Finally the day arrived to pick our student ambassador up from the airport. We were receiving texts that they had departed Europe and landed in Atlanta in route to home. Only a few more hours and we could pick her up at the airport and listen to a few of the sure to be numerous stories on the way home. Unfortunately another flight delay altered these plans a little but only by a few hours this time. Sometimes technology helps as we could keep track of the flight as it continued closer and closer bringing our traveler home safely.
This has certainly been a different experience as a parent also. To give up the responsibilities as a parent temporarily and trust other people to keep your child safe was difficult. It also means you have to confidence in your child’s ability to make good and smart decisions. Trust can be a difficult thing when put to the test with your children. There was a realization that, sooner than we will be ready for, this child will be departing our home to begin her own story and these feelings we’re having of her being gone won’t be as temporary. Fortunately her return brought relief and a sense of completeness in our family once again. Better enjoy and appreciate it for a few more years!
Since her return was delayed to late during the night, her stories and experiences will mostly have to wait a day. The next few days were filled with stories of adventures and meeting people from different parts of Europe and a lot of sleep as these student ambassadors were pretty exhausted from weeks of constantly moving. Every day there were a few new stories to be entertained with as memories of this adventure continued to be digested. After a few weeks the significance of this opportunity began to take hold and more of an appreciation for this trip surfaced. The more people she began to share this experience with, the more she began to understand how special it was. The full impact likely won’t be known for several years.
Her favorite part of this European Adventure was her homestay in France. The piece of this trip I was most nervous about. She loved the people she stayed with and the opportunity to relax and explore portions of France at a more leisurely pace. A return to France is now a high priority on her list of places to go when she can. As our travels are pretty well planned out through 2018 with the Monopoly National Parks board, she’ll have to wait a few years but I’m confident she’ll make it happen.
The worst part of this trip was having to stick to a fairly strict schedule which didn’t allow for staying a little longer at one location and spending less time at places of lower interest that was made more strict due to the two lost days from canceled flights. This student ambassador is use to traveling in smaller groups which allow for more flexibility when sightseeing as opposed to a group of over forty people which restricts that flexibility due to the slower pace at which the group travels and the diversity of interests of that group.
There have been some great stories from each country they visited which included England, France, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland. Hopefully she will share some of these here in the future.
For the parents of these student ambassadors all we could do was to try and keep busy so that we didn’t spend all of our time looking at the clock and matching it to their itinerary wondering how their flight was going or if everything went ok at the airport and if they have all joined back up again yet. After many hours of wondering messages began to arrive that they had began their journey in London which brought many emotions for us such as relief, excitement, jealousy, and continuing nervousness about what is yet to come for these young travelers on their European Adventure.
Twenty-five years ago when I went on my European Adventure as a student ambassador there were as many options for communication. I believe the only bit of information my friends and family received was a post card sent early in my trip. I’m not sure what is better – receiving a post card and wondering the rest of the time how things were going or hoping to receive a text each day about what they were doing that day and trying to share in their fortunate experience. Frequent communications helped to calm nerves and fill that desire to share in their adventure but it also was a constant reminder that we should have a certain amount of concern about their well being instead of accepting that no news is good news and continue on about our daily activities.
We are extremely blessed to have our friends at Hobbyjeep.com staying with us. It is great to enjoy their company while helping to draw our attention in different directions. I’m very anxious to hear the stories and see pictures from this European Adventure but the event of most concern is their homestay yet to happen. I remember being nervous about staying with strangers in a foreign country but enjoyed my time in the end. Unfortunately I have a bigger fear of this part of their adventure because my student ambassador is female. It may not be fair but it’s my reality. I think there may be less to be concerned about with a male student ambassador but I could never know this as I don’t have any sons.
In the end I am so proud of what this child has done in preparing for this trip and putting aside her fears and reservations and go with over forty other people that she didn’t know before preparing to be a student ambassador. It will provide a different view of this part of the world and help her to understand the world is not always as scary of a place that it is sometimes made out to be. More importantly, I expect she will learn things about herself that wouldn’t be discovered as quickly another way. These student ambassadors will gain more from this adventure as they continue to go through life than they can know right now.
Talk about gaining life experience!
Its been eight months in the planning but the time has finally arrived for the next group of student ambassadors to begin their journey to discover Europe. During this time of preparation there has been funds to raise, travel documents to submit, packing lists to prepare, and picking up those items before now. Let the adventure begin!
And begin it did. Not the way we were hoping though. Finally it was time to leave for the airport. Everybody was nervous as this new experience was beginning. Parents watching as their child meets with their delegation and passes through security. Delegates leaving their families behind for several weeks uncertain of what to expect in Europe. Siblings both sad to see their brother or sister leave for so long and jealous that they were not the ones going. As this group of student ambassadors walked out of sight for the last time, their families, already missing them, slowly dispersed back to their vehicles and returned home anxious to here any small amount of information about their voyage.
Soon the text messages began: “the flight is delayed”, “we should be boarding about an hour and a half late”. Since this flight was already an overnight flight, we decided to head to bed with the mobile phone close by. As the night progressed, more texts came describing a later and later boarding time. Finally the phone rang “Come pick me up. Our flight has been cancelled due to mechanical problems and we can’t get another one for two days!” all said with anger, sadness, and exhaustion. These student ambassadors returned home weeks before they were expecting to uncertain of what to do or think. Only knowing that they would miss part of their trip – London – a very important destination on their itinerary.
After getting some sleep and making phone calls and sending emails, the new flight details came along with an updated itinerary which included most of the landmarks that would be missed due to the change in the departing date. This information brought many sighs of relief and a renewed excitement among the delegation. Now the waiting game begins again, watching the hours slowly tick by, anxiously wanting that trip to the airport to arrive again.
Finally it was time to board the vehicle providing transportation to the airport that was the site of so much angst days ago. Again families joined their child as they re-joined their delegation, passed through security, and reluctantly left the airport. Not again! Here come the texts “the plane is delayed.” THIS CAN’T POSSIBLY HAPPEN AGAIN! Can it? This time it was due to the arrival of President Obama. Once he landed and was safely at his hanger, planes began taking off again and this group of Student Ambassadors was in flight. Although this time is was in three separate groups, one headed for Detroit before going to London and the other two headed for Atlanta first. All eventually met up again in London safely to begin their European adventure.
The time for the next student ambassador to embark on her journey draws nearer and preparations continue for her adventure to Europe. She’s had a few informational meetings which include things like discussing their planned itinerary, meeting the other delegates going on their trip, and appropriate dress and behavior while traveling in Europe. During some of these preparations I’ve come across a few of the souvenirs from my student ambassador experience.
The top photo includes several of the documents from my Eastern Europe adventure such as the itinerary, passport, list of other student ambassadors, and the code of conduct of a student ambassador. It’s been fun to look over some of these documents recalling that journey and the people I shared it with.
This middle photo is of the currencies I collected from most of the countries visited. Some of these currencies no longer exist. A number of these countries have changed over to the Euro such as Germany and Austria. Czechoslovakia and USSR no longer exist so neither do those currencies. Isn’t it interesting to see all of the changes that have occurred in this region in the last 25 years. What will the next 25 years bring as borders are being questioned in the Ukraine today?
A sample of the beverages drank while in different parts of Eastern Europe. They certainly bring back memories of my visit to different areas of Eastern Europe and the people I share those memories with. There are other souvenir’s such as shirts, flags, and gifts from homestays which complete this collection and serve as a reminder of an adventure that has impacted my life for the last 25 years. These items bring excitement for what my daughter will experience and the influence it will have on her life.
In 1990 I was given the opportunity to explore Washington, D.C. and several countries in Europe while in high school through People to People. This adventure lasted four weeks providing a lifetime experience I cherish to this day. My oldest daughter now has this opportunity for 2014. This is very exciting to have an idea what she is going to experience having gone through this process when I was her age and now being able to go through it as a parent. Often the thought of how this was for my parents comes up as we plan for her to travel. My travels took me to Austria, Hungary, what was Lvov in the USSR but is currently in the Ukraine, Poland, Czechoslovakia, East and West Germany at the time but is just Germany now. My daughter’s itinerary includes: England, France, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Austria, and Switzerland.
Comparisons between my experience and hers are constant. I can’t believe how much has changed. One of the big differences has been in safety. During my adventure we had some down time to explore on our own which provided some of the most memorable portions of the trip. It was during these times we really got to know the people we traveled with and explored the current location. One such memory was being in Wurzburg, Germany when they won the World Cup and observing the celebrations that continued all night long. Such a sense of pride and excitement. During these down times that we really had the opportunity to interact with local people and figuring out how to communicate when English was not spoken. Great Fun and very educational! These down times appear to be quite limited now which helps ease my mind with my daughter’s safety but I know this will also change her experience.
Also meeting the other delegates is a little different. During my trip I didn’t really get a chance to meet the others going until sitting on the airplane taking off for Washington, D.C. Now they have the chance to talk with each other during each meeting to discuss trip expectations. There will be 5 or 6 of these meetings so they will be familiar with most of the other delegates before going. That takes some of the excitement and nervousness out of this trip. It’s probably a good idea. I just remember needing to work on my interactive skills immediately in order to learn about those I was traveling with. In that instance, it didn’t really matter where each of us lived, where we went to school, or what grade we were in. We were all on summer break and traveling to Europe. The preparational meetings happen during the winter when school is a large part of life. Hopefully this won’t interfere with how the student ambassadors interact during their summer adventure.
While getting ready for this experience for my daughter, I’ve been going through the items I’ve kept from mine which has also been fun. I’ll cover some of these in the Memorabilia.