As I arrive in Florence, Italy in the summer of 2022, I stare at the magnificent Arno River—my grandfather’s favorite place in his home country. I reminisce on the stories I have heard of my family’s memories and life in Florence. The rustic streets are filled with shoppers who graze over the maroon-colored leather bags.
I would love to stay and shop but the sun is setting over Ponte Vecchio and I know it’s time to head to my great aunt’s apartment for dinner. Walking up her stairs, I fear what awaits me through her doors. Will I get along with my Italian family? What if they judge me?
I stop overthinking and open the door anyway, instantly I am hit with the smell of tomatoes roasting in the oven and see the handmade pasta boiling on the stove. I am greeted with love and hugs from family members I have never met before, and a smile sets on my face. My aunt rests her hands on my shoulders, looks me in the eyes, and says “My beautiful Lexi I have missed you”. In a country so far from home, I have never felt more at home and welcomed.
The apartment is humid and barely has enough room for one, let alone eleven of us, but we manage to cram together at the table. My aunt carries over the mouthwatering home-cooked meal she prepared. As all eleven of us are enjoying the food we are laughing, smiling, and relishing in each other’s company, and these experiences are what make traveling so worthwhile. The memories and stories from the table are lifelong and full of beautiful souls who I learned so much from. Tears water through my eyes as gratitude fills my soul.
Throughout the rest of my trip in Italy, I got to explore the breathtaking streets filled with gelaterias and hand-holding couples, learn the fascinating culture and history at the Uffizi, eat exquisite food that American dishes will never live up to, and meet new family members that I now have life long memories with. By spending two weeks in Italy, I have lasting feelings of contentment and curiosity, I was able to see and experience moments that taught me there is a whole world out there waiting for me to see.
For the past 11 years, I have been learning through the traditional education system. High school has been hard for me, I had to experience and cope with COVID, was admitted to residential eating disorder treatment, and lost a lot of friends to the conformity of high school standards. Although I have learned so much throughout these years at school, nothing has opened and expanded my mind more than traveling.
The lessons learned in school will never live up to the education provided by traveling, helping others, learning new cultures and ways of life, and experiencing the beauties of the world. Traveling has become a part of my life I cherish so deeply. The world has so much to offer, so much more to learn and explore and I hope to never stop making memories and experiencing life’s beauties.
By Lexi Serra, 17, in the 11th grade at Glenbrook North in Northbrook, Illinois.