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I am home. I am sick. But assuredly, I am no longer homesick. The homesickness wasn’t debilitating but it was enough to make me appreciate the sweatpants laundered with familiar, sweet-smelling fabric softener and the central air conditioning from which I write to you today.

A lot has happen since the last time we spoke—or since the last time you (probably my parents or my roommates) read what I rambled.

My roommates threw me a surprise birthday party complete with unicorn candles, Ninja Turtle party favors, and a gluten free chocolate chip cake for which they hiked to a gluten free bakery at the outer reaches of Florence to procure.

A gluten free bakery of the same name opened next door to our apartment the very next day. They had free samples.

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We took our last field trip to Venice. I preferred Venice to Rome. The students who went to Venice first preferred Rome to Venice.

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I was overcome with emotion when I tasted my first gluten free cone topped with vegan gelato.

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I knocked item 7 (“Be serenaded by the calming canals of Venice from the seat of a lovingly legato gondola as the world’s most enchanting marbled architecture glides by”) off the bucket list. But it was not so serenading because I was worried about the distribution of my weight and tipping the boat over.

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I got sick.

I took my final exam.

I said farewell to Florence.

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I voyaged to Edinburgh, partook in the Fringe Festival, climbed Arthur’s Seat, toured Edinburgh Castle, found a “McGrew” in the books of the National War Memorial who died as a Scots Guard in World War I, devoured the most scrumptious gluten free bagel at the sister shop to The Elephant House, aka where the Harry Potter series was largely scribed, and witnessed the final bow of world renowned ballerina, Vaslov Nijinsky’s muse, and my personal inspiration, Sylvie Guillem. She signed my program that I initially thought was steeply priced at ₤4.00. I think it’s worth a lot more now.

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I journeyed through the English countryside on my way to London. Once in London, I remained in Greenwich as I was there on strict business: to visit what I hope will be my future postgraduate home.

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I fell in love with the Greenwich Market and the following is my adventures as told by street food:

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I returned home.

I remained sick.

Nevertheless, that is just what I did to lead me to what I am doing now. Blogging, yes, but more than that, reflecting.

Like a cliché reared from centuries of poets and romantics, in the past 11 weeks, I have sailed away from the safe harbor, I have read sundry pages of the world’s bestselling book, I have become bloody rich with experience, and I have earned my wings, I have learned to fly. However, if I had not have gotten sick in the last few days in Europe, I would not have been pressed to visit my hometown physician. Had I not have visited in my hometown physician; I would not have learned that I lost weight. In 11 weeks, I lost 11 pounds. Perhaps the dietary restriction played a crucial role, but perhaps in a more metaphysical sense, it was not only deposits of adipose tissue or muscle mass that I sloughed. I like to think that what I really shed was layers of prejudice, insecurity, anxiety, fear that have amassed over the years. And perhaps what I gained was belonging, empathy, understanding, purpose and fortunate for me, a clamorous band of people who will remind me of all my acquisitions.

Speaking of that clamorous band, to the two ladies who let me sleep like a cat curled up on their bedroom floor, sat around a dining room table with me into the wee hours of the night, entertained me with their pop concerts and alien burps, saved me from gluten multiple times: thank you. Thank you for providing me a safe place in which I could fully explore belonging, empathy, understanding, purpose, and peculiarly, myself.

I was not finding myself or creating myself, rather I was remembering myself. The youthful inquisitive girl who once fell in love with her backyard was falling in love with the world. And suddenly, it was okay to just sit; it was okay to just wander; it was okay to experience life as it generously unfolded; and most importantly, it was okay to be something other than the textbook perfectionist I somehow grew into being. True, I was “studying abroad” and had my bouts of stress over assignments, tests, and grades (and things I desperately wanted to be perfect) but my immersion in two distinct cultures in two very different cities and engaging in two seemingly dissimilar fields has softened my edges and colored, at the very least, two unique hues of me.

Yes. I realize I am writing in fluffy, overstated generalities but to be frank, to discuss what 11 weeks can do to a person in specificities is an undertaking more in the likes of Homer’s Odyssey. I mean, have you read my blogs? “Plus, you can never get chicks to shut up!” (Name that movie)

Anyway, they say that life begins at the end of your comfort zone; and while I would have to agree, I think I’m going to enjoy my time in my (20-something pairs of) sweatpants for a while. That is, until I’m off to China in October for another round of dance and adventure.

Thank you USF World and Going Places for offering me a platform to share my thoughts with the online community. Until next time.

Au revoir and arrivederci,

McGrew

P.S. If you are reading this, you are considering studying abroad in France or Italy or the UK, and you have celiac disease, a gluten allergy, or gluten sensitivity, or you are a vegetarian or vegan, please comment on this post, contact me by school email (just search my name), or visit the FAD (dance) building on campus (I’m there 99.7% of the time). I would love to help you successfully navigate foreign places with characteristically gluten and meat filled cuisine!

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