I remember seeing the tears of joy from an 11th grade student as he saw St. Peter’s for the first time in his life. He was so overwhelmed with emotion, he could not contain himself. He explained that after so many years of hearing, seeing, dreaming and wishing about this trip, it was finally here. Nothing was ever wrong for him. The crowded museums, the bad weather and even the occasional stomach distress could not negatively impact the importance of this trip for him. The other students shared his enthusiasm and excitement so much that the group’s ‘persona’ became more and more special. Today that student is a teacher of Italian and French. During this trip, a future teacher became empowered to begin expanding the lives of others.
Richard, Oceanside High School, 1998, now teaches English in Italy at Liceo Scientifico Statale Democrito, Casal Palocco, Rome.
On September 11th 2005, I found myself at the Ristorante O’ Parucchiano, la Favorita, in Sorrento Italy. I still remember the manager, Enzo Ercolano, the great-grandson of the restaurant’s founder. As our group, mostly Americans, held a silent prayer and moment of silence, the entire restaurant, clients and staff alike, joined is in our ‘private moment’. Later that evening the owner shared his memories of that fateful date and presented a special dessert with a tiny American flag on each plate. On that night, the world became just a bit smaller.
I remember searching for and finding the grave of a relative of one traveler at Anzio. The emotional catharsis for this person was immediate, visceral and honest. The connection to her relative and her past was complete. We took many pictures which she shared with her family. Carol from Massapequa, NY is the individual whose father’s grave we found at the Nettuno Cemetery. We also shared WWII memories at the Anzio Memorial and Museum which were very evocative and emotional for all – especially her.
We also visited with high school students in Italy. So enthusiastic, so thankful and so overwhelmed that Americans would visit, the entire community embraced our group. Assemblies, receptions and classroom visitations were so very special and unique for all. Politicians, families, business owners and even local law enforcement officials all came out to greet us. The most emotional visit was in Avellino, Italy where we were the first Americans that had come to that school since WWII. A gentleman showed us a photo of himself with General Ryder, 3rd Division of Tenth Corps, whose forces liberated Avellino before the Germans could destroy the entire city. The mayor and local dignitaries received the entire school group during which the elementary school students sang, God Bless America.
I remember sharing firsthand the sites of WWII with veterans, their relatives and their friends. As a teacher the effect was immense, immediate and direct. In 2013 we followed the Battle of the Bulge from Aachen, Germany across to Bruges, Belgium. We walked through original trenches; went to Ghent to see the artifacts made famous in the film, ‘The Monument Men’ and saw the Michelangelo Statue that was stolen from Brugge. We finished in Reykjavik, Iceland and found the exact place where US Marines landed in 1943, verified by carvings in boulders on the beach.
Knowledge and understanding at this level can not even be imagined until it is witnessed in person. The teachers’ mission is to empower their students. Travel is the tool which changes lives forever. Travel expands the classroom learning exponentially.
Dan Smith, Teacher