Passport? Check. Sunscreen? Check. Italian travel dictionary, map of London and a list of fine French restaurants? Check, check, check. I had everything I needed for a trip I had been preparing for since I was a senior in high school. Going on a summer holiday to Europe is something I have joked about, but not something I actually thought I would get to do. When I got my acceptance letter to the Regents’ Scholars Program in March 2010, I could not believe the scholarship included a study abroad trip to Europe! Fast-forward three years, two leadership theory classes, a trip to Costa Rica, two Italian classes, fundraising, one “Why I Want to Travel Essay”, one test on how World War II affected Europe, and one travel board on Pinterest, and I was ready to go.
Seventeen students and three advisors boarded a plane to Europe on July 6. Our goal was to become global citizens by studying the cultures of European countries. We also each had a specific research project we had to complete while we were there. My project was to document our experiences through video, and to create a finalized video at the end of the trip through my perspective.
We arrived in Heathrow airport at 11 am on July 7, a little tired after our ten hour plane ride. After making it through the British Customs line, we were ready for an adventure. The first day we explored London, and I learned that most places do not have ice, pounds are worth a lot more than dollars, and it’s cool to speak in a British accent unless you are not from Britain.
During our stay in King’s College in London, we toured Parliament, rode the London Eye and explored and debated the mysteries of Stonehenge—I was overruled on my alien theory. Everyone was so friendly and nice; the British seemed used to Americans and other tourists visiting. It was interesting that although we both speak English, sometimes it’s still hard to understand each other because a lot of our words and phrases are not the same. For example, “mind the gap” means “watch your step” and “getting in the queue” means “standing in line.” I crossed off many things on my bucket list including: shopping in Piccadilly Circus, taking pictures at Buckingham Palace, visiting the Museum of London, watching a British play, and riding on top of a double-decker bus.
Our next adventure was waiting for us at 5:30 am on July 14, when we took a ferry to France. Our bus drove right up on the ferry, and we all got out and had a French breakfast. This ferry was like a mini-cruise ship, complete with restaurants, theatres, shops, and a casino. Six hours later we crossed the border, got our passports stamped and started our two-day tour of WWII sites in Bayeaux, Normandy.
We visited Omaha beach, stood on American soil at the American cemetery, crossed Pegasus Bridge, saw British and German cemeteries, walked along Utah beach and crawled inside bomb shelters. We read first-hand accounts of veterans who lived through D-Day, while standing on the sand the soldiers fought on. It was a very emotional day that made WWII more personal for everyone.
During our D-Day tour, we stayed a couple of nights in Bayeux, which is a small, quiet French town where everything closed early. We had a really nice three-course French meal, and I tried my first crepe! It tasted like a really good triangle pancake with chocolate syrup and powdered sugar on top.
On the third day, we took a bus to Paris. It was a very romantic, busy city. We visited the Louvre, saw Notre Dame, toured the Sacre Coeur and climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
I learned that French people like you better if you attempt to speak their language, although “bonjour” and “merci” seemed to suffice. Also, the Mona Lisa is a lot smaller than I thought it would be, and the Eiffel tower is much higher than I imagined; especially if you take the stairs.
On July 19, our group separated and went to three different countries. My group of ten students and one advisor went to Rome, Italy. Rome is a city where croissants filled with Nutella exist, but air conditioning does not.
I loved being in Rome, because I got to visit my brother who is in the Navy and has been living in Italy for 7 months. He taught me to drink my espresso slowly, and at the bar instead of a table because it’s cheaper. He joined my class for the week, and we toured the Coliseum, visited Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel, explored the ruins of Pompeii, saw an Italian opera and threw coins in the Trevi Fountain. Also, I learned that it is impossible to have too much gelato.
On the last day of our trip, July 26, we all met in Regent’s Park to talk about our experiences. I left Europe feeling more confident in myself, based on my abilities to navigate foreign countries by myself, even in places where I did not know the language. I am able to better understand how big the world really is after realizing that other people go through similar problems I do at home, which makes them seem not so bad after all. I also realized that there is no right or wrong way to do things; everyone has a different mindset based on where they are from. Most importantly, I learned that I have to stop waiting to “grow up” because the decisions I make now are already reflecting the person I am, and who I will become.