As I begin to write the final iteration of this column, it seems only appropriate that I should return to the beginning. At the outset of this semester, I wondered anxiously whether I would be able to maintain the creativity that I had cultivated at the Villa Le Balze in Florence. I contemplated and fretted over what my life would be like upon returning to Georgetown. Since then, I have watched people come in and out of my life. I have gotten a job, and been rejected from numerous others. I have formed new opinions about the world around me, and I have learned valuable lessons. I even got a haircut. In no way am I the same person now as I was when I began writing this column in January.
One remnant from my semester at the Villa that has stayed with me, however, is the one thing I doubted could survive: my adherence to the Italian diet. In fact, I have consistently used my cheap kitchen supplies from Target to cook beautiful meals in my Henle kitchen. Making long, leisurely trips to Whole Foods and perusing recipes on Bon Appetit’s website during the duller moments of class have become some of my favorite hobbies this semester, and I have spent hours avoiding homework by standing over my apartment stovetop, stirring pasta.
Much like everything else this semester, learning to cook dinner in Henle has been a process of trial and error, and I have been forced to reconcile the reality of the college dorm lifestyle with some of my more ambitious ideas. For instance, it took five attempts before I mastered the art of grilling a passable steak in a frying pan. One of the better of such attempts was remarked by my roommate as having “the consistency of a catcher’s mitt”— and I was going for medium-rare. The lack of counter space has resulted in exploded plates — for your information, ceramic cracks when exposed to intense heat — several close calls with kitchen knives, and the use of unorthodox prep stations – namely, armchairs. But I still manage to take a daily espresso break – Students of Georgetown, Inc.’s is pretty good — and, essentially, the only element that I have not been able to somehow maintain from my Florentine diet is a steady intake of gelato. All things considered, this probably is not the worst thing.
Even stronger than my newly acquired cooking skills is my sustained commitment to the Italian culinary philosophy. For the Italians, food is the backbone of the family. Relationships are built, maintained and nurtured through sharing food, and the act of eating is not just physical, but social. Sharing a meal brings people together, no matter what. Over the course of the semester, I have preserved friendships that would have otherwise been lost if not for the meals that we shared. This commitment also afforded us to the opportunity to explore awesome European restaurants in Washington, D.C., like Boqueria and The Sovereign. I have celebrated achievements, reveled in moments of leisure, sought comfort when in doubt and shared in the weight of sadness — all through the act of eating. Most importantly, I have restored relationships at Georgetown that were neglected while I was abroad. Some of the best meals that I have cooked in Henle this semester were the ones that I prepared in order to catch up with the people I had not spoken to in months. There is no rift that a little cheese and copious amounts of wine cannot fix.
Absorbing pieces of the foreign cultures that you encounter and learning to integrate them into your own life is the only way to remedy abroad withdrawal. Very few things — including the self — can stay the same during the transition from studying abroad to the real world of Georgetown, and even when you’re back with your feet planted firmly on the ground, the world can change suddenly and for reasons that are beyond your control.
Elizabeth Harvey is a junior in the College. ABROAD WITHDRAWAL appears every other Friday.