Wow, I can’t help but be thankful for this amazing year. Foremost, I’m thankful it happened at all. It could have remained a dream forever. Instead, it became an actual goal and then reality.
And it could have been awful. I could have failed to learn any language. I could have gotten sick. I could have been robbed. Stranded in Italy and forced to huddle in the shade of a marble cathedral surviving only on focaccia sandwiches and Brunello di Montalcino wine.
So after 10 months of traveling, here’s what I’m most thankful for. Friends, art, and of course, languages.
There are a lot of friendly, fun, interesting people in this world! The waiters and shop owners everywhere were delightful, like Giovanni who ran a shoe repair shop in Firenze where I took my boots to be shined. He called me “cowboy”. Other travelers had so many interesting stories about where and why they traveled. And it was great to meet locals and expats through various MeetUp groups.
The waiters in Italy are the best. I pretty much turned one Firenze cafe into my second home. (I even got my mail there.) I would show up during their slow times and just hang out and chat over an espresso, practicing my Italian. Then in Japan, I met the best Starbucks baristas (courteous… and cute).
In Firenze, I also hung out with some really fun folks from Argentina, Switzerland, Spain, and Russia. We’d go out and get wine after class and practice our Italian. I’m gonna miss them.
In Berlin I had the best luck with MeetUp groups. There would be 30 or 40 of us on Wednesdays at Potsdamer Platz practicing German. On weekends we would meet up for guided conversation. And Fridays were the Italian-German tandem aperitivo. I got to practice two languages at once, with good wine, delicious appetizers, and fun people.
But the craziest group may have been the Country-Western dancers in Italy. Later I would find dance halls in Fukuoka and Berlin, but nothing compared to this crowd. The floorboard would be bouncing and the dust flying as they tore it up with kicks and turns and jumps.
Art I’ve Seen
With all the anger and hate in the world, I’m amazed by our capacity for love and beauty. I’m so thankful I’ve been able to see so many masterpieces this year. These are things I read in books and never imagined I would see in person.
I gazed upon Michelangelo’s David, standing strong, defiant, and calm. I craned my neck for an hour soaking in the many elements of the Sistine Chapel. During a too-brief 15 minute window, I focused intently on DaVinci’s Last Supper with it’s innovative dry fresco technique.
I had my breath taken away by Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. I saw Edward Munch’s Scream and Gustav Klimt’s kiss. I stood in a room surrounded by Monet’s 50 foot long Water Lilies. And I went back to my old friend the Mona Lisa.
And the churches. I fell in love with Santa Croce every time I saw it. The Duomo in Firenze is unimaginably beautiful. The Golden Temple Kinkakuji in Kyoto is so picturesque. The towering Dom Cathedral in Köln. The blue pearl Grande Madre in Torino. The spacious St. Peters Basilica in Rome. The golden interior of St Mark’s Cathedral in Venice. Too many to name.
Languages I Learned
I’m very thankful I made as much language progress as I did. I nearly reached intermediate proficiency in Japanese, and definitely made it in Italian and German. Looking back it seems easy. But every day was a fight to keep speaking Italian or Japanese, instead of switching to English. Every day I had up to 100 words to review in my flashcard app. I had to choose to listen to slow podcasts in German instead of my favorite American ones.
I’m happy about the languages I picked. “Why those three languages” was often the question I heard. Ever since watching La Vita E Bella, I have loved the Italian language. It’s beautiful and expressive and empowering. Japanese was a total roll of the dice. It was probably the movie Ramen Girl that got me interested enough to put this one on my list. And I picked German because I love German beer and wanted to go to Oktoberfest. (Especially since I showed up in Germany too late in 1998)
I hope you get to spend time with loved ones today. I’m sure you’re already giving thanks for the many wonderful people and situations in your life. If there’s an adventure or risk you’ve been thinking about, I encourage you to take it and see what new exciting experiences you can be thankful for.