was as foreign to me as Milan. I never imagined I could call it home.
I’ve lived in New York City for over two years now and it has, perhaps, been the greatest adventure of my life. I never meant to move here. I never meant to fall in love with a place. But I did. And every single day it reminds me of what beauty can be found when one holds their breath, trusts their gut, and buys a one-way plane ticket.