*Updated 20 February, 2018*
In part one of my story, I discussed my first visit to Italy and how a friend introduced me to a certain young man during my six-day adventure.
While our initial meeting didn’t yield any sparks or fireworks, I remained in contact with him throughout the year, including my rather disastrous stint in South Korea (I told you about this in part two.)
Below, I will continue the tale and share the details of my adventurous return to Italy with you.
Would a three-month tourist VISA give me enough time to see if things would go anywhere with this handsome, young Italian?
Part Three – My Return To Italy
After I changed my travel plans from a one-way ticket to the States to a one-way ticket to Italy, I spent my last few weeks in Korea hanging out and taking care of paperwork.
I had to cancel my VISA and close my bank account, say my goodbyes and practice Italian so I would be ready for my three-month stay in Italy.
Before I proceed any further, I feel that I should set the record straight for you regarding my experience in Korea. While it was a very stressful period of my life, I did not leave the country with hate or blame in my heart.
The opportunity simply wasn’t the right one for that time in my life, and while it was a difficult and painful experience in some ways, I also had some wonderful experiences while in Korea.
Since I taught a class of middle-aged ladies (ajumma) at the school, I ended up becoming friends with a few of them. During one of our lessons, I brought an article to class that I found interesting regarding a certain type of farming technique still used in Korea, and one of the ladies said that the article was talking about the area where she was born.
Being the wonderful ladies that they were, they decided that we should take a road trip so that they could show me not only the farming technique, but also a bit of Korea.
I felt like royalty. The ladies were so kind and they stopped at various places along the way to properly show me their country. It was an amazing trip and one that I documented with my little Olympus camera.
Since my exit from the school was rather dramatic and chaotic, I know that I let these wonderful ladies down when I left and I still regret that I wasn’t able to bid them a proper farewell.
I cherish this adventure that they took me on and hope that they weren’t too disappointed in me. I tried to e-mail one of them after I arrived in Italy but never received a reply. Perhaps they felt that I should be ashamed of leaving the school and that I should have stuck it out?
I will never know. All I can do is honor their memory and send my “thank you” out into the world, and hope that they know how much that trip meant to me.
At The Airport
The day finally came for me to leave Korea, so I hopped on a bus and headed to the Incheon airport with numerous pieces of luggage in tow.
I packed my bags very well and ended up needing a few carboard boxes for the additional items I had purchased during my stay.
Once I arrived at the airport, I unloaded my baggage, got up to the counter, and put everything on the scale.
Then the young lady behind the counter told me how much the extra baggage fee would be.
I was stunned.
Shock. Utter disbelief.
I don’t remember the exact amount; I think they wanted $800 for all of the luggage. I couldn’t move. I just stood there at a loss for words, racking my brain for a solution to this hefty number.
My lack of words, or perhaps the shocked look on my face and the fact that the young lady knew that I was leaving Korea for good, caused her to take pity on me.
She leaned in close and said, “I can lower the fee for you, but you will not tell my boss or anyone about this.”
A small wave of relief swept over me. I ended up paying around $500, which was a hell of a lot better than $800, so I thanked her profusely as I handed her a credit card and assured her that I would not say a word.
On November 11th, 2009 – after a rather tumultuous, disastrous and stressful failure in Korea – I finally boarded the plane that would take me to the next, and most important, chapter of my life.
Back On Italian Soil
The flight was long and the trip endless. I remember stopping in Turkey between flights and was so ready to just be done with flying and airports already. I got something from a Starbucks and don’t remember much after that.
Once we were finally approaching the runway in Venice, things got real.
I’m in Italy!
Oh my gosh, what is going to happen here!?
What do I say to Francesco?
The Marco Polo airport is pretty easy to navigate. It is small compared to a lot of other airports in Europe, and while I was waiting for my luggage and boxes to come, I caught glimpses of the crowd beyond the doors that opened and closed as people passed through them.
At one point I spotted Francesco, and after I gathered all of my things and piled them onto a cart, I started wheeling it toward the doors.
I screeched to a halt. A security officer approached me and ordered me to open my boxes.
She must have noticed that my boxes had Korean letters on them and grew suspicious of me, so I opened them to show her the contents.
English teaching books, personal items and…some green tea that I purchased as a gift for Francesco’s family.
Oh nooooo! She’s going to think it’s marijuana!!!
There were drug sniffing dogs nearby and I was worried that, even though I certainly wasn’t carrying drugs, it may have been a problem to bring the tea into the country.
I told her in English that it was green tea, and much to my surprise, she didn’t seem to have any doubts. She looked at my English teaching materials and little trinkets and waved me on. It was almost as if she was surprised or disappointed that she wasn’t able to bust me for something!
I secured everything back in place, grabbed the cart handle, took a deep breath and pushed my cart toward the closed sliding doors.
Once they slid open, I was a bit overwhelmed by all of the people crowded around the exit as they waited for their person to come out.
And there was Francesco.
I wheeled my cart over and gave him a big hug. I’m sure we were both in shock that our virtual world of e-mails and Skype calls was now reality, and surely we were both nervous.
He took over the cart and lead me to where his car was parked, and as he was busy organizing everything in the trunk I headed to the front.
I opened the door and found a single rose waiting for me on the seat.
I thanked him for the sweet gift and kept the rose. I think I still have it in a box somewhere.
I was relieved to be in Italy, but I was also a bit nervous to meeting Francesco’s family.
I didn’t find out until 2015 — more than five years after I landed — that Francesco didn’t exactly explain our unique circumstances to his family. He simply asked his mom if she could “ospitare una ragazza.”
He asked his mom if she wouldn’t mind “hosting a girl” in their home, not really telling her that we were interested in one another.
I can’t blame him, though. It probably would have been very strange for him to tell his family, “So I met this girl a year ago, we have been talking and we are interested in one another, she got fired from her job in Korea and changed her ticket last minute to come visit me in Italy. Can she come stay with us?”
His mom, being the kind, generous woman that she is, didn’t have any problem opening her home to her son’s “friend.”
On the way to their home, I was a bit nervous to meet mamma and wasn’t sure how I should address her. What was all of this “Lei” business in formal Italian and when was I supposed to use it?
Once we pulled in the drive and parked, she came out to meet us and all of my nerves melted away.
I was greeted with the biggest smile and warmest hug that I’d received in months, and I felt instantly comfortable by her open arms and welcoming gestures as she ushered me into the house.
She had prepared his sister’s old room for me and they helped me bring everything into the house.
Missing from the scene was Francesco’s dad, who was away on a business trip in China, and I didn’t get to meet him until a few weeks later.
I remember eating something delicous and then…I don’t remember many of the small details after that.
Of course Letizia (the friend who had introduced me to Francesco) was thrilled that I had returned to Italy and I was so happy to see a friendly, familiar face after all that I had been through in Korea.
I got settled in and finally had the opportunity to start using the Italian that I had been studying with Francesco’s mom.
Francesco worked during the day and returned for lunch, but for the rest of the day it was just me and mamma, and she didn’t speak English.
I swear the woman is a saint in disguise. She fed me, washed my clothes, took me around with her on errands, found out I liked to sew and took me to a fabric store, and did everything in her power to make me feel welcome.
It was obvious to her after a while that I was more than just “a girl” that she was hosting, but even Francesco and I at that point didn’t know where things would lead for us, so we just went with the flow.
My First Thanksgiving Overseas
Since it was November, Letizia and I were discussing Thanksgiving one day and we decided that it would be fun to host Thanksgiving dinner at Francesco’s house.
He took care of the invites and Letizia and I poured over recipes and ingredients to make the dinner as authentic as possible.
I remember Skyping with my mom, asking her for tips on stuffing and how to prepare the turkey, because this would be my first time preparing Thanksgiving dinner.
And I would be doing it for Italians!
We had to move Thanksgiving from Thursday to Saturday, because no one in Italy had the time or the appetite to eat a large dinner like that on a Thursday night.
The dinner, to sum it up in a few words, it was a complete and utter success.
It turned out that Francesco had quite a large group of friends, and not wanting to leave anyone out for this special occasion, invited them all.
With the help of Francesco’s mom and Letizia, we fed 40 hungry Italians with our giant 13-kilo bird along with the gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, green beans, apple pie and some special peanut butter cookies that I’d whipped up just because.
It was the most memorable meal that I have ever cooked in my life.
You will find part 4 here, and you can continue following along with the story by subscribing to the mailing list!
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