As I sit here in the Munich, Germany train station, awaiting the 21:00 train back to my wonderful home in Florence, Italy, I am starting to think over my time in Europe for the past three months. It seems so odd that what feels like just a few short weeks ago, I was a scared, dependent, 20 year old, stepping off the plane into completely uncharted waters. I had never uttered a word in Italian, never had my passport stamped, and never thought I would be where I am now. In my time here, I have ridden a bike along the Meditteranean Sea in Barcelona, gone scuba diving in the French Riviera, won a free beer at the Heineken Museum in Amsterdam, crossed the Charles Bridge in Prague, and a whole host of other activities I had never even dreamed of.  Three months ago, if you had told me that someday, I would be staring at an octopus in real life, dressed to the nines in my scuba gear at the bottom of the bay in Nice, I would have called you insane. But sitting here, in Germany for the second time in three months, it seems completely normal.

Everyone warned me, before I got on that plane back in Minneapolis, that studying abroad would change me. That I would come back with incredible fashion sense, picky taste in food, and a snobbish attitude toward anyone who hadn't experienced the things I had. But I am here to tell you how wrong those people are. In fact, I feel the complete opposite of arrogant or snobbish. I feel like the luckiest kid in the entire world. I do not take these experiences for granted, and am blessed enough to be constantly reminded of that. 

I used to be afraid to go anywhere alone, and now I can sit in a German train station for four hours completely alone and not think a thing of it. I can take an overnight train with people speaking German on one side of me, and Italian on the other, and not feel intimidated. Studying abroad has given me the confidence I have always admired in others (or maybe that's just the Hofbrau talking).

One of my favorite places I have visited, is the tiny town of Cortona, Italy. It is where the film, Under the Tuscan Sun, with Diane Lane was filmed. It is everything you imagine when you picture Italy; fabulous pizza, beautiful doors and windows decorated with flowers, clothes hanging off the line, and of course, a view of the beautiful Tuscan hills. It also helped that my mother hitchhiked to get us to the top, only to make us realize that the only was down was hiking...did I mention Cortona is located at the top of a very large hill? About 4 kilometers (2 1/5 miles) from the nearest town.

But if I'm being completely honest, studying abroad isn't just about the places you travel to, though that is a wonderful perk. The best part about studying abroad is the bond you create with your host city. Florence will always hold a most special place in my heart. It is the place where I really grew into my own, was challenged to my very breaking point, met some of my very best friends, and completely fell in love with Italy. Never has a single place given me so much, simply by housing me. I will be forever grateful to the city of Florence. And someday, when I return there, possibly with a family of my own, I will remember the days I spent walking those streets, eating the best food in the world, making some of my favorite memories. 

I guess my point is that the person writing this blog to you today, is a completely different person than the one who wrote to you three months ago. And I couldn't be more grateful to the experiences I have had, and the people who have helped me have them, encouraging me no matter what. 

The time I have left in Europe is precious, and I don't intend on wasting a single second. I hope I haven't bored any of you too much with my European life realizations. But I must leave you now, I have to catch my train. I guess the one thing Europe hasn't taught me is how to actually make it to things on time. But like I said, I've still got some time. Ciao for now!