Why I Went
“Permanent jet-lag. Please take me back.” -Fall Out Boy
“What does man gain by all the toil / at which he toils under the sun?” -Ecclesiastes
Why TMU in Italy? Why not IBEX? Why not stay on campus and graduate early? These are the questions I have been thinking about since being back from TMU in Italy. I live with three other guys, all of whom went to IBEX the same semester. Often, while all of us are sitting around the house, they break out into a story about the program (“Hey remember when…”) and share in a nostalgic memory. I can’t do this. I can tell them stories about Italy and they are good stories, and they listen, but they are full stories, stories that attempt to describe how it was to be there, stories that aren’t spare but have background which makes it impossible for them to share in my memory, only to know that I have this memory; when they share a memory, they don’t even need to talk in complete sentences. Many times I just don’t share, longing for the times where I can see those who also went to Italy with me, those with whom I can say “Hey remember when…”.
Here is a question Dr. Bolen asked me one day at lunch. “Are you going to do IBEX?” He asked. “No,” I said, “I’m trying to get into the Italy Program.” “Why?” He said, and I think he genuinely wanted to know. For the longest time I still didn’t know why I wanted to go to the Italy Program. So, why TMU in Italy? On certain days I say there is no reason why. Just do IBEX, it’s longer, and more people go. Because I am surrounded by people who went to IBEX I tend to think downward on my time in Italy, cheapening my experience and wishing for theirs.
As a freshman, I wanted to go on the AMBEX program, the AMerican Bavarian EXtension Program or AMBEX, a semester long study abroad program in Germany with freedom every two weeks to take trips all over Europe for four, one week long excursions. I signed up and was accepted to go my sophomore year. However I was afraid — of leaving friends, of being on my own in Europe — and did not go that year, deciding instead to go my Junior year. When it came time to apply again, I went and talked to Dr. Behle and he told me that Master’s was severing their ties with the AMBEX program. I felt cheated, mad at myself that I did not go when I had the opportunity, but that same week Dr. Horner strolled up to the front of chapel and announced to one thousand people his new Italy program. Timing, Sovereignty, God’s sense of Humor.
“There is no remembrance of former things, / nor will there be any remembrance / of later things yet to be / among those who come after.” -Ecclesiastes
So now I had a new program in mind, and I still had no definite reason for going other than I felt like it was a door that God had opened and if he allowed me to go through it then maybe he would bless me through it. That was what I was chasing, that blessing, God’s will, saying to him “I won’t let go until you bless me!” I felt a boost of speed in my step every time I thought about Italy, Fato Profugus, a speed I hoped was the speed Flannery O’Connor called “the terrible speed of mercy.” I was accepted into the program for the first year.
This time I didn’t chicken out, I was still afraid in a certain sense, but it didn’t stop me anymore. I knew the program to be special right away, on the plane ride over, as everyone was asleep around me I prayed as the plane experienced rough turbulence. The fear of crashing (something so unlikely to happen) revealed to me how much I cared about this trip and I prayed that I would live to experience it. My tummy was rumbling from the edamame and Mott’s applesauce and the now gentle turbulence rocked me to sleep. The plane ride was about eleven hours to Paris, and two hours to Florence. One thing Professor Chua stressed was being ready for travel, and if we weren’t ready before, we were ready now. Walking off the plane was beauty mixed with exhaustion. The sun was setting behind the Tuscan hills standing tall and green, a color not often seen in Burbank. But it was hard to walk, to stand, to not cry. This never stopped throughout the trip; we were always exhausted; we always found it easy to sleep at night, even if we had a cup of coffee at 9 PM; I always found after walking around the city all day, my eyes would water. Beauty mixed with exhaustion.
“Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.” -Ecclesiastes
These were the days that were filled with meaning. Everyone there filled a role; I filled a role I had never played before. We all had each other’s back. I was happier there, I was more awake; I was fatter there, thanks Mrs. H. In a way, I was fulfilled, I was educated. I don’t know what I was looking for when I left California but that was what I found: a place and a role to fill. We were a family.