Lessons Learned on the Day I Met a Buffalo

Alex Taylor
Major: Creative Writing English
Non-WMU Program Florence, Italypic 2

There is no catchy introduction or killer hook that could be attached to the beginning of this piece, because, simply put, the title pretty much says it all.

Since my program is an independent study abroad company that is not directly linked to the university, there were two (FREE) trips offered that allowed the students in my program to be chauffeured around the regions of Italy. The first was a Sienna day-trip including a tour of the medieval city. The second, which included a surprisingly satisfying hotel at no cost, was a weekend trip to the Amalfi Coast and it’s surrounding towns of Capri, Sorrento, and Pompei- all along the coast of southwestern Italy.

It would be deceptive if I didn’t mention my skepticism while deciding whether or not I would take advantage of the opportunity. Although a free trip may seem like an obvious must-do, only 1/3 of my program ended up on the train Friday at 7:45 in the morning. Most of my three months here have been spent distancing myself from the Americans around me, and with only a month left to spend here in Italy with my fellow students, I decided to give those in my program a chance. Besides coming to study abroad in Florence in the first place, I have never made a better decision in my life.

Some other force in the world wanted me on this trip, too, as both my roommate and my own alarm clock failed to go off. At 7:25, my eyes flung open in paranoia, the sun told me what I most feared- we were late and still had yet to pack. With just 20 minutes to throw an array of clothes and items together and to bolt to the station, my roommate and I made it; not looking our best, but ready to get to the beach.

pic 1After a four-hour train ride and another hour or so on a bus, we made our first stop: a mozzarella farm to taste cheese produced straight from….a buffalo? I’m not so sure on the science behind it, but before I could find out, lumps of cheese were tossed in front of my face- accompanied by bread with green olives baked inside and a bowl full of tomatoes. The irony was haunting; I was sitting in a nightmare surrounded by platters of all of my least favorite foods. I didn’t eat more than a single bite before abandoning my attempts of satisfying my hunger, sacrificing my plate to those around me who thought me insane for not loving it. After lunch, which was about an hour of watching in disgust as others ate, they brought us to the farm to meet the animals. This was the moment that I met my first buffalo. And this is now the moment, that you realize this story has nothing to do with buffaloes.

I had never seen an active volcano before this trip, and now, I can say I stood on top of one. Saltwater hadn’t flown through the cracks in my toes since I was 4-years-old, but now, I have touched the ocean once again on a beach made of rocks instead of sand. My program’s trip to Amalfi Coast had nothing to do with meeting any buffaloes or seeing any volcanoes, the views were mesmerizing and I got to see the inside of a cove flowing with emerald-green water; but that’s not what made my trip unforgettable. What did make this one of the best weekends I’ve spent thus far in Europe was the people I was able to spend it with, and this is something, I will not allow myself to forget.pic 3

Since my parent’s divorce, I lost most of my faith that human relationships and the value of conversation can fill your life with joy. For eight years I blindly spent my time trying to distract myself from the present moment, looking forward to what I could potentially do in the future. And now, the future is here- but not a lot of people are here along with it- I pushed them all away.

This trip opened my eyes to the person that I have allowed myself to become. In all honesty, I go to bed terrified that one day, when I get back home, I will have forgotten all the valuable lessons I have learned since coming abroad. I fear slipping back into the routine, working and studying until one day I wake up and five years have passed. Amalfi Coast stopped the passing of time, allowed me to be in the moment and to enjoy every second of it. And if I could retain one lesson, I hope it to be this.

I’ve never been exceptional at displaying my emotion. But through my time here, the biggest emotion I feel is gratitude. My school isn’t competing in this years March Madness; most people have never heard of that city called Kalamazoo. My future is unclear and I have no idea where to envision where I will be in five years, let alone one year; and a lot of people my age can. But I’m proud of my school; I’m proud of not knowing my own future. What Amalfi taught me was that maybe, just maybe, that’s the beauty of it; wouldn’t knowing where we will be take the fun out of finding out for ourselves?

Regrettable, it took three months for me to accept that not all people are bad. The people I’ve met through this semester are as unforgettable as the view from the volcano top or looking down on the entire city of Florence as the sun melts like a multi-colored crayon into the scenic sky. For how much I’ve learned about myself, I’ve learned an equal amount about the nature of other people and how simple it is to have a positive impact on another, sometimes, by just being yourself. Ironically enough, it took me three months away from the United States to realize how different we Americans all are. But just like the uncertainty of the future, isn’t their beauty in being different from each other?pic 4

The view from the beaches of the Amalfi Coast can not be explained in words or pictures. Standing on the shore with the waves washing past your ankles in a majestic “whoosh” and staring at hundreds of buildings piled atop one another changes a person. But for how beautiful the view of the world can be… what’s more important? The view you see, or the people with whom you’re seeing the view?

My traveling has come to an end, and Amalfi Coast enabled me to end it on a high note. With one month left, I am pleased to have several memories to ponder on as I buckle down for finals and prepare to reenter the world that is America. But for now, and for the first time in the last three months, I am happy to say I am proud to be a part of my program, and to have met people who have undoubtedly changed my life forever.

 

The day I met my first buffalo: a day, I shall never forget.

 

From Florence,

Alex Taylor

 

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