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Wherever You Go, Go With All of Your Heart

Wherever You Go, Go With All of Your Heart

Confucius might have been on to something when he said the quote I’m using the title for this blog.. but I’m getting ahead of myself.

You’ve all heard of Milano, right? What do you think when you hear Milan? Many will say glamorous, stylish fashion capital. For anyone who knows anything about Italy, they could start to throw in some geographical knowledge and might add any familiarity regional stereotypes they might have and say that it’s located in northern Italy in the Lombardia region and that the milanese are sometimes known for being arrogant, cold and efficient in the working world.

If you would have asked me what I thought, I would have said all of the above, but if you asked me whether or not I was dying to visit it, I would have said, “eh.” 


Now, before you gasp at my indifference, forget Milano for a second. Along the same lines, what do you think when you hear Cusano Mutri? Many might say what or where or is that a type of pasta? Don’t worry about it, though, because I can tell you that even some Italians don’t know about it. _DSC0760

But what I’m getting at: what do these two places have in common (other than the obvious fact that they’re both in Italy…)?

I had the pleasure of spending a weekend in each of these places the past two weeks. They were as different as night and day.

Cusano Mutri, according to Google, is a commune of the Province of Benevento. It is located in the southern region of Campania and has just a little over 4000 residents. Its biggest party of the year is the Sagra dei Funghi, or mushroom food festival. I, along with 17 other students and two JFRC staff members, traveled down to Cusano for the first weekend of this festival. Needless to say, I was excited, because food festival + mushroom + Italian cuisine = happy Ola.

Why did I chose to go on the Cusano study trip? Other than my obvious love for porcini mushrooms and food in general, the trip seemed different than the other study trips that the JFRC offered. They also advertised hiking and beautiful scenery that included mountains and lakes. I’m a city girl, through and through. The closest I come to nature are the forest preserves that surround Chicago and the forests and lakes that surround my family’s hometown in Poland (and even then, that’s for a leisurely stroll and overall relaxation). Hiking? That’s a challenge. Going to a small town where little to no one that speaks English? That’s a challenge too. I wanted to try something new and give Cusano my all; and I’m so glad I did.


We did indeed hike, along a river and a lake. We learned how to make pasta and gnocchi from one of the head chefs of Lo Suago, the restaurant that was our home base during the sagra. Our SLA Fran gave us a wonderful surprise and we made s’mores under a sky illuminated by the moon and hundreds of stars. My new friend Luis taught me how to dance merengue and salsa as we danced with friendly and welcoming locals in the town’s streets and piazzas. There were spontaneous pickup games of soccer with Romans (also happened to visit Cusano), cappuccinos and probably the best cornetti con crema I’d ever eaten courtesy of our host, Clementina, and dinosaurs (oh yes, you heard me, dinosaurs… okay, it was a museum with some fossils, but one of them WAS a dinosaur fossil…).

_DSC0630_DSC0759_DSC0721Truly and genuinely- the trip to Cusano was amazing and I can’t begin to describe how much I loved it. For anyone coming to a future fall semester here at the JFRC; definitely consider going.

Milano, on the other hand, is world-renowned, in a industrialized region of Italy, with a population of over 1.2 million people- and that’s not counting the thousands of tourists and huge events that bring in thousands more such as Milan Fashion Week and, currently, the Universal Exhibition, or Expo 2015.

Now, back to my stunning lack of wow factor regarding Milan. Why wasn’t I as ready to embrace Milano as I was with Cusano?_DSC1246

Perhaps it has to do with being someone who’s been taught the Italian language and culture for almost six years by people who have been from southern or central Italy. Or maybe it’s because most of my neighbors and friends back in Chicago are from Calabria or Sicily. I’m not saying that they have influenced my views on the north negatively, but I guess you could say I’ve always had an affinity for the south probably because that’s the only experience I’ve had with Italian culture up until this point.

Instead of a study trip, myself and two other friends went to Milan on our own this past weekend. I was honestly pleasantly surprised by how much I loved it- but I didn’t initially. Promptly after landing, I remember thinking how expensive this city was going to be, how gray it seemed, how modern it was. I don’t know what it is about me, but when I think of Europe, I used to never think the word modern. Again though, I blame my previous experiences with Europe and by that, I mean my summers in a small town in Poland where my babcia had a small TV with only three channels (although now she’s really upgraded and has 15!).

However, after seeing a ballet at Teatro alla Scala for ONLY 11 euro (the story of how we got those tickets is ridiculous, so if anyone’s dying to know, hit me up), eating absolutely delicious panzerotti at Luini’s (what I would do for another one now that I’m back in Roma..), and sipping on sweet drinks during aperativo in the artsy neighborhood Naviglis: I fell in love with Milano. It’s hard not to. It’s such a cosmopolitan city and there’s just something about it. I often talk about the vibes I get from certain cities. Milano gave me a good feeling and  I was mad at myself for not giving the city the same chance I promised I’d give Cusano, so for that, my dear Milano lovers, I humbly apologize.


I wasn’t ready to give Milan a chance and I already had preconceived notions on what I thought the city was going to be like. I only started enjoying the city when I actually let go of those feelings. I had no expectations of Cusano and was open to experience something new. No matter where you end up with life- go with all of your heart. Be open, NOT SOLELY to new experiences, but to rethink old habits and ideas. Isn’t that the whole point of studying abroad? Opening up your mind to new ideas lets you  change the way you think and potentially how you view the world. You don’t necessarily have to, but it gives you that option.

I could have easily stuck with my prior ideas of Milano and been unhappy during the trip, but what would have that taught me? And what would have that meant about me? Did I want to be that type of person?

Give every new place a chance- despite what you may have previously heard. You may end up falling in love with it and actually becoming excited at the prospect of one day coming back and learning even more.


Give every new place a chance; especially if you had no prior knowledge of it. You may end up watching a sunrise from the top of a mountain.


Give it a chance, give it your all.

Wherever you go, go with all of your heart.


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