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What a Summer Should Feel Like
I am no novice when it comes to flying. At fourteen years of age, I had already visited Alaska, Mexico, Arizona, France, England, China, and Taiwan.
This summer, however, I entered the airport with the trepidation and anxiety that one would expect from someone who had never flown before.
This summer, I was flying alone.
Furthermore, I was going to spend seven weeks in Italy, France, and England consecutively all by myself. While this seemed like a fun and exciting way to spend my summer when I was planning it out in the safety of my home, it now seemed daunting and near-impossible. As I waited for my airplane to start boarding, feeling painfully alone, I suddenly wished I had chosen to do something more conventional. I wished I could go back home and stay there.
That was the last time I wished that. After I boarded the plane, I began talking to a girl sitting next to me. Slowly, I felt my loneliness and homesickness fade away.
After we landed in Italy, we went our own separate ways. Once again, those feelings overwhelmed me. I had no idea where I was going, and who I was looking for. When I finally found the people from the program who had come to pick me up, I was awkward and shy and tired and in desperate need of a shower.
After that encounter, I had no time to feel lonely or homesick. I spent four weeks in two large houses on the top of a mountain near Assisi with five other girls and a few bilingual adults. The air was crisp and cold in the morning and evening and the houses were crawling with small mewling kittens. Every day, I attended four classes with the other girls: Italian, Ancient Greek, Latin, and the history of Assisi and St. Francis. We were given a fairly large amount of homework every day.
At around three to four o’clock every day, we all went out and piled into the large blue minivan. Some days, we would simply go to Assisi, which was near the bottom of the mountain we lived on. There, we would observe the multitude of fountains and churches, and then we would be given free time to wander around Assisi and purchase gelato and souvenirs. Some days, we would travel to towns further away and visit more churches, identify types of architecture, and remark upon the art. We went to countless museums and I took innumerable photographs of Greek and Roman vases and mosaics and sarcophagi and statues and paintings. We would almost certainly be given free time at the end of each excursion. I spent most of my money on food, especially gelato and prosciutto and pizza and paninis and granita. We also often went to beaches. The Italian sea was a lovely clear shade of blue and was always rather shallow. Some beaches were infested with hostile stinging jellyfish, which was not as fun.
We would return for dinner at about eight or nine o’clock. Once, we even returned home from seeing La Traviata at three in the morning. Lunch and dinner were all home-cooked Italian meals. The food was so delicious that I often had second or third helpings. At around eleven o’clock, we would all go off to bed.
This was the routine for about three weeks. In the last week, we packed our things and drove down to the south of Italy. We rented a beautiful large house near the seashore. We continued our Italian class, but spent the rest of our time there exploring Naples, going to the beach, visiting the museum in Paestum, developing PowerPoint presentations, walking around Pompeii for eight hours straight, and, of course, buying and eating gelato.
At the end of my trip, I gained a basic knowledge of the Italian language, sharpened my Latin, acquired a fondness for Propertius’s love poems, memorized a few lines of Homer in the original Greek, learned St. Francis’s entire life story, tasted nearly every flavor of gelato, made wonderful friends with every girl there, and almost spent all my money.
In the blink of an eye, a month had passed. We were all leaving, but none of us wanted to. I wanted to stay there for one more week. I wanted to rewind time and relive the good experiences I had. It was all over, and everyone was going back home, except me. At that point, I felt that I too should be returning home. Home was a fuzzy idea. I could not remember my real home that well anymore. However, my journey was not yet over; I had three weeks left to spend in Europe.
I said good bye to my friends and flew off to Paris, which was only a two hour flight. There, I stayed with a family friend in their large house for a week. I became friends with his daughter, who was only a year older than me. I visited Versailles and the Louvre and various other museums. I had been to those places before when I was eight years old; thus, seeing the Hall of Mirrors and the Mona Lisa again stirred faint memories. In my free time, I developed an affinity for perfume, thanks to the girl I had befriended. We went to see the last Harry Potter movie in a movie theater on the Champs-Elysees, with French subtitles.
All too soon, it was time to go to the airport again. I had grown accustomed to my life in Paris, and once again, I was extremely reluctant to leave.
The flight from Paris to London was a mere one hour flight. I started to become nervous. Here in London, I was going to the Oxford Royale Academy to study creative writing and experimental psychology. I was going to have to live with many other people around my age for two weeks.
When I first found the group that was waiting for me in the airport, I was astounded. The counselor was holding up a sign that said Oxford Royale Academy. I had been under the impression that it would be an English-speaking program. Then why on earth was everyone speaking French?
I found myself on the edge of the group, awkward and alone, unable to understand anyone. I was miserable. My misery increased as we approached a large bus. I walked down the aisle, trying not to meet anyone’s eyes. I did not know where to sit.
I saw a girl who looked just as awkward as I felt, and, with a fit of courage, decided to sit next to her and introduce myself. I learned that she was from Germany. I was very surprised that she could speak English so well.
Later on, as I arrived at the camp and spoke to more people, I learned that I was pretty much the only American. Everyone else was from nations all over the world. They all spoke English fluently, although some had amusing accents. I did not think I’d ever have real conversations with them, however.
I was so wrong. On the very first day, I made friends with a vast group of people who had been playing cards. One of the boys spied me and asked me and the German girl to join them. I am eternally thankful for him; if it wasn’t for him, I would have never had the courage to speak to them.
I became very close with the people there. I became good friends with my roommate, who was also German. I got to know a group of boys who I eventually became close to, so close that I referred to them as the country they hailed from as a nickname. I got to meet people from all over the world, including Croatia, Holland, Norway, Denmark, Canada, Hong Kong, Austria, China, Germany, Italy, and Lebanon. Despite all this, I still retained my friendship with the first German girl whom I met on the bus.
After the two classes in the morning, we sometimes had our afternoon class. I had selected acting class. We worked on scenes and did various acting exercises. On the days without afternoon classes, we were given free time to wander around Oxford. Everything was heinously expensive. I spent about eleven pounds on sushi once. We also had afternoon and evening activities that we had signed up for the day before. There were dance classes, punting excursions, museum trips, Shakespeare plays, sporting activities, and many more. I often whiled away my spare time in the Junior Common Room, playing Foozeball happily (and losing.) We also had three dances during which I ate as much free food as possible and hung out with my friends.
As the two weeks drew to a close, I received my marks from my classes. I got high scores in both of them. I also developed a terrible sore throat in the last few days, as did nearly everyone else. I remember screaming out the answers hoarsely, straining my painful and itchy throat, during a round of Jeopardy! In our last psychology class (which my team won.) In the final dinner, they served us appetizers of melon and prosciutto, which I remember loving in Italy. I ate my share, and then six others, all from people who had been intimidated by the raw meat and melon combination. This was a wise decision, as the main course was fairly inedible. The dance lasted well into the night. Most people were too sad to dance, however, and hung outside, talking to their friends for the last time.
My roommate and I slept for about two hours, then woke up at three o’clock to say good bye to our friends for the last time. It was as dark and cold outside. A faint drizzle was coming down. The lamps cast orange lights on the ground and silhouetted our forms against the walls. Everyone was awake. The hours flew by. My roommate and I and a few other friends went back to bed in the same room for a couple more hours until eight o’clock. When we woke up, we had our last breakfast in the dining hall with the last few people who were still around.
I never wanted to leave.
I spent the majority of the bus ride to the airport sleeping on my friend’s shoulder. When the bus stopped, we all said hasty good byes. I could not register that I was never going to see these people ever again.
My summer was full of hellos and goodbyes. It was a a freeing, liberating experience to be abroad without my parents and to be the boss of myself. I loved being able to sleep and use the computer whenever I wanted to. I loved being able to control myself and being able to trust myself to finish that PowerPoint presentation for the next day, even at one in the morning with people clamoring to Skype with me. I loved being able to be my own master for once.
This experience has made me realize many things about myself and about the world. I learned that everything in the world is for me to take, like sweets at a candy store. The only question is if I have the audacity and confidence to pursue the things I desire.