In ninth grade I learned that a friend of a friend, Janis, was planning to travel with People to People Student Ambassadors the next summer to France, Italy and Greece. I knew right away this program was perfect for me. I did research, talked to my parents, and convinced them to attend an informational meeting on the program. The presentation and my persistence convinced my parents, and I applied for an interview that night. I became one of forty students selected as an ambassador for the local delegation.
Right away, I started thinking of ways to pay for my three-week trip, which included transportation, hotels, activities, and meals for three weeks. I sold candy bars at my school for several months, and made a profit of about fifteen hundred dollars. I also wrote letters to friends, family, and local businesses, told them about my trip, asked for a donation, and promised to send a post card from one of the three countries. I was overwhelmed by the generous response from many of the people I contacted.
I had two more obstacles to overcome. First, I was traveling with a group of people I barely knew. We had six group meetings before the trip, but I was extremely shy. Luckily, Janis and I had a mutual friend over whom we were able to bond. She and I stayed together, and as we became closer with the other student ambassadors, our initial friendship.
Second, I was under the impression at the time that I was allergic to peanuts and eggs. My mom suggested that I carry index cards that said “I am allergic to eggs and peanuts” in French, Italian, and Greek. The cards were not grammatically perfect, but they helped a lot; I was given a special meal, which was usually a pasta dish. Ironically, this past year I learned that I am not actually allergic to eggs or peanuts; instead, I have Celiac Disease, an intolerance to gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, and rye products. The whole time I thought I was avoiding “bad” foods, I was actually consuming food that harmed me more. I was sick many times throughout my trip, but I kept going through the pain, because I did not want to miss any of the wonderful experiences.
My journey was extraordinary. The itinerary included visits to several cities, including Paris, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Athens – locations perfect for someone interested in history and archaeology! It was incredible walking among the ruins of the Roman Forum, standing under the Eiffel Tower, and climbing up the pathways of the Acropolis. However, my favorite day did not include a historical tour of an ancient city. Each People to People program includes a Full-On Day; ours took place in Assisi, Italy and the main event was rappelling off a one-hundred-foot tower. I am terrified of heights, but I was determined to do it. With the help of my new friends, the delegation leaders, and the Full-On employees, I in made it down the tower. Even though it was the scariest thing I have ever done, I am proud of the determination that allowed me to temporarily overcome my fear.
The whole People to People experience was a life-changing event for me, which my family and friends could all see when I returned. The trip proved to me that if I really set my mind to achieve a goal, I can; otherwise, I would never have been able to raise the money, travel and room with people I did not know, or rappel down that tower.
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