Ciao, I’m Sandy. I am a twenty year old journalism and English literature student at the University of Miami and next summer I will be spending six weeks living in a small town in central Italy learning Italian. I’m a writer, not a filmmaker, so the last thing I saw myself doing was entering a short film contest. But I did, and here I am. A word of advice – never sell yourself short.
I got the phone call on November 20 at 4:32 pm. Let’s just say getting a call back from Michelangelo would have shocked me less. The six minute conversation is now a blur. I do recall Keith, president of International Student, asking what I was up to. I said I was just taking it easy and hanging out at home. You know, like any normal person would be on a Friday afternoon. Translation: I had been up since 7 a.m. refreshing the contest page approximately 240 times an hour. Yes, InternationalStudent.com can thank me for that peak in hits. By 4:38 pm, my life took the sort of direction that changes things. The kind of changes you look back on fondly twenty years from now.
When some of my classmates pressed me for details about “that website I always see you on,” I told them it was a video contest to study in Italy. Their response (verbatim): “Oh my God! You’re going to love living in Rome.” I had to clarify that I was in fact not going to live in Rome. Instead, I would be staying in Perugia. “Peru—isn’t that like in South America?”
So why Perugia? For starters, Perugia is the capital of the region of Umbria. It is often referred to by natives as the “Heart of Italy,” named after its location in the center of Italy. Naturally, I was sold on this charming little tidbit. I mean, if I’m going to immerse myself in a culture what better way than to go straight to the heart of it? With just over 165,000 residents, it’s the ideal place to get the personal and authentic Italian experience I’ve been yearning for. Plus, there’s a 10 day international jazz festival, Umbria Jazz, that goes on during the summer. Free live music performances on the street begin early in the morning until late into the evening. Did I mention it’s also known for its chocolate? And boy, do I love chocolate.
Now, I think I should be clear on something. This blog isn’t just about me documenting my trip so that I can plead a case for once upon-a-time-coolness to my future kids (though that’s an added bonus). Instead, this blog is intended to take you with me. I want you to take the nine hour flight with me. Eat the questionable airplane food. I want us to walk down the cobblestone pathway together and grab a slice of pizza at the local pizzeria. I propose that we try every single gelato flavor at least once, even the funny sounding one that we think translates to cucumber soup. Let’s make new friends, watch the sunrise together, and ask our new friends just about every question we can think of. How about we promise to practice our Italian with everyone we meet, even at the risk of completely embarrassing ourselves? Above all though, I want you to discover with me all that this boot shaped country has to offer.
I am infinitely thankful for this opportunity that still seems unreal to me. Thank you to my mom, dad, and brothers – Ralph and David, for watching every version of the video that never made the final cut and listening to all of my creative frustrations. Thank you to my best friend Deborah who I am so excited to say is joining me on my adventure next summer and thank you to my unbelievably supportive boyfriend Clint.
To all the contestants: your videos made me lose sleep. I mean that, of course, in a good way. Your videos were so wonderful that I often watched them over and over again, questioning if I even stood a shot. If I could bring you all to Italy with me, I would.
My deepest gratitude goes out to InternationalStudent.com and the wonderful people (and brains) behind it. Thank you to the judges – Cheryl, Clark, Jim and Markus (yes, you with the glasses!) Finally, thank you to everyone who watched my video, voted and is reading this. I promise to make this worthwhile.
Right now, I am $3,500 richer. By the end of next summer, my goal is to be even richer – in fantastic memories. (I hear the exchange rate on that is priceless.)