Out With the Old, in With the FOMO

Ciao a tutti! Hello everyone!

I know, I know. It’s been a while, but I’ve finally managed to get my act together long enough to write another post. I wish I could say I’ve been super busy, but as you know, I just love to procrastinate (See: For Real This Time…). Here in Italy, the winter cold is far behind us and Easter is just around the corner. Spring is, and always has been, my favorite season. I’ll admit, I’m even more thrilled to be spending it in Angiari, where I don’t have to worry about surprise blizzards in May. Regardless of where you live, there’s something so beautiful about this time of change and new beginnings. There are the obvious changes, like the snow melting, flowers blooming, students graduating, and of course, baseball starting up again (sorry, had to “toss” that in somewhere). There are also changes that aren’t as easy to see, changes that occur within ourselves.

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March looks good on Angiari!

I have experienced a lot of these more personal changes during my time abroad. Some of them I’m very happy about: gaining the confidence to travel on my own, learning a new language, and relying on my family less. I mean, don’t get too excited, there is still plenty of room for improvement in all these areas, but I definitely have made some progress. There have also been changes that I’m not exactly thrilled about, and I’m not just talking about six hour time changes or changes in my pant size (lol, thank you, pasta). The hardest change I’ve had to overcome is the change of traditions. Out with the old, in with the new.

Right now, back in the Midwest, my family is making plans for Easter–who’s hosting it, what kind of potatoes to make (cheesy, duh)–and placing bets on whether or not Nick will make it through lunch without taking his shirt off (you’re welcome for that shout out, big bro). If I were at home, I would be making arrangements to sing in church or I’d be picking out the perfect Easter dress, preferably one that hides my inevitable food-baby. Of course, this year, my Easter will be a lot different. Furthermore, as spring speeds past us and summer arrives, my friends will hang out more.

200.gifThere will be music festivals, baseball games, and days spent on the lake. They’ll have new inside jokes and they’ll make new memories. Though I am incredibly happy and blessed to be living in Italy, I can’t help but think about these “new memories” and how I won’t be apart of them. While I am living my life here, everything is still going on back home. I have a severe case of F.O.M.O.
giphy-3In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, FOMO is the fear of missing out. It’s something you’ll inevitably experience when you live 5,000 miles from home. For me, it’s the hardest thing about living overseas and this is probably due to my ADHD. It doesn’t matter how hard I try to be in the current moment, it’s constantly interrupted by an explosion of thoughts about what’s going on back home. Don’t get me wrong, I knew that I would get homesick, but I didn’t know I would miss so many things. It’s as if my homesickness is amplified by my ADHD. 

Now I don’t mean to be *that person* and complain about living in Italy, but as I read more and more blogs about other people’s experiences as au pairs, I’ve noticed that this is something that is often ignored. We all try to create this illusion that we are perfectly happy living abroad and being away from our family and friends, but the truth is, we think about it everyday. Well, I do at least.

That being said, the point of this post isn’t just to tell you how much I’ve missed my mom’s baked corn and my brother’s wacky sense of humor. It’s also meant to show you how I’ve learned to enjoy new traditions and experiences, even though I’m missing out on the old ones. To explain, I’ll have to take you back in time a few months, to where my FOMO was the strongest: the holiday season.

Thanksgiving

I could write an entire blog post purely devoted to the Klug Family Thanksgiving. I usually look forward to it all year, but this year, I was dreading it. I wasn’t going to be able to watch the parade with my grandma or eat the amazing meal prepared by my mother (seriously, this latter part is very important. I know everyone thinks their mom, or maybe their grandma, is the world’s best cook, but I’m going to let you all in on a little secret: my mom is better. Especially on Thanksgiving). Besides missing out on the amazing food, I also wouldn’t be able to participate in our post-dinner traditions, like playing “Up and Down the River” while watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

While I am sad to have missed out on these traditions this year, I really can’t complain too much. As always, my host family had my back! Francesca and her teacher invited me to come to the school and teach the third grade classes about Thanksgiving in America. Processed with VSCO with e5 presetI had to review a few things before hand (American history has never really been my area of expertise), but this experience pushed me out of my comfort zone, in a good way; I never thought I would be standing in front of a room full of Italian eight year olds, talking about turkeys and the pilgrims. It also allowed me to reflect on what this holiday is really about. This year, I was reminded that it’s not about where I celebrate or who I celebrate with, but to be grateful for what I’ve been given and the opportunities that lay before me. IMG_0690The weekend after Thanksgiving, Elisabetta and I spent the day making (or attempting to make) my mom’s usual recipes. There were a few ingredients we couldn’t find and neither of us had cooked a turkey before, but I wouldn’t change a single thing if I could. Elisabetta festively decorated the dining room table and Francesca and I displayed the paper cornucopias we had made earlier that week.FullSizeRender-6 It was the perfect meal and it was spent with my favorite Italian family. We even watched Home Alone, a more kid-friendly movie favorite of the Klug family. I might have missed out on a few things back home, but I will forever have a new Thanksgiving memory and my host family might even have a few new traditions of their own.

**EDIT: While visiting home this March, my mom was wonderful enough to throw a second Thanksgiving dinner. I guess I got the best of both worlds!

Christmas 

I honestly thought being away from home during Christmas time would be harder than it was. There were a few things I definitely missed: the snow, singing in church on Christmas Eve, and of course, my family’s holiday traditions. For the most part, however, I was just excited to experience Christmas in a different part of the world. Each Italian city I visited was perfectly decorated with hanging lights and giant Christmas trees. It didn’t matter if I was in Florence, Milan, Venice, Verona, or even small town Angiari, each was as beautiful as the one before it.

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Christmas tree in Piazza della Repubblica, Florence 


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Santa Race on the Grand Canal, Venice 


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Christmas tree in Piazza San Marco, Venice


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Christmas tree in Piazza del Duomo, Milan

 

 

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The Christmas Star outside the Arena, Verona 


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Finally: the decorations in the center of Angiari

I was able to experience some of my favorite holiday traditions while also enjoying new ones. I watched my Christmas movies with Francesca (she may or may not be afraid of the Grinch now). I drank hot chocolate after a day spent ice skating or shopping. I taught Francesca and her classmates the words to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I even got to hear a recording of this year’s Christmas at Luther (shameless plug for my Alma Mater), something I was worried I would miss out on. We celebrated the arrival of not only Santa Claus, but also Santa Lucia and Befana. I even saw Sinterklaas during a weekend trip to Amsterdam!

However, the distractions could only last for so long. My FOMO eventually came back. Christmas Eve had its ups and downs. I loved celebrating with my host family and exchanging gifts by the Christmas tree, but it felt strange to not be getting ready for church or eating oyster stew with my family. Instead of dwelling on this, I decided to spend part of my night rereading the story of Jesus’s birth and listening to my favorite hymns. The rest of my night was spent with my friends in a nearby town, celebrating in the streets and cheering when the clock finally struck midnight. On Christmas day, FOMO hit me once again. My dad sent me a text wishing me a “Merry Christmas!” followed by photo of my brothers and cousins. Again, I refused to worry too much about what I was missing back home and decided to instead have a little fun. Refusing to be left out of any family photo, I sent my dad a series of new ones, with me photoshopped into them. My family had a good laugh and I was able to be (somewhat) a part of their Christmas celebration.

The holiday season was definitely a little rough at times. I cried more than I’m willing to admit. Easter and the summer months will bring along their share of challenges as well. However, I’m learning that I can’t let FOMO interfere with what’s going on right in front of me. I also can’t allow myself to feel guilty about not being able to physically be there for my family and friends. Italy is where I’m meant to be right now and I hope they understand that. In the spirit of springtime, I refuse to be sad about what might be different here or what I am missing out on back home. This is the time to celebrate every new beginning and cherish all the little changes, whether they are big changes, like searching for my first “big girl” job; or small, like celebrating Easter with a new friend.

I’m excited for whatever comes my way this primavera. Sometimes, it’ll be hard. Sometimes calling my best friend or FaceTiming my mom (and dog) won’t be enough. I’ll dread seeing Facebook posts and Instagram photos shared by my friends. I’ll want to go home; but FOMO will be there no matter where I go, it’s a part of life. Our happiness depends on how we decide to deal with it.  

I hope you all have a blessed Easter, full of change and new life!

See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come…” (Song of Solomon 2:11-12). 

 

Small Town, Italy

Well, it’s been a while, but as a famous Italian plumber once said, “Imma back!”

A lot has happened since my first post: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, trips to various cities…and I promise, I’ll write about all of that soon! But first, I think I should explain where exactly I have been living for the past few months. I know that, at the surface, this is a simple question. Anyone who follows me on social media has, by now, probably figured out that I am in Italy. However, there’s obviously more to a place than its name and its coordinates on a map. It’s made up of the people who live there, the various sights and sounds, and even the feeling you get as you walk down the street. These are the things that make a place special. And for me, these are the things that make “Small Town, Italy” feel like home.

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I don’t think I ended up in Angiari by chance. Before you roll your eyes, this post isn’t going to be one of those “God has a plan for all of us” speeches. I’m just saying… I don’t think I ended up here by chance.

When I decided to become an au pair, I received over 200 offers from families all over the world. For a month I looked over the various applications, what the families were offering, where they lived, how many kids they had, etc. It was a little overwhelming and, eventually, all the families started to blend together. However, for whatever reason, the first offer I received stood out to me the most.

Ciao,

We live near Verona, between Milan and Venice, in the North of Italy.
I have a small family; we are 3, me, my husband and my little girl Francesca (7 years old). We’d like to know if you would like to come with us for a period (6-12 months or more).
And what about you?

Ciao, Elisabetta

As you can see, there’s nothing necessarily “special” about this message. Sure, I was excited because it was my first offer, but it was also more than that. A lot of families immediately jumped into the logistics of their offer: how much they would pay me, where I would live, how many kids I would look after, other jobs I’d be expected to do… However, the more I talked to Elisabetta, the more I realized that she wasn’t trying to hire me as an “employee,” she was inviting me to be a part of her family.

I had the unique opportunity of meeting Elisabetta, her husband Roberto, and her daughter Francesca a few weeks later, while my family was on vacation in Italy. After our dinner together, I knew this was the family I was going to choose, and sure enough, two months later, I was flying back to Venice to meet them once again! It wasn’t until I was flying over the Atlantic Ocean that I realized I didn’t actually know where Elisabetta and her family lived. All I knew was that they lived “near Verona, between Milan and Venice.” So… I started to panic a little. How could I have been so stupid as to not ask them where they lived? Or maybe they told me and I just forgot? Wouldn’t be the first time… Either way, my mind was racing. Between that and the guy sitting next to me on the plane who talked for eight straight hours and kept referring to me as his “wife,” I was too paranoid to sleep.giphy

By the time I arrived in Venice, I had been awake for 24 hours, I smelled bad, and I was cranky. While I was still excited to meet my host family, I was dreading the idea of trying to act like a functioning human being. As we drove away from the airport and closer to what would be my new home, the same questions continued to scroll through my head like a news ticker:

Where are we going? What if I don’t like it there? What if they don’t like me

As we drove, Roberto and Elisabetta calmed my unspoken nerves by telling me about Verona and other cities as we passed by them. Francesca didn’t say much, but I could tell she was excited for me to be there, which made me feel better as well. That is, until 30 minutes later, when, on top of my anxiety and lack of sleep, I started to feel car sick.  I was about to ask Roberto to pull over when Elisabetta pointed out her window and said, “We are arriving in the big city of Angiari!” I remember laughing along with Roberto and Francesca, but it wasn’t until we turned into town that I actually understood her joke. Angiari was in fact not a “big city” but rather a small village. And just like that, all of my anxiety and crankiness and nausea disappeared. I looked out the window as we drove through the main part of town and something in the back of my mind told me, “This is it. This is home.”

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It wasn’t until later that day, after a much needed nap and some lunch, that I realized why exactly Angiari felt like home as quickly as it did. As Elisabetta, Francesca, and I walked down the cobblestone sidewalks, I felt like I was walking in my own small town, back in Wisconsin. Okay, so maybe the buildings of Spring Valley aren’t as colorful as those in Angiari and maybe there’s no cobblestone sidewalks or large tower standing near the church. However, the feeling I got as I walked down the street, that was exactly the same.  As we walked, Francesca would tell me the names of the dogs that belonged to each house. When we walked past the small elementary school, she pointed out which classroom she would be in that school year. At the park, Elisabetta introduced me to a few of the mothers of Francesca’s classmates. I listened as they spoke in Italian to one another, and even though I understood almost none of what they were saying, I could tell they were gossiping. For some reason that made me smile. Typical small town. During the walk home, I could sense the community around me, like one big family. It all seemed familiar and safe. That will always be my first impression of Small Town, Italy.

With a population of only about 2,200 people, I know that Angiari might not be perfect for every au pair. There’s no train that runs through town, taking you to bigger cities. There’s no shopping center, movie theatre, museum, or gym. In fact, when I returned to the States after my first month in Italy, my family and friends all asked “So, what do you do in your spare time? Don’t you get bored? Aren’t you lonely?”

They’re all good questions. I always wonder if I made the right decision in coming here. After all, I love cities just as much as I loved small towns (before deciding to be an au pair, my plan was to move to Minneapolis or Chicago). And It’s not that I don’t get lonely or bored. Meeting people my age has definitely been one of the biggest challenges for me. I’m a social person, I like to meet new people and make friends. I read blogs about au pairs becoming good friends with other au pairs that live in their city, but in Small Town, Italy, it’s not so easy. There aren’t a lot of 20-somethings hanging around, especially during the school year. However, the friends that I have made in Angiari are amazing people who always make me feel welcome, from simple get-togethers to celebrating Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. There’s no denying that, at times, it can be difficult and, well, awkward. I don’t speak enough Italian and only a few of them speak English, but they try to translate as much as they can and I try to learn more and more every time we hangout.

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As far as boredom goes, it is very rare. My host family is great about making sure I experience as much of Italy and Europe as I can. We often go to the nearby town of Legnago for coffee and tea or to see movies at the cinema or to go to AquaGym at the pool (my personal favorite, we go twice a week!). We also take a lot of day trips to various cities, some that I never would have thought to go to. Roberto often tells me about the history of each city and Elisabetta makes sure there’s always time for shopping. Francesca and I take lots of photos together and for the first time in my life, I have a little sister. I don’t think every au pair is lucky enough to work for a family that cares so much. I’m so thankful for all of our adventures. I will write about some of our trips in upcoming posts, but here are a few highlights:

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Our first trip to Verona


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Roberto and Elisabetta during our trip to Lake Garda


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On the boat that took us around Lake Garda


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Cobblestone street in Mantova


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Francesca and I in Florence


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The view after we finished iceskating in Bosco Chiesanuova


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Another trip to Verona after Christmas


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Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan

All of these cities have been great, but the best feeling in the world is returning home to small Angiari after a long day. Living in Florence or Milan is, of course, very appealing, but I know deep down that they wouldn’t be a good fit for me. There would be too many distractions, too many noises, too many people… and while I love to visit, I know they aren’t places that I would thrive in. At least, not yet.

In Angiari, I am able to concentrate on being a good au pair for Francesca, to teach her as much as I can, while I can. In my spare time, I go for walks by the river, study Buddhist psychology, play piano and sing, read (for fun, what?!), practice Italian, and think about what I’m going to do when my time in Italy is finished. I’m happy in Angiari because I’m comfortable here; I do things I would normally do at home. I don’t feel like a tourist trying to fit in, but rather a part of the community.

I don’t think I ended up here by chance. It’s almost too perfect of a fit. Between the friendly people, my caring host family, and the romantic scenery that Italy is known for, I really couldn’t ask for more. I don’t know where I’ll be years from now, but I know that I will always love my home in Small Town, Italy.

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For Real This Time…

I’m doing it. I’m finally doing it. No more excuses. No more anxieties. I’m freaking doing it.

I’m starting a blog.

Okay, but if I’m honest with you guys, even as I type this, my inner dialogue is going something like:

Me: Just take it one word at a time

Me to me: Go to bed and finish tomorrow morning. 

Me: But I promised myself I’d finish toni-

Me to me: You have 8 more days before the Gilmore Girls revival and you’re only on season 4 of the original series…


So, the evil Kermit won. I started writing this on Thursday night and it is now Monday. You win some, you lose some. As I was saying…

I’m starting a blog (for real this time).

I know this doesn’t appear to be much of an endeavor. Lately it seems like everyone and their dog has a blog of some kind (there’s literally a show on Disney Channel about it. Spoiler: it’s terrible). For me, however, blogging is a challenge; it is the mountain that I am never ready to climb.

Why? I guess you can *blame it on my ADD, baby* (sorry, even I hate that I said that).

I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was in the second grade. If you somehow have never heard of it, ADHD stands for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and just in case there is any confusion: YES it is a real thing, YES it is a chronic illness that, for some, requires lifelong treatment, and NO this is not up for debate. Moving on…

You might be thinking, “What does this have to do with her struggling to start a blog?” and my response is “Everything.” But for the purpose of this post, my reasoning can be summed up into a single word:


I know, I know. Now and then, everybody is guilty of procrastinating. It’s human. However, I, ladies and gentlemen, am the Beyoncé (read: queen) of procrastination.

It is my superpower, given to me by the radioactive spider that is ADHD. And my weakness? Anything that requires time and commitment. Do you know what takes time and commitment? B L O G G I N G.

Is this starting to make sense now? Let me break it down a little more.

For me, starting a blog is like starting a college research paper. At first, I’m excited and I promise to get started right away. Inevitably, seven weeks will pass, and not a single word will be written. To avoid failing, I’ll work like a crazy person for two days–not stopping to eat or sleep–until I have produced a decent paper. But this isn’t a college research paper. There are no deadlines or final grades. In other words, there’s no extrinsic motivation. It’s all up to me and THAT is what makes this so difficult. Without some sort of external reward or consequence, I will continue to put this off.

Now you might be thinking, “Ok, so just don’t do it? Find a new hobby? Move on with your life?” And, yeah, I guess that is an option. But here’s the thing: today’s “starting a blog” is tomorrow’s “running a marathon” or next year’s “finding a job.” If I continue to succumb to my procrastinating ways, I will never learn. I will never progress. More importantly, I want to do this. I want to write about my travels and my experiences abroad. Fifty years from now, I want to be able to remember the places I’ve been and the things I’ve done. I want to share these stories with my family and friends. I finally have enough intrinsic motivation and I am ready to give up my procrastination superpowers.

Basically, this blog is an “assignment” that is six years overdue.

The first time I thought of starting a blog was after my Junior year of high school as I was getting ready to go to Spain. It was my first trip abroad and I wanted to document everything. I was already an avid writer and lover of social media, so I thought it would be easy. However, saying “I’ll do it later” turned into “maybe on my next trip…” and eventually, the pictures were all filed away or lost on old USB sticks and many of my experiences in Spain were quickly forgotten. Now, six years, seven countries, and countless forgotten trips later, I am finally learning my lesson.

About four months ago, I decided to move to Italy to work as an au pair. Not only would this give me time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, it would also allow me to travel more. Upon hearing this news, my close friend and fellow globetrotter, Molly, recommended that I write about my adventures abroad. I thought YES. I’m finally doing this. If the Cubs can win a World Series, I can start a blog.

Even though I was finally ready to start climbing ‘Blog Mountain,’ it took me a couple months to decide what I really wanted to write about. There are thousands of travel blogs out there, written by people who are much more talented and worldly than myself. I wanted to find a way to make mine different. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my experiences are, in fact, different.

In my blog, you won’t find an organized list of museums to visit or restaurants to avoid. You won’t find a detailed history of the last city I visited. Actually, you’ll be lucky if I even remember the name of the city! No, I can’t write about that stuff, but I can write about traveling with ADHD.

During a tour, I’ll forget most of what the guide says because I’ll be distracted by the noises around me, but I’ll be able to tell you everything about the other tourists. Most days, I’ll get lost, probably because I forgot to pack a map, but I’ll be able to tell you about the perfect café I discovered as a result.

Sometimes, I’ll be emotional. I’ll cry and I’ll freak out in public places, but I’ll be able to tell you about traveling with depression and anxiety (disorders that co-occur with ADHD). I’ll write about all of my experiences, the good and the bad; when I fail and when I succeed. I’ll write about what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown. Maybe it’ll be good, maybe it’ll absolutely suck, I don’t know. That’s the fun of it.

So. This is it. This is me turning in my assignment after six years of saying “I’ll do it later.” This is my blog. Like my mind, it’s going to be ~all over the place~.  I’m okay with that.