With globalization, the world has become more accessible, and moving from one country to another is easier and more affordable than ever. Experiencing and discovering new places, cultures, and people is readily available to many. As someone who can speak three languages and has lived in different countries, I believe that traveling is life changing and enriching.
I started to learn French when I was 11, and commenced English lessons three years later. I always knew that I wanted to be surrounded by people from all backgrounds. Languages are the magic bridges that connect and unite human beings, so that they can learn from each other. In my own immersion experiences, three have been most significant, because they have shaped my pathway and the person I am now.
My first experience abroad, which I must thank my mother for, was an eye-opener. At the age of 16, I spent one month of my summer holidays in England, where I started to realize that the world was an amazing place to discover.
I, along with my best friend and two other Italian teenagers, was billeted by an English family. Every day, we attended the International School of Clacton-on-Sea, where we met students of all nationalities. I made friends from Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Brazil, and Spain, just to mention a few. Together, we explored London and the English countryside, watched movies — My Fair Lady was one of them and I could not understand one word — played, danced, cooked, and shared our traditional foods and cultures.
I ate my first fish and chips meal, which caused me a sleepless night, as I could not digest it. I learned funny expressions in other languages, I still remember how to say “my bottom is hurting” in Japanese, since one of the boys taught me that after a long sedentary bus tour. The following year, three of those international friends visited me in Italy and we stayed in touch for decades.
My second life-changing trip was in France, where I enjoyed a month as an au-pair. I was 19 and was hosted by a lovely family from Dijon, who provided accommodation, food, and a small wage in exchange for my services as a babysitter to their two children, Paul and Aline. It was an unforgettable experience, which led to a precious and lifelong friendship, developed and reinforced by reciprocal visits.
During that first stay, I found myself completely immersed in the local culture, with no Italian speakers around. In a few weeks, I became so nostalgic of my language, that I started to talk to myself in order to hear it. I visited numerous places in France, such as Dijon, the French Riviera, Paris, and the Alps, tasted new food — including the famous “escargot” (snails), which I struggled to put in my mouth — and discovered a whole new world and a whole new me.
My French improved so dramatically that on my way back to Italy, a passenger from Paris thought I was a local! Today, I am still in touch with my French family, whom I love dearly and who, in 2000, moved to Canada. Paul, who is 29, currently lives in Dubai, and Aline, 27, studies and works in Montreal; both of them are beautiful, kind-hearted, and successful. We had a rendezvous last year, while holidaying in Sardinia, Italy, feeling as if time had never passed.
The third and most meaningful event, which represented a milestone in my life, was visiting Australia — my future home. I was a university student in my 20s, about to graduate from the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literature.
Encouraged by my professor of English literature, I decided to write my final thesis on the works of a contemporary Australian writer, Frank Moorhouse, whose books had not been translated into Italian. I contacted him through his editor, and he was so kind to respond. At that point, I made plans to travel to Australia to the place that was going to give me the most important learning experience of my life.
After much reading, studying, and touring, here I was, ready to meet Moorhouse and conduct an interview. We agreed that he would pick me up at the bus station in Sydney, as I was traveling on a Greyhound coach.
Just before the meeting, I spent a week at the University of Canberra, whose campus is out of town. There, I had an epiphany. It was late November, and when I arrived at my accommodation, the whole place had been vacated due to the summer holidays.
My memories of that time are vivid: I was left in a big empty building, with a key in my hand — alone with myself. It was surreal. There was no one around but the kangaroos that inhabited the large park and the guardians. In the lounge, there were about 20 chairs arranged in a circle, a TV, a fully furnished kitchen and laundry, and upstairs were many empty bedrooms. It was a ghost town.
My first reaction was to panic and cry, while wondering what to do next. I had never felt that way before: I was in an unfamiliar place, thousands of kilometers away from home, and no one else knew exactly where to find me. All of a sudden, I started to look around in the room and, on a shelf, found some maps. I located the State Library, the closer bus stop, and planned my week of study. It was time to act rather than fret. I got to know the library staff and can still remember the lovely guard at the entrance addressing me as “The Italian Princess.”
That week, I realized something that changed me forever: My life was MINE! Until that moment, my inner voice had been my mum’s, telling me what I should and shouldn’t do. It was there and then that I heard myself for the first time. I felt free and empowered!
At the bus station, before leaving Canberra for Sydney, I made a new friend for life, an Australian actor named Philip. We kept in touch and I revisited Canberra one month later, when Philip showed me the Capital of Australia from a different perspective.
In Sydney, my adventure continued. Frank Moorhouse picked me up and took me to one of his mates’ homes in Balmain, an exclusive suburb, which was once a fishing district. To my surprise, when I was introduced to our host, I discovered that he was Brian Kiernan, one of the most renowned literary critiques and the Head of the English Faculty at the University of Sydney, whose books I had studied in Europe.
During my 4-day stay, I visited many of the locations Moorhouse described in his works, and I had the privilege of gaining an insight into the writer’s stories. I interviewed Frank Moorhouse and felt like living a dream – MY DREAM.
Today, after years working in international trade and IT, and after traveling to several countries for business, I travel for holidays and live in Melbourne where I am a teacher, a writer, and a life-long learner. The person I am now is also the result of the three unforgettable international experiences, which planted the seeds for my future — a life full of adventures, emotions, people, challenges, growth, and more travel. A life where I also embarked on an important and ongoing spiritual journey aimed at self-improvement.
In remembering and reflecting on these events, the people I have crossed paths with, and the experiences I had, I can only encourage everyone to travel, seize the opportunity as soon as it arises, and as frequently as you can. My advice goes out especially to all parents: Allow and inspire your children to explore and discover, so that their minds can open, they can find themselves and reach their full potential.