I recently had the opportunity to travel to Italy for a friend’s wedding. Any chance to visit Italy is a treat, but the excitement of going back “home” and taking part in the wedding of my best friend from high school made it all the more special. The celebration took place in the town of Sirmione, which is located on the beautiful Lake Garda. Since the destination was not very close to a main city or airport, my husband and I flew into Milan, took a bus to the central station, spent the night in an apartment, and then took the train the following morning to Sirmione. All of these travel logistics in a foreign country definitely would have stressed me out if it weren’t for my time at John Cabot University.
While studying in Rome, I never spent any time in Milan, but as soon as I landed at Malpensa airport, I snapped right back into life in Italy. I felt thankful for the cultural knowledge and the Italian language skills I acquired while studying at John Cabot as I navigated my way through the airport to the correct bus stop and train station, and then purchased all my tickets in Italian. I didn’t feel foreign, out of my element, or overwhelmed at any moment; instead, I felt calm and at home – as if I were a local!
Although I didn’t learn as much Italian as I would have liked during my three years studying in Rome, what I did know came back so effortlessly. It felt like second nature to greet shopkeepers with a “Buongiorno!” or to ask for “acqua naturale” when buying a quick bottle of water. Even cultural customs such as waiting in line to pay first before “taking” a coffee at the bar in the train station seemed to confuse the tourists, but felt like second nature to me, thanks to my experience in Italy and at John Cabot.
Catching up with old friends at the wedding reminded me of why I chose to attend JCU. They had flown in from Brussels, Florida, New York, and Canada, and we had all known each other in high school in Moscow. It felt so pleasant, comfortable, and normal to be back with international friends and fellow third culture kids. Spending time with people from all over the world who had an international lifestyle was how we all grew up. I remember when I was searching for colleges as a senior in high school, I longed for a university experience that would feel that way too. I hoped I would find an international community full of students that would understand me. Luckily, I found just what I was looking for at John Cabot.
As I left the wedding that weekend, I reflected on my experience at JCU. It had been quite a while since I had spent time in Italy, and it had been six years since I had seen some of my high school friends. That didn’t matter though, because whatever city I visit, whenever I go back to Italy, it always feels like home. And whether it’s my high school friends or my JCU friends, whenever I spend time in an international environment, with good friends from around the world, it’s as if no time has passed at all.
Alexa Vujaklija (Shearer)
Class of 2015
Grew up in the United States, Germany, the Republic of Georgia, Russia, and Bulgaria