As a child growing up in the ever-expanding suburbs outside Chicago, Europe seemed more like a fantasy than an actual place I might someday visit. Aside from the semi-frequent road trips to Wisconsin, Michigan, and sometimes Florida, my family and I didn’t really travel much. I was almost a teenager before I saw the ocean for the first time in-person. The first (and only) time I left the United States was during a road trip to Niagara Falls after my freshman year of college. I apologize in advance if this comes off as complaining or whining—that is certainly not my intent. There are many beautiful places to visit across the United States, and at these places we have had plenty of incredible experiences that brought us closer as a family. I am simply trying to provide a bit of backstory with the hope that you will better understand the gravity of what I am about to say next:

I am about to spend 115 days in Rome, Italy.

I first began the application for the Business, Communication, International Relations & Liberal Arts Program at The American University of Rome approximately six months ago, but it has still yet to sink in that I will be spending nearly three and a half months in Italy. I—the quasi-adult who has spent a total of five days outside the country—will be hopping on a plane and flying fourteen hours to Frankfurt, Germany. In Germany, I will board a connecting flight to Rome, where a member of the International Studies Abroad staff will be waiting to take us to our apartment-style housing. Gulp.

It is less than a week until the start of my program and my mind is still processing the impending trip. As a junior at The University of Alabama, I’m used to extensive amounts of time away from my family. Being away from my hometown has become a familiar feeling—especially because of the life I have created for myself in Tuscaloosa. However, Birmingham is a bit less than a two-hour flight from Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Fourteen. Hours. Just a tad more than two, I would say.

We could pretend that I’m not at least a little bit terrified, but that would be a lie. I’m typically an anxious person, so needless to say I’m even more on edge than usual. However, this is a good anxiety. Opportunity rarely comes knocking more than once, especially opportunities of this magnitude.

As I tour Italy and its surrounding European nations, I fully intend to realize my childhood visions. There exists a beauty in the cultures, architecture, foods, and traditions of Europe (more specifically Italy) that feels borderline fantastical in nature. Even as I make preparations to leave, I can hear The Eternal City calling. Her voice is faint over such a vast distance, but I listen with my breath held and my heart high.

These blog posts are not those of an experienced traveler or even a moderately amateur adventurer. Instead, they are the words of a first-timer—written with that same childlike wonder I felt as a young boy from the Midwestern United States. Dear Reader, join me on this journey as we leave all our fears and anxieties behind at Flight Gate C18. It is time to experience Italy—together.

O’Hare International Airport, Chicago, Illinois