I grew up in your run-of-the-mill suburban town where football reigned king and everyone knew your name. There weren’t many opportunities for adventure or exploration, so travel became a goal of mine.
That opportunity came while I was in college. There was a class offered within my major that went to Italy and Greece. My heart soared with the possibility of going abroad and seeing the world. However, with all, if not most, of my money going towards paying for college, I didn’t think that I could afford the trip by myself. I also didn’t want to ask my parents for help because they were stressed enough trying to put three kids through college. Looking back, if I had known fundraising was an option, I would have at least tried pursuing it.
It wasn’t until I came to EF that I was finally able to go abroad for the first time. I went on the Grand Tour of Italy with 30 students and 10 chaperones. Out of all the places in the world, I’d wanted to go to Italy the most. The food, the art, and the rich history all drew me to the cultural capital of the world.
The students, chaperones, and I met our Tour Director, Jennifer, in Venice. Over the next ten days, we were immersed in the beauty of this foreign country. We saw the Duomo, the Sistine Chapel, the Doge’s Palace, and a slew of other incredible and historical monuments. We rode gondolas, took selfies with the David, and took a boat tour of the Amalfi coastline. We ate AMAZING food—I had the best pesto and mozzarella pizza of my life in Florence. The trip was everything I hoped it would be.
What was equally as amazing was watching the kids come out of their shells throughout the tour. I went on a tour with two different schools, one from California and one from Pennsylvania. At first, the kids didn’t intermingle; they just stayed with the friends they came there with. But a few days and a couple of shared experiences later, the kids started talking to one another, started laughing with one another, and started sharing stories of their home lives with one another. Walls came down and friendships blossomed.
The students continuously pushed themselves beyond their limits, too. In Bologna, students climbed the Asinelli Tower (a whopping 498 steps) to see the view of the city. Students led explorations on their own in Assisi and Venice and interacted with and learned from the locals. Several students ordered their meals in Italian even though they hadn’t spoken a word of Italian before this trip.
I can safely say that not only did I grow from this trip but so did the students. They took risks and pushed themselves beyond their comfort zones. It was so special to see a student’s face light up when they took a cable car up a mountainside or when they bonded with someone new. On our last night, we all sat together and talked about our favorite part of the tour. Surprisingly, students didn’t focus on the landmarks or the food—instead, they talked about the new friendships they made and the newfound confidence they had. Seeing their growth made my first trip abroad even more meaningful.