“You have now been a foreigner,” tour guide Silvana Gaeta tells students on their last night in Rome. “You have been the odd one, who is learning a language, who does not know the customs or how to find your way. And yet – you have found your way. You have tasted new things, met new people, and seen things that you may have only read about in books. My wish for you is that you will now take this feeling home. Let it shape how you view the world.”
Roaring Fork High School’s World Traveler Club brought many things home from their trip to Paris and Italy – clothing, artwork, gifts for their families, photos, and most invaluable: memories. Their stories tell of making a first-ever currency exchange for Euros to buy German chocolate in the Munich airport; arriving in Paris after 30 hours of travel to drop off bags for a hurried Metro ride to dinner in the Latin Quarter; ending their first night in Europe with an impromptu visit to the Louvre until closing time. The next day, they visited magnificent places – Versailles, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower – all breathtaking, larger in life than they perhaps expected.
Engaged and Enchanted
The group of eleven RFHS students moved like Energizer Bunnies, operating with precious little sleep. Out past midnight on Day Two, they headed across Paris, chattering about the Seine River, lights, food, music, people. They navigated the subway, attempting to speak French with passersby, inviting smiles and friendly responses. They tried to get pigeons to pose for snapshots. They haggled with barkers and picked out berets, Eiffel Tower keychains, scarves, and postcards. They stood out, yes, like American tourists, yet they also stood out in marked contrast to the tired, inexplicably bored, stand-offish students from two other U.S. schools that traveled with the tour.
“Roaring Fork kids are grateful,” explains RFHS World Traveler Club sponsor Denise Wright, who led the group of students and chaperones. “Gratitude is part of the culture of our school, and you see it with every team, club, and activity. You see it throughout the school in a lot of ways. On a trip like this, you see it in how the students take in the experience – engaging with locals, asking questions.”
How do you make travel happen?
“This question popped up one day in class as students were talking about trips they had taken,” said Wright. “I looked around and saw a clear divide between students who have traveled and those who have not. That day I started looking for ways to make travel accessible to everyone, and it has become a real passion of mine.”
Now, when students ask, “Can anyone go? Even me?” they are met with ways to get involved. Fundraising starts at least 18 months in advance, allowing enough time for the students to raise usually half of the cost through school efforts. Students make a difference through after-school or summer jobs and help from their families. “The main thing is that students take an integral role in making it happen,” Wright says.
Participants plan and execute the fundraising. This particular group reopened the school’s store after combing through state regulations about what can be served on campus. They cooked and served food at a gyro booth during Carbondale’s Mountain Fair. They hosted a raffle and games at a school Halloween carnival. Before Thanksgiving, they made and sold tamales and pumpkin cheesecakes.
Students also take the initiative for planning their trip. They choose destinations after researching costs, menus, options, and itineraries. This year, they found inspiration in World History and Art classes and opted for an ambitious ten-day trek from Paris to Venice, Florence, Assisi, Rome, Pompeii, Sorrento, and Capri.
As soon as they made their down-payments one year in advance of the trip, the students downloaded Duo-Lingo and began learning French and Italian. Some competed to see who could hold the longest streak of days, words, or correct answers. Others explored the foods, customs, or artwork they would encounter.
On the tour, everywhere they went, their eagerness showed. In Venice, they arrived by boat, then lunched off-tour at a small, hopping trattoria, ordered in Italian and tasted squid. They also watched a glass-blowing demonstration in the original 13th century Murano Glass studio. In Florence, they took in the Duomo, the David statue, and a leather workshop dating back to the Middle Ages. Next stop, Assisi – St. Francis Basilica, and their discovery of truffled balsamic. Rome and Pompeii introduced the group to the ancient world, with visits to active archeological digs uncovering the Forum, the Coliseum, and life before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The Vatican’s Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica opened the group to questions, debate, and reflection. An overnight trip to Sorrento and then the island of Capri gave these mountain kids a beach day, a boat ride bouncing on the waves, salt air, and time for last gelatos.
Back in Rome for their final dinner, they presented handmade Thank You notes and gifts to their chaperones – gifts that they thoughtfully, secretly selected, with unprompted words of gratitude.
“Regarding my dinnertime speech about opening yourself up to other people and cultures through travel,” remarked tour guide, Silvana Gaeta. “Your students are already doing this. It is obvious and refreshing. You are educating true citizens of the world.”
How did this trip change you?
“After seeing pieces of art in the city where the artists lived, I can relate to what they might have imagined during the creative process. I think differently now about self-expression. This change in perspective is something that you can’t get from seeing a photo in a book, or hearing a lecture in school. Also, I learned that if I tried to speak French or Italian with the people I met, they tried to help me, and the connection was there, even if we didn’t entirely understand one another. ” Will Bingaman
“I appreciate how in Europe, buildings are created as works of art. Even apartment buildings. Everything seems designed to be aesthetically pleasing and meant to last. Everywhere you look, you find character and history. You see layer upon layer of architectural styles built over time and squeezed into narrow streets. It feels authentic and human, and has a quality that we cannot simply recreate.” Ryan Camp
“Getting to go to Versailles was my favorite part. Standing in the room where they signed the Treaty of Versailles to end WWII, I had a different perspective on what we learned in World History. I looked at the table where world leaders discussed how to make peace, where they came to an agreement that changed history – and it felt magical. I look around at my life now, and I see things differently. I think about my own history and my own life, and I realize that I can be like those men who sat around the table at Versailles. What I think and feel and do can make a difference in a very real way.” Alvin Garcia
“I loved walking around Venice, through the narrow streets that were made so long ago for people, not cars. It felt unreal. At one point, Madison and I got lost in the winding, wandering, narrow lanes. It was a little scary at first, not knowing our way in a foreign place. Looking back, the moment when we found our way through the maze felt very empowering. I learned that I’m not afraid to explore something new and unknown. ” Judith Gonzales
“Notre-Dame’s fire was distressing to watch. It hit me how impermanent everything is, the fragility of it all, and this knowledge has stuck with me more than anything else. I am grateful to have witnessed Notre-Dame and other amazing pieces of history while they still remain. This trip helped me develop a better grasp of the sheer depth of history, one that was only conceptual up until then. Seeing lands and buildings where real people lived their daily lives gave me a profound sense of connection with humanity, and the various lifeways that have come and gone throughout the centuries.” Kayla Henley RFHS class of 2013, chaperone
“Getting to make this trip with our school made it altogether different. Not only did we get a chance to experience things we may have otherwise never gotten to do, we also got to share it with our friends. It really started in the school store. We were all committed to the fundraising, so we stepped outside of our personal needs to make it happen for everyone else. We worked together, counted on each other, tried to bring our best to it, and became very close along the way. I feel that I have a greater appreciation for everyone who went.
That’s why this time meant so much.” Jessica Kollar
“I loved seeing how Europeans live differently than we do. In the cities we visited, I saw that the old residential buildings have such architectural beauty and character, while also being much smaller in scale than what we Americans are used to. A tour guide in Paris explained that in Europe, your life is about getting out of your home and experiencing life, so people live in smaller homes and make small spaces work better.” Kylie Orf
“I am Catholic, so getting to see Notre Dame, Our Lady, was very special to me. Then after the fire, my mother and I felt deeply sad. I described everything I saw in the Cathedral and how I felt on the day we went there – especially the beauty of the paintings and statues of Mary and Jesus. My mother and I mourned this loss together. Ancient history got destroyed. It can be rebuilt, but it will never be the same.” Alexa Solis
“I feel connected to history now that I have physically gotten to see the places we learned about in school – such as Paris’s city administration building, the Hotel de Ville, where you can see bullet holes in the marble from Hitler’s invasion of France. The Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame are now much more to me than symbols of Paris; they live in my memory. Now, when I hear Pope Francis speak, I can feel the size and beauty of the Vatican. I feel closer to the world now, part of the news because I have been there.” Katie Requeno
“This trip changed how I view history. Stories from long ago aren’t just stories now. For example, in Pompeii, we stood at a water fountain that was thousands of years old, and we placed our hands where the marble had worn smooth from the people of Pompeii leaning over to get a drink of water. We walked stone roads with wheel ruts from Roman carriages, and we crossed on stepping stones they used when their streets flooded. The people of ancient Rome were real, and their lives mattered. ” Stacy Requeno
“I feel really affected by Notre Dame’s fire. It was the most impressive building – with its massive, towering front entrance, glowing white at night. When we went inside, I was impressed by the rose windows and all of the work and expertise that went into making the stained glass. I’m encouraged to know how much money has already been raised to repair it. I keep thinking they can rebuild it to let more light in. It took 300 years the first time. I hope they don’t rush it, that they take time to learn from this disappointing tragedy.” Robin Requeno
“I loved every bit of our time in Europe. Now that we have returned home, I can say that the best part was being able to tell my parents that I would do whatever it took to get to go – and then making it happen. I got a job, learned how to manage my schedule, saved money, and made it work. My parents helped in many ways, but I know that I can do this. After getting through customs in a busy international airport, navigating the Paris Metro, and then taking trains and busses throughout Italy, I feel like I can do anything. ” Madison Thompson