Foreign Friendships Close to Home - My Family Travels

The wheels of flight DAL22 left the ground as the plane rocketed into the sky. Those on the Boeing 767 were only minutes into a flight that would last over eight hours. I was among them, but I was not making the 4,400-mile journey alone. My travel companions included 40 teenagers from Pennsylvania in shirts bearing the logo of People To People Student Ambassador Programs, a travel program for middle and high school students. I was a little unnerved to be headed for a European country with a group of almost complete strangers. My plan was to see the sights of France, Italy, and Greece while avoiding the other delegates. Little did I know, fate had other plans.

As my delegation began our exploration of Paris, we certainly felt a loyalty to the group, but little connection to each other as friends.  After taking an overnight train out of France we hit Venice, Italy. It was easy to feel left out because we were mainly looking out for ourselves. In Parma we each spent four days living with an Italian family. In my family the two parents and their son could not speak English, while their daughter spoke some English. I quickly found out that ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ are easily confused by Italians and that there is just no good translation for ‘trash can.’ They were very welcoming and I learned a lot about the Italian culture. It was a very enriching experience, but upon returning to my delegation I was surprised to find that the reunion of our group brought us closer, and increased our appreciation of each other as individuals.

My delegation continued it’s amazing journey by traveling to Florence and Pisa. We spent a day in Assisi completing a teamwork program for teens called Full-On, which included rappelling down a tower that was 100 feet high. Our placement into random groups allowed me to learn that none of the delegates were openly hostile to one another. That was the one thing that separated my companions from my school peers.

Our next destination was Rome, where we visited the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, and Vatican City. The trip began its home stretch as we traveled on to Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii. We soon boarded an overnight ferry bound for Greece. Although we had been growing closer throughout the whole trip, on that night myself and five other delegates became lasting friends. While we stood out on the ferry’s deck and gazed up at dazzlingly clear stars, something magical intertwined our fates.

Greece brought with it a delightful change from Italy’s pasta and meat to fresh produce. During the sunny days in Athens the trip’s tempo started to slow down. My group toured the Acropolis and aided in the return of a captive sea turtle to the ocean. On our last day we took a ferry to the island of Aegina, where we spent time relaxing on the beach. The sky was a deep blue in contrast to the bleach-white houses. At the end of the last perfect day, the sea breeze blew through my hair while the sun set behind me.

The next day my delegation returned to the U.S. after an astounding three-week trip. I would have never dreamed that I would come home from a People To People trip with five amazing new friends. I am partial to the belief that what we shared on our trip is what binds us, and that our close friendship could not have been formed anywhere but halfway across the world, under a magical star-filled sky.

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