The weeks before flying to Milan to study Fashion for a semester abroad, people kept asking me if I was excited. I would twist my face into a smile and nod, however the truth was that I was terrified. For someone as passionate as I am to have the opportunity to study abroad in one of the worlds Fashion capitals sounds like a dream come true, however having to face that fact that I would be doing it completely on my own was enough to make me feel like I had rocks in my stomach.
When I arrived in Italy, I was slightly delirious (nearly 48 hours of travel will do that to a girl). My taxi driver sped through the countryside, weaving in an out of cars between text messages he wrote frantically with one hand. I arrived at my new university – Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti (Naba) with my suitcases in tow. When I was informed that my other three house mates wouldn’t be arriving for at least five more days, I felt a lump creep into my throat. How was I going to survive here on my own for that long, in a place where I barely spoke the language? The first night in the empty apartment was the hardest. I curled up, fully clothed, on top of my bed, too tired to even get under the covers. I used a small hand towel as a blanket (pathetic I know). It was 4pm.
The next day I was awake before the sun. Having anxiety is nothing new to me, however on this morning I experienced it on a whole new level. My heart was racing, I felt sick, I was sweating. I was suddenly hyper aware of time. The thought that I was going to be away from my family and fiancé for the next 140 days made the room spin. I realized that in order to survive, I needed to connect with people. I had to make friends, and since I was so early and the other people I would be studying with hadn’t arrived yet, I turned to the next best thing – Facebook. I discovered a Facebook group called ‘Girls in Milan’, and once I was accepted I typed a plea for help: “Aussie girl, freaking out, homesick after two days, needs pals”. I was overwhelmed with responses, but one stood out. An English girl named Michelle empathized with how I was feeling, and was happy to meet up with me in the afternoon to show me around the city.
We met outside my uni (safety first) and instantly I knew we’d be friends. She had a relaxed, warm energy that made me feel calm again for the first time in days. We started to walk and chat, and as we turned the corner I quickly discovered that my apartment is right next to two of Milan’s most famous and beautiful canals, a fantastic vintage store and endless cafes and restaurants. We strolled along the cobbled stone streets, stopping for coffee gelato and enjoying the blistering Italian sunshine. The street fashion didn’t disappoint, as I admired tanned women in designer pleated skirts teamed with trendy sneakers and oversized handbags rush past me. There was something about their natural beauty that made me feel good about embracing less makeup.
I soon learned that Michelle had fallen in love with Italy at a young age, and had been living her dream to live and teach in Milan for the last four years. Her passion for the country was so genuine that part of me started to open up to it a little more as well. As we neared the city center, she stopped me. “I remember the first moment I saw it” she said smiling. “Saw what?” I asked, but before I could finish, I felt myself gasp. A church stretching high into the sky made from sparkling pink marble was glowing in the afternoon sun, and it took my breath away. The Duomo was more stunning and grand than I could have imagined, and there was something in seeing it that filled me with excitement and optimism. I was here, I’d made it. And although I was scared, I knew I’d be ok, because on the other side of the things you are most afraid of are always the biggest and best adventures.