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Viaggiare in Italia!

Isabella Herben was sick of feeling like she was doing nothing but homework, nonstop. So, she took a risk, and took off for an immensely fulfilling trip to Italy.

Jun 11, 2023

Words: Isabella Herben

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We all make excuses about why we can’t do the things we want, such as travel the world. One of my fondest memories of 2023 was my school trip to Italy, but I almost never went.

The fact that I was heading into the busy time of trial exams in an even busier year – my last year of high school – made the proposed trip seem like not the wisest decision. But I was so sick of feeling like I did nothing but homework, nonstop, that I knew this was what I needed. Not to mention I’d recently watched Eat Pray Love and was craving pasta and gelato – and freedom. I had to convince my parents, who were concerned missing trial exams would affect my final exam scores (spoiler alert: it didn’t. I found time to do plenty of practice exams under timed conditions after returning from Italy).

"I enjoyed pondering what the artist was thinking, seeing the world through other people’s eyes and marvelling at how they created everything.”

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Taking the time to find myself and get back in touch with what I love is very important to me. I knew I didn’t have that balance they always say you should have in life. I felt like I had a never-ending list of homework and all my hobbies were someday tasks (but like that ‘someday’ would never come). How could I devote time to all the things I wanted to do when I was drowning in a to-do list of urgent assignments? I was burnt out.

As Elizabeth Gilbert says in Eat Pray Love, I wanted to go someplace and “marvel at something” and refresh my “appetite” for life, so I did.

Some awe-inspiring highlights include:

— Exploring Florence at night with friends (including new friends I made on the trip). This already beautiful city seemed almost magical at night, especially with the sight of the carousel lit up. Having the chance to wander and discover the city streets after dark felt like an adventure.

— Seeing good luck symbols everywhere: lemons and chillis – even getting a free chilli good luck keychain from a persistent Pompeii gift shop owner because he thought I spoke very well and was surprised I’m not Italian.

— Being able to rewatch Spiderman: Far From Home and say I’ve been to the Venice locations. It felt amazing and special being able to say I stood where Tom Holland and Zendaya were filming.

— Rollerblading at the Italian school! Back home I’d had the desire to skate around the local rink again for a long time, but schoolwork, and the rink having soccer or Inflatable World on whenever I went to book, would always get in the way, but now voila! I’m in Padua rollerblading with local students for PE class! It was a treat getting to do that while meeting students around our age overseas.

— Walking past a film set in Rome and admiring all the 70s costumes with all the beautiful architecture behind the actors. As if we didn’t already feel transported back in time when walking through the ruins of ancient Roman cities!

I’d been to Rome and Sicily before with my family when I was 12, but going as a young adult I was able to appreciate it so much more. This time, rather than taking it for granted, being tired, bored or worried about crowds, I appreciated it for all its art, magnificence and marble. I took the time to be present as I walked through the gorgeously painted hallways, getting photos of anything that spoke to me and sparked joy. I finally had some time during my busy year to reflect. I enjoyed pondering what the artist was thinking, seeing the world through other people’s eyes and marvelling at how they created everything. How did they paint the high ceilings with such intricate detail?!

I wasn’t just tagging along on a family holiday – I had chosen to participate in this adventure.

Following my trip, I interviewed my Italian teacher Professor Cataldo about her views on the importance of this trip and how travel impacts young people.

Me: What was your experience with the trip? (especially with having gone before and with having to care for the students – how did these factors affect your experience)?

Prof. Cataldo: It’s enriching seeing my country from the students’ perspectives and a great opportunity to show my country. [It makes me] happy to see the students’ reactions. Their first time in Venice – I love to guide them through that journey. [It was a] great group of students – all looking forward to the experience and all taking it all in. They really got into the experience of travelling to another country.

Everybody understood they were entering a different world and culture and they were ready to embrace it.

Do you get a new perspective each time you travel to Italy with students?

Each year is a different group of students – I acquire the perspective of the group. [I was] really happy the group really wanted to be immersed. [It’s] always a privilege to be part of that growth in students: understanding that we’re not isolated and there is a whole world out there.

Why do you think taking this sort of break to de-stress or immerse in a different culture is an important experience – especially for young people?

It’s important for a lot of different reasons:
- Students were able to practice and be involved with a real-life experience of the language.

- It’s very important to be exposed to different cultures. Students get to have different foods and interactions and see how people live in a place that’s not Australia.

- It is an opportunity to learn how to be more independent: for some, it’s the first trip without their family, definitely something that brings growth and maturity.

- They are able to see things they’ve only learnt about in a book.

- For year 12s, this was two weeks of not thinking about school constantly. Our. Brains. Need. A. Break. It’s a break full of inspiration, learning without books – history, culture, art and social interactions that we all lost a bit because of Covid. Students have been isolated for two years and lost contact with the outside world. It was a good experience for many students for that reason – understanding that we are not alone and there’s a world waiting for us.

- It’s the trip of a lifetime and, if you get the chance, every student should do it. Any travel helps you understand people better and become a better person yourself.

Prof’s words of wisdom sum up what the trip was like for me. There is no denying the benefits a journey like this provides. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it gave me the breather I needed to recharge my batteries. It was much more of a motivation boost for the exam period than if I had stayed home chained to my desk and filled with stress.

I may have not done any homework for two weeks in Italy, but what I did do was learn to wash my clothes, get cash out, catch trains, go through the airport, and keep track of my spending overseas – there was even one time when a group of us students tried to split the bill at a restaurant – which wasn’t as easy as we thought!

And so, I encourage you, dear reader, to do something that reignites your spark, inspires you and allows you to feel a sense of wonder. Why not escape from whatever mediocre hecticness you might be facing – your mental health will thank you!

Go explore life overseas, be immersed in the culture and take time to breathe and appreciate all the wonderful things. You deserve a break!

Gippslandia - Issue No. 30

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