9:45 a.m. EST – Dulles International Airport
Today is the big day. The one when I leave my rural hamlet of Middleburg and all of its touristy farm-town glory. I arose at 6 a.m. to make sure that my two immense blue suitcases were zipped up and ready to go. Before sunrise, my mom and I pulled out of the neighborhood, together in our gold Ford truck for the last time until August. We exchanged heartfelt goodbyes at the East Security Gate of Dulles Airport and there was no turning back. It was time for my journey halfway across the world. Now, waiting for my brief flight to New York, dubbed the shuttle, I look over logistics for my arrival in Verona one more time as 2000s alternative rock plays faintly on the overhead speakers. My recent camera roll on my phone has become a detailed index of boarding passes, train line information, and bus route numbers.
2:45 p.m. EST – John F. Kennedy International Airport
The 45-minute flight from Washington, D.C. was seamless aside from the turbulent winds that made the small aircraft tremble during take-off and landing. New York was just about the biggest contrast possible to the countryside where I began my morning. A singular terminal (there are eight), must have been about a mile long, complete with its own miniature shopping mall. Everything was there, from perfumeries lined with the latest Ralph-Lauren fragrances to three Shake Shacks. After about a half hour of walking and perusing the stores, I reached my gate at the end of the terminal. With almost three hours before boarding, I decided to write and relax while I watched other planes majestically enter and exit the cloudy sky.
7:55 a.m. CEST (Central European Standard Time) Milan Malpensa International Airport
The plane edged closer and closer to the immense runway surrounded by snow-capped mountains. It was a short and smooth seven-hour flight from New York, but I was eager to get going. Sleep had come to no avail, as is usually the case when I am restrained by the perfect posture of a minuscule airplane seat. I wish I hadn’t done the math of how long the journey would be: nearly 24 hours. After a long line at passport control, it was time to get on the Milano Centrale train. To say the airport was in the outskirts of the city would be a stretch. It was nearly in another province. An hour later, the train stopped in the depths of Milano’s underground, and I had to switch to my final train. The screenshots from Google Maps that I had taken way back in Virginia were my savior to plan this four-hour extravaganza of trains and buses.
12:00 p.m. CEST Verona, Italy
Keys to my apartment finally in hand, I scanned my student card at the immense burgundy doors that marked the entrance to the student residences. I knew there was potential to have anywhere from zero to 6 flat mates, so I knocked lightly on my first-floor apartment out of curiosity. All of my baggage and I were greeted by a tall girl with short blond hair and a cooking spatula in hand. I was ushered in through the door with a friendly welcome and pointed in the direction of my room. My arms were absolutely numb from hauling my suitcases for at least a mile on the cobblestone streets. In addition to my suitcases I had been given my linens for the apartment at check-in. When I emerged from stockpiling my things neatly in a corner of my room, I emerged to find three more girls waiting to greet me from the kitchen. To be honest, their names flew by in my blur of exhaustion, but they all seemed very pleasant. We had a brief conversation and then another girl came into the kitchen, introducing herself as Maria and the last of the five people in the apartment at the moment.
A brief nap in the soft glow of afternoon sunlight brought me back to functionality. I quickly became familiar with where my flat mates were from, what they were studying, and how long they had been in this majestic city. Two are from Poland and three are from Spain. Everyone had been here since the first semester and was eager to explain to me the ins and outs of daily life here. I was quickly inundated with all the information I could need for my first few days here: including a Post-it Note of hand-drawn directions to various grocery stores and a comprehensive tutorial on how to use the induction stove. It seemed things were off to a great start in the beautiful city of Verona.