St. Augustine once proclaimed that “The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” With blistered feet, rain-drenched hair, and aching bones, my first introduction to the European society was far from luxurious. However, with ten days and a massive dose of culture shock, the world I once thought I knew morphed into something completely unexpected. Never before had I been so removed from my daily comforts. Yet, by the end, I craved travel even more. I had became immersed into two societies where three course meals fuel fashionably dressed, Smart Car driving, futbol maniacs. I fell in love with Italy and Germany — ”two countries that taught me independence, respect, and open-mindedness.
A few weeks into the summer after sophomore year, I met my history teacher and five fellow students at the airport. Eighteen hours, four movies, and nine complimentary drinks later I was in Rome. Our days in Rome were far from an Audrey-Hepburn-wind-blowing-in-your-hair-Roman-Holiday kind of experience one typically hopes and expects. We did get our movie moment, however, after visiting the Roman Forum. When my teacher casually commented “The last time I was here we got completely downpoared on,” t wasn’t but seconds later when the gods ironically unleashed a fury of rain on us to the point where it came down horizontally and our umbrellas were utterly useless. From that point on, my remaining days were miserable and cold, with an explanation point at my experience at the Trevi Fountain, accidentally paying ten euros for a ridiculous red rose. Note to self: never trust a man with flowers at a tourist trap, especially one you can’t understand.
A few days later I found myself in Florence. THE Florence, the Florence you see on calendars and in movies and cooking books. Our few days there were spectacular, with hours upon hours of eating gelato along the Ponte Vecchio, contemplating the ecstasy of life, and buying bracelets from a man off the street after bargaining in Spanish. And as a claustrophobe and acrophobe I somehow miraculously managed to climb all 414 miserable steps of Giotto’s Bell Tower and experienced the most spectacular panorama of the city.
And then came Venice. Our days were blissful, viewing glass blowing sessions and roaming the tiny streets. And as I lay sprawled on a step in the Piazza San Marco, watching twelve year old T.J. from our group being mauled by its quintessential massive flock of pigeons, I couldn’t imagine life being any better. At that point, I was truly in love with Europe.
The most memorable and influential part of my trip was our last three days in Munich, Germany. We arrived at the beginning of the FIFA World Cup, which made Munich the most incredible sight I had ever seen. The streets were packed with futbol fans from around the globe, dressed to the bone with their countries colors. In our 35-minute train ride outside the city to our hotel I had met people from Australia, Uruguay, Argentina, Germany, France, and Belgium. Our stay in Munich gave me a show at what the world was really about.
With eyes wide open, I came to appreciate comfort, familiarity, and even the all-American breakfast I once took for granted. I learned more about the diversity of different cultures in ten days then I had in my seventeen years of experience. I came to understand to be open minded and adaptive with the language, and that my comfortable bubble of a world isn’t even the surface of what’s out there. And with that, I learned to become more independent.
To every kid, I fancy giving you these special advices I have both learned and wish I had known beforehand:
- To be responsible and try to speak the native language, as out of respect of the country’s culture. They appreciate it when you try.
- To expect culture shock, to remain optimistic (especially with the lack of luxury and central heating), and experience as much as you can.
- To try different foods (I never knew I would dream about curry bratwurst like I do now).
- To take as many pictures as you possibly can.
- To wear comfortable, I repeat, comfortable shoes (I have scars to prove it).
- And above all, have fun.
As a traveler, you will meet new people and experience memories that will last a life time. From those short ten days, I learned more about my world, its people, and my life than I had ever before.
Alicia Sanhueza of Litchfield Park, Arizona won Honorable Mention for this essay.
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