Program: Florence, Italy
Looking in my wallet, I search for the answer to my roommate’s question: “You goin’ out tonight?” Finding nothing but chump-change, two maxed-out credit cards, and a pile of old receipts, I know my answer.
I go back to cooking: crushing up €0.49 noodles and preparing them to be lathered in a nice, thick red sauce; €0.60 red sauce. As my eyes roam around the kitchen, all I can see is dollar amounts. €7 cheese. €10 salami. €4 dish soap. And €3 wine- helping to wash away the lingering headache.
My tuition bill for 16 credits totaled $14,875. My financial aid sent me a check for $14,900. With just a student visa, work is not a choice- although I wish it were. And the bills, the bills with my name on it, don’t stop coming during this little vacation of mine.
To make my whininess worse, I still have two months and change to survive- all days filled with watching others travel the continent while I am left here to cook shitty pasta. There is a point to this story; this frustration sits in my stomach every single day- some days it consumes me, and others, I am able to laugh it off. But on one particular day, the day of February 16th, this frustration was found nowhere near Florence.
In Tuscany, like back in the states, failure to pay an electric bill usually leads to some kind of consequence. For two days, our apartment- the only safe haven for me and my three roommates- lost power. Hours were spent searching for the solution in the basement cellar. And minutes, although very brief, were spent listening to the landlord pin the fault on us. But although it seems dramatic, the experience was well worth it.
On February 16th, I held a piece of gold. The winning lottery ticket. The jackpot. The paper was flimsy, but it’s worth made it strong. €100 rested on this piece of paper- a voucher to an Italian restaurant of our choice. We were reimbursed for the consequences of our foreign landlord forgetting to pay our electric bill.
Now this seems childish- but a sense of financial freedom, even for just a mere two hours, was something I’ve never experienced. Growing up, I knew my parents didn’t have money. They would give me the world if they could- but I would never ask them to. Going to a restaurant, I trained myself at a young age what to look at first. Not the fancy advertised items in pictures, I always knew they would never come out quite like the picture portrayed. I didn’t reach deep within myself and evaluate what I truly wanted to eat. My whole life, I’ve always looked to one thing- and based every single decision on that one thing- and I don’t mean just restaurants anymore. Since I can remember, money has been the motivation for every single thing I have ever done.
So for these two hours on the evening of February 16th, I felt different. With three friends and a reasonable money limit which allowed us not to care, I felt happy. Truthfully, I chose Western Michigan based on money. I worked a shitty job based on the money. I wasn’t going to study abroad, based on money.
I thought I knew who I was once. But what I couldn’t understand for the longest time, was why I studied abroad when every single decision I have ever made has been based on how efficiently I can spend my money?
On February 16th, I did find something- but it wasn’t the answer to this question. What I did find, was a lesson. Everybody values money differently, but all our money values the same. By human nature, we are too quick to judge- we are too often comparing. Up until this day, I carried spite- an immature jealousy that circled around the financial worth of another person. You can tell somebody values their money- but sometimes, it’s only temporary.
I imagine myself dining at the table next to ours the night of February 16th. The hatred in my eyes, watching a group of four college students guzzle wine and order slabs of meat that cost €20 each while I picked at my plate of the cheapest thing on the menu. Being able to see the outside perspective, looking upon myself as spoiled and unappreciative of money, showed me just how unfair it is to judge.
So when I go to class on the 17th of February, I won’t be so quick to judge. When I hear others talk about their trips or see them shopping for clothes on their laptops, I’ll smile. I know how I value money- I raised myself to stretch every single cent because at the time, I had to. So here, in Florence and eating leftover pasta for breakfast, I still cannot see the answer of what could have possibly led me to jump into a financial hell just to earn the same amount of credits that I could’ve gotten at hom
e. But I do see one thing- watching myself from an outside perspective on the night of the 16th, I see the biggest smile I’ve ever had. And I know, if I ever need a smile, to just think back to the night where my financial self-guilt was lifted for two hours, and I was able to enjoy one of the best meals I’ve had in my entire life- paid for by my foreign landlord.
I may go to a school most people have never even heard of- until I mention Tim Allen- but I wouldn’t want my degree from anywhere else. I may have worked a shitty job just to earn a couple extra bucks, but I met people that changed my life forever. And I may not be getting paid to write these posts, but I appreciate them- slowly, I’m weaning off my financial paranoia. This is time I could spend earning money to eat steak every night- but I don’t need that. I’ll stick to pasta- I’ll stick to writing. Who knows- maybe one day, it’ll pay off.
Everybody values money differently, but all our money values the same. Money is nothing, appreciation is everything.