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Home sweet North Carolina

Welcome Home." When I walk through the customs gate in Newark's Liberty International Airport in about two weeks, I expect to hear this standard greeting for returning travelers. But this time, it will hold a much more significant meaning than it has after my other journeys abroad.

It will mean that after a three-and-a-half month sojourn, my life as an expatriate is officially over. And it will remind me of how fortunate I am to be an American citizen with the ability to travel the world.

But as I have to come to realize, it more importantly means the ability to come home.

For each of us, home holds a different significance. Home might be the brisk winter chill of Fifth Avenue during Christmas time or the taste of your grandmother's sweet potato pie. But nevertheless, it's home. And perhaps it requires leaving to appreciate it.

Over the past few weeks-as the final leg of my semester in Florence has simultaneously trudged by and flown by-I can't help but wonder if I've done enough, seen enough, taken advantage of all my opportunities. After all, as I've been constantly reminded, I will never have this opportunity again.

I'll miss walking to class early in the morning before any tourists are out or any stores are open, during the rare times when I have the city of Florence all to myself-unobstructed views and free passageways on narrow streets and in perpetually crowded piazzas.

And I'll miss my daily dose of Gucci, Pucci and Prada on Via Tornabuoni as I explore the city. I'll miss how the cathedral looks in every light and at all times of day. After seeing it hundreds of times, I still haven't chosen a favorite view.

I'll long for the early-morning light's effect on the still, glassy water-the way Ponte Santa Trinità reflects in the aquatic mirror and gives the effect of being a double bridge with tunnels instead of arches (an image I can't fully describe)-and how the scene is disrupted by only a lone rower gliding along the Arno.

I'm scared of waking up the Monday morning after I return and being paralyzed by the realization that I'm home, realizing that it's not in fact time to traverse the Arno and go to my classroom on the river.

The excitement of the weekend will have worn off and suddenly it will occur to me that I can't step outside my door and see the Duomo or the David. Instead, I'll look outside and see American suburbia.

Nevertheless, I'm admittedly thrilled to be going home.

Like many of my peers, last Thursday I spent my first Thanksgiving away from my family. Although NYU catered an Italian-take on an American tradition, it just wasn't the same without my grandmother's southern cuisine.

This time of year is usually filled with family gatherings and holiday festivities, so it's strange to be spending most of the Christmas season in Italy. Even with the strings of lights over streets and illuminated trees outside shops, it just doesn't feel quite right.

Although I'm ready to go home, Florence during late autumn is alluring-Italians huddled around lattes and downing espressos at the bar, the smell of roasting chestnuts filling the streets, families out Christmas shopping in the evenings.

It gets darker earlier and earlier as the month progresses, and as the November days slip away, the tourists seem to disappear in droves and I actually hear more Italian than English.

And now that I've discovered my favorite trattorias and piazzas, the cafes with the best cappuccinos and the buildings with the best views, it seems that it's time to go home. But I'm not sure that I'm ready for the culture shock I'll inevitably experience and I don't know what I'll long for the most from Italy.

My semester away from Duke has in some ways been my best semester as a Duke student. Although study abroad seems to be a semester-long vacation full of jet-setting across Europe, as cliche as it sounds, it undoubtedly holds challenges-different for everyone-and is unbelievably and indescribably rewarding.

I can't help but sometimes second-guess myself and I wish that I had done and seen more, but in the end, I have no regrets, and now it's time to return.

Ciao, Firenze! Andiamo a casa.

Victoria Ward is a Trinity junior studying abroad in Florence. This is her final column of the semester.

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