Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Stories, stories and more stories of travel

I just returned from three weeks traveling throughout Europe with thirty-eight teenagers. I can honestly say that it was mostly fun. I am telling the truth. I have three new gray hairs and they each have a name, but even at that, the things I dealt with were along the lines of impulsive thoughtless acts one might expect from teens, not anything sinister.

I looked in the "1000 Things to See Before You Die" book yesterday at Target while waiting for my husband to finish some errands. My trip through France, Germany, Switzerland and Spain added nineteen of those things to my life list. Places like the Eiffel Tower, Sacre Couer Cathedral, the Alhambra and Mezquita, to name but a few. I went from being chilled in the glacier at Mont Blanc Chamonix to moving slowly through the heat in Cordoba--47 degrees Celsius!

I can say that it was definitely fun and I enjoyed adding to my list, but the real joy comes from seeing these things through the eyes of youth. It seems that kids from the US have a reputation, here and abroad, of being shallow and interested in not much more than the mall and the movies. I will admit they enjoyed their chance to visit a mall in Madrid, but their observations were astute and went beyond the finding of good sales. Comments revolved around the fact that even at the mall, people here slow down, sit down and spend time talking with each other. Some kids observed that throughout our travels, the use of cell phones was far less than here. All of the kids loved the liveliness of a crowded open air market along the narrow streets of Annecy. Part of what they loved was the staggering displays of beautiful and to us, sometimes exotic, foods offered, but they loved even more the pace and sense of life and community here. No one was in a real rush to get anywhere. People would sit at the little cafes and while away the time with the person at the same table. Friends greeted each other with a hug and kiss on each cheek.

My American teenagers loved all this. They wished there were places like this back home, where throngs of people could gather, congregate and just slow the pace of life a bit.

They also noticed some clear differences in the general way life is conducted throughout Europe as compared to back home. Smart cars, Mini-Coopers and small cars were the norm. They started to keep count of the SUVs and figured that after three weeks, they'd maybe seen five, not counting service vehicles. Many, many people rode small motorbikes, bicycles or public transit, unlike here. They noticed other differences as well. Water use, in particular with respect to toilets, was a constant discussion point. I can say they all mastered the intricacies of the "short flush" and "long flush" operation as practiced in four different European countries! The high number of automatic sensor lights in public places impressed them as well. Most of the kids commented, either out loud or in their journals (which we read as part of their educational requirement) that it seems like it would not be such a big deal for the US to make similar changes to help conserve resources, and what was up with that, anyway?

Most of all, my American teenagers left a good impression wherever we traveled. We received comments from shopkeepers, from the people who organized the community service project in which they participated, from people on the streets, that the kids helped change their minds about the stereotype of Americans. That's the whole point of the People to People program, and I'm proud to say that we met that goal as a delegation. In the current atmosphere of fear and the "threat of terrorism," we fought terrorism in the best possible manner--by going out into the world instead of retreating from it, and showing a side of the States that the rest of the world doesn't get to see on Fox News. Thank you to my thirty-eight Student Ambassadors, for going out into the world and fighting terrorism on behalf of the United States, and showing how to do it peacefully, but with flair!

8 Comments:

At 7:19 AM, Anonymous Tammy B said...

Wow, the first comment! Our daughter was one of these students, and what a life-altering experience for her! The service project was one of her favorites, and the concentration camp visit brings tears to her eyes. Thanks to P2P for organizing such a fantastic opportunity for our kids. Gwen, you and Sue were awesome! THANK YOU!!

 
At 4:14 PM, Anonymous Molly said...

Awesome, Gwyn... sounds like an incredible learning experience for you as well as for your young charges. Kudos to you for helping open minds through travel... these kids had the opportunity of a lifetime!

 
At 6:13 AM, Blogger ~Kathryn~ said...

sounds great Gwyn and as the mother of a teen - i know how people 'expect' them to behave in a certain way !! I'm glad to hear you had a lovely time - when are you doing another P2P to Aus again !!!

 
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