“Ciao bambini! Hello Kids!”
My Italian host, Beatrice; my roommate, Cindy; and I greeted the others as we arrived at the bus station ready to depart on a day trip to Venice. It started out as an easy phrase that the Italian students taught us on one of our first days with them and turned into our favorite catchphrase, to be repeated multiple times throughout each day.
Myself and fifteen other students had been given the opportunity to travel with our math teacher, Mr. Malossini, to his hometown of Riva del Garda in northern Italy. We were assigned to stay with host families of students who go to the local school there. For a week, these students, their families, and their teachers would be our personal tour guides around a beautiful region residing by the largest lake in Italy, Lake Garda. Home to around fifteen thousand residents year-round, Riva is a popular beach town, frequented by many German tourists in the summer.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
Our decision to visit in the middle of May, known as the rainiest month in Riva, proved to be a lucky choice. With only one day of rain, every other day, we were graced with the presence and warmth of the sun. Temperatures started out chilly in the morning, but quickly rose to a comfortable range in the mid-seventies. The partner school in Riva generously planned out a full itinerary for the week full of day excursions to nearby towns, chances to experience school as an Italian student, rock climbing, and delicious food.
One of the most valuable experiences of the trip was observing how similar the students were to us in many respects. A few nights in the week, all of the Italian and American students would meet at a square in the center of Riva and walk down to the park along the beach. This was a time when we could all just hang out as teenagers and learn about each other. Some people brought along soccer balls and Frisbees, others brought guitars. Beatrice and I talked about how weird and wonderful it was to meet someone from a completely different place and find each other so relatable at the same time. Before a couple short messages sent back and forth on Facebook, I did not know much about her until the first time we met when all of us stepped off the bus in front of their school.
The students laughed when we told them we were from a town called Springfield. “Like the Simpsons!” they would exclaim excitedly. Two of the Italians were in a band and bonded with two guys from our school that played guitar. I met a girl, Anita, who shared my obsession with Adele. It turns out her songs are popular on the radio stations there, just as they are in the US. One of our daily excursions took us to Arco, a town famous for the world rock climbing competition that it hosts every summer. We had a chance to test our chances at this scary, yet exhilarating local sport. As we dangled from our harnesses, we discovered that we shared the same fears, as well.
Bright and early on the last morning, everyone gathered to say goodbye, relishing in the last moments we would spend together before we would drive to the airport. Promises were made to return soon and houses were offered as places to stay both in America and Italy. We smiled at the memories we created and the bonds we made.
For one last time, we screamed our favorite phrase: “Ciao Bambini.”
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