The Universal Language This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

March 14, 2013
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There we are, 11 of the 50 American teenagers in the midst of the greatest adventure of our lives, sitting on a stone ledge lining the only street running through Tavarone, Italy. Behind us is one of the colorful buildings in the village, outside of which locals socialize. We are smiling into the lenses of the camera and surrounded by the local children whom we just befriended. We (the Americans) are noticeable by the navy People to People lanyards hanging from our necks and the tired expressions on our sweaty, yet smiling- faces. A close look at me in the very far left of the photograph shows my make-up free face and messy hair thrown up into a ponytail without a care. In fact, all of us are attired more sloppily than we have looked on the entire trip. No other time would you have caught me wearing my nice, white cardigan with those running shorts. But we were all unconcerned by anything but surviving the rest of the day. We are the few warriors who are fighting against the heat that the remaining 39 travelers on the trip are hiding from behind the cool, stone walls of the hotel. And, of course, resting from the stress of day. After all, only a few hours ago we almost died.


We drove towards the mountain to our next destination on the itinerary of our European trip mesmerized by the rolling hills of green on the way there. As we began to crawl high up into the mountains, the awe we felt quickly transformed into horror. There we were, sitting in a massive coach bus, which was climbing up the winding road that was barely wide enough for the tiny smart cars all Italians drove. Every time we approached a turn, I gripped the seat in front of me, my knuckles turning white. Why was I so distressed? Oh, only because at each turn, one of the wheels of the bus would leave the road, spinning rapidly in thin air off a cliff plunging hundreds of feet to the ground below it. It's no wonder that the usual loud and cheery atmosphere on the bus was replaced with tense silence. Finally, about an hour later, we reached Tavarone. Our bus wouldn't fit through the street running through its center, so Gustav the bus driver backed up, parked outside the village, and stepped out of the bus. We followed him like there was a fire in the bus, more than eager to leave the vehicle that was so close to pulling us to our deaths. We gathered around Gustav, asking him if he was as scared as we were. After a long drag of his cigarette, he put his thumbs up and declared vigorously in his accent, "Eet's okay." And all things considered, eet was indeed okay.


After dinner, when we were reenergized and got over the shock that we were still alive, a few of us ventured out to explore the area a bit. The view that greeted me made me forget everything: all my problems, all the terrible things happening in the world. I found myself standing in a quaint, isolated village in the middle of wild, green mountains. Once in a while, similar villages could be seen in the distance, the cluster of red roofed buildings dotting the green landscape. After walking the entire length of this tiny village, we came to a halt by a group of Italian children playing soccer in the street. We approached them cautiously, not knowing how to act around them. After a few awkward minutes of gesturing and timidly kicking the ball back and forward, we soon lost ourselves in an intense game, laughing loudly and attracting the attention of more locals. After we Americans admitted our defeat (even little European kids are better at soccer than us!), we spent the rest of the evening conversing in a mixture of English, Spanish, and Italian. We compared the differences of our lives, since more than just more than just an ocean separated the worlds we lived in. But where words lacked, we all learned a universal language that everyone could understand: laughter.


Later that night, after waving good night through the window to my new friends and promising to play with them the next day, I climbed into bed. Turns out, the place in front of the hotel was a popular gathering spot for locals to socialize at during the night, and my room was right over it. I could hear the Italians through the open window that let in a cool, night breeze in, and I could understand them. They were speaking the universal language. As I closed my eyes smiling, I let the familiar sound of laughter mixed with a foreign tongue lull me sleep in what I still believe to be the most beautiful place in all the world: the place where I learned that despite all our differences, we humans are actually the same. We all like to be happy, and we do this through laughter.

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