Part XI: Coming Home
By Bridget Meade
Stepping off the plane in Washington, D.C. was surreal. My flight left from Rome at 11 a.m. and I landed at 3:30 p.m. EST. My body thought it was at least 8 p.m. The signs were in English and I understood what everyone around me was saying.
I made my way through Customs without incident. Considering my small debacle in Detroit the last time I traveled in Europe, this was a small miracle. I was an unemployed college graduate at the time. I had grown so tired of people asking me what I did for a living that I began telling everyone I was a bum. This either confused people or made them chuckle.
It turns out Customs Agents didn’t think it was so charming. When the agent asked what I do for a living, my response made her head tilt to the side as she said, “Excuse me?”
“Oh my god,” I laughed. “You were serious, weren’t you?”
I turned to see the police moving toward me. I had forgotten – customs agents are not funny people. Nor do they appreciate their customers laughing. Nothing more happened that day but a stern warning from my traveling companion.
I recognized the same slaphappy feeling that got me in trouble five years ago when I landed last Wednesday. That was the one of the few similarities. Last trip, I spent no more than three days in one place. I changed countries and languages every few weeks and there was little time for true immersion in a culture.
Immersion was my goal this time and I succeeded. The past six weeks were spent learning to live in a small medieval town where few people speak English. People see it as their duty to dress nicely when out and Italians are almost always walking around. My days were planned around pauso pranzo, the afternoon hours where Italy shuts down for lunchtime.
I got to know one of the local butchers, Fernando, whose salt-and-pepper coarse hair, stature and wire-rimmed glasses reminded me of my grandfather. One of the local bread-shop owners taught me the proper name “pizza bianco,” a crunchy pizza bread baked in olive oil. The gelato shop in the piazza below my apartment watched my Italian progress from point and mumble, “per favore” to, “Vorrei due gusti, cioccolato e pistaccio per favore. No panna. Grazie.”
Never sure if passing slower walkers on the street was considered rude, I contemplated what happens to me if I pass nuns on the way to school one morning. At a restaurant, an Italian grandmother ordered to clean the sauce off my plate with a piece of bread. I went to work immediately.
So when the hostess at the airport restaurant in DC greeted me in English, I was taken aback. I sat down at the bar and noticed ESPN on the television screen. The broadcasters were discussing college football. Fall is almost here.
I explained that I had been out of the country for six weeks to the gentleman next to me and was completely confused by the start of college football. He chuckled and welcomed me home. However, I don’t think he realized just how disoriented I was.
Before I left Viterbo, program director Stefano Pizzetti talked to us about re-entry shock. That we have changed and to not to expect our friends and family to be overly excited about our experiences. He warned us that while we might be glad to be home, we would miss our time in Italy.
A week later, I have finally kicked my jet-lag. I am no longer waking up at 3 a.m. wondering why I am awake and where I am. I miss the pace of life in Viterbo and the church bells that rang every hour. I miss San Sisto Café and I might kick puppies for gelato.
However, the best part about coming back to Reno was the genuine excitement in the voices of those I love most. At a wedding last Saturday, a friend ran up to me with open arms.
“Bridget!” she said. “You’re baaaaack!”
It reminded me that for now, home is where I am cared for the most. Who knows where life will take me as I have obligations to fulfill in Reno and opportunities I hope to create.
My time in Italy sparked a desire to stay in Rome for an extended period of time. Even if that doesn’t happen, I know I will return someday.
I threw coins into the Trevi Fountain after all. Legend has it that if one throws a coin in they will return to Rome. This was my third trip and my third time tossing coins in. It hasn’t let me down yet.
**A special thank you to Bob Conrad, the This is Reno team, and even Ryan Jerz for the opportunity to write about my trip. Their support and comic relief were part of what made this journey so memorable.
Bridget Meade is an Interactive Journalism graduate student at the Reynolds School of Journalism. She decided to pursue her Master’s in Journalism after she discovered personal blogging several years ago. As a result of online communities like 20-Something Bloggers, and the new friends she met all over the world, Bridget’s interests expanded and she redefined her personal and professional goals. Her interests are in social media, specifically Twitter, technology and networked news. She enjoys snarky humor, the ocean, all things Italian, wine and time with her 90-lb.German Shepherd, Keo.