There are places in this world that are taken for granted. We hear of them in stories, and see them in movies, but never really understand their significance. It’s common for the average American to leave the country at least once in their life, and this privilege is rarely treated as such.
As the average American, I left the country. I have seen the sites that many long to see, and many never even notice. I have roamed the streets of Italy with a few friends, a few euros’s, and even less knowledge of the language. Immersing myself in culture, I spent three weeks in Europe. The People to People Student Ambassador program gave me these opportunities that I never would have accomplished. Thankfulness cannot begin to describe how I feel about what they have done for me. My fellow delegates, leaders, and family taught me all I needed to know about traveling. They have taught me all I need to know about surviving in this world.
Though these lessons of life and travel were many, there are three that I found most helpful in my visit to England, France, and Italy; one must always try to speak the language, have a basic understanding of the culture, and never give up.
In France, my delegation of ambassadors and I where faced with the daunting task of trying to communicate to a waiter that my friend, Ryan Mason, was deathly allergic to nuts. Out of all thirty-eight of us only another girl and I spoke even the slightest bit of French. We spent close to forty-five minutes trying to communicate the word for nuts. After wracking our brain for the verbal skills we, unfortunately, did not possess, we finally started drawing a picture of a peanut shell with a red line through it. Within a few seconds of studying the drawing the waiter finally understood what food we had meant, but not what we wanted him to do with it. It took another five minutes of elaborate, and dramatic gestures to communicate that Ryan could not have nuts on his food.
In just this one experience the three most important rules of travel were addressed. If Ryan had taken the time to learn the word for nuts in French, he would have been able to communicate his allergy to nuts quicker, and not caused the entire delegation to be late to the Louvre. If the rest of us would have studied the culture of France a little more, we would have realized that just because you put an “x” through something, doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing it does in America. While those were lessons on their own, the most important thing is that we never gave up trying to communicate with him.
Being in a foreign country is a scary, yet exciting experience for most people. The familiar is often thrown out the window, and the traveler is left with nothing but his knowledge. Once there, he often realizes that all the books, and movies have done very little to prepare him for the experience. However, if a traveler remembers what I believe to be the three most important lessons of traveling: always try to speak the language, have a basic understanding of the culture, and never give up, they will be ready for most any situation that may occur. I would know, they can save a friends life.