by April Grossi, Greenheart Travel Language School participant in Florence, Italy
I have never been one to put the way I dress as a high priority. I’m not a slob, by any means, and I know how to dress, but my own personal sense of style was a gradual development. A few pieces here and a few pieces there has come together to create something I’m happy with. Nothing flashy, a little on the classy side, comfort first, and good for moving is a solid description for what you’ll find in my closet. However, it does not describe what you’ll find in my suitcase.
Yes, traveling around Europe can have its downsides.
Three pairs of shoes … three pairs of pants … five shirts … one jacket … You get the idea.
So, as you can imagine, arriving in Italy was a little bit of a shock for this traveler. I thought I was ready to go for my first day of school! Beat up day-pack, bright blue jacket, walking sneakers (for those troublesome cobblestones), three-day-old pants and smiling! I may have aced my Italian language exam but I certainly failed at blending in.
It only took me the first block to figure out that something was wrong. By the time I reached my school (20 plus blocks later) I knew something needed to be done. Italians are famous for reminding you of your permanent “tourist” status, or in my case, slightly worse, “American tourist” status.
Normally, sticking out wouldn’t bother me but this was more than just dressing differently. It was about living in a new country with a new language and not being accepted on the basis of who I was but on how well I matched my shirt to my socks. I felt my confidence slip along with my focus as I was distracted by this sudden, new-found inability to just be me and be okay with that.
So, I tried to fix the “problem.”
Oh, I don’t have stylish enough shoes to walk around Florence? You don’t like my shirt? Fine! I’ll go get new ones! No problem! (Then you’ll like me, right?)
Suddenly, my clothes held the secret to whether I was going to have a good day or not – I was searching for an approval in a part of my life that had never held much weight before and an approval that I hadn’t given myself first. This slip back into old fears completely skewed my perception and it took some time before I realized what was actually going on …
I’m still learning to not need the outside affirmation I used to.
Now, I’m regaining my footing, by introducing myself to Italy as a student and giving myself the space to be awkward, look different, and not know. I’m striving to have enough confidence in who I am to allow myself to let go of worrying about what other people think (especially about something as silly as my outfit). If I can allow my personality to shine through, then it won’t matter who likes my pants and who doesn’t.
Traveling in Europe has taught me that I am an ever-expanding version of myself but it has also taught me that I am the only consistency in my own life. If I can love the changes, the challenges, the mistakes, and the triumphs then I can leave my worries alone and step into this experience as a full and active participant.
Every morning, I start before I pick out my shoes … loving your outfit doesn’t make an eager audience out of your peers; loving yourself enough to love others, does.