Megan Gaitan, a previous A.C. Jones High graduate, jumped at the chance. And what was better is that she had the educational backing of the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio where she is working simultaneously to obtain her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication.
“I grew as a person,” she said. “ I realized there is more out there in the world. It was a great experience.”
Beyond that, there are many stories to be told.
During the week, she would attend classes at John Cabot University, but on weekends she would spend her time touring the countries with other college students.
On those weekends, she made the memories that now fill her Facebook page.
Some are funny now—like being on the wrong train in Germany and discovering that the temper of that nationality is not just a stereotype.
“He was yelling at us in German,” she said, adding that she still doesn’t know what he said, other than they didn’t have the ticket they needed.
Which brings up the other point—not everyone speaks English, which for this communication major made conversing considerably more difficult.
Fortunately, the Italians say more with the hands than their mouths.
“I didn’t really know that much Italian, but I learned to read their hand gestures and body language,” she said.
Well, she did learn a few phrases, including the one she used most frequently—“non parlo italiano.”
Following her major, she was interested in both verbal and nonverbal customs across the ocean. The most interesting, albeit a stereotype, was the kiss on the cheek.
“It just made me feel happy,” she said.
Language, both verbal and written, played a key part in her adventures.
Take for example their excursion to see the famous Abbey Road. Beatles fans will know this from the band’s album cover and its iconic zebra stripe street crossing.
However, Megan and her friends made the same mistake that so many tourists make.
“We had taken a train about 30 or 40 minutes out,” she said. All that greeted them was a train station and a sign.
“Are you looking for the famous Abbey Road? This isn’t the one.”
Indeed, the one they found was on the wrong side of London, and time would not permit them to make it to the right one. “We went to the Abbey Road but not the famous Road.”
This isn’t meant to make light of their trip. Megan is quick to point that most of their excursions went smoothly, and she would not trade a moment of that time—even those times when things didn’t quite go as smoothly as they planned.
She saw the traditional Eiffel Tower, the city of Florence and Interlaken in Switzerland.
Photos show her at an Easter Mass being given by the Pope in Vatican City. Indeed, she was only a few rows back from the front.
Other photos show her smiling as she looks out at the coastal town of Nice, pronounced “niece,” in France.
There was the leather worker who made her a pair of shoes. He was the same one who made shoes for Jackie Onassis.
And that’s not to overlook the vast culinary experiences that so many of the countries can provide.
“Everywhere I went had a unique feel to it,” she said.
While she talks fondly of the run for buses and trains and the sights and sounds of the London and France, it was her tours of the small towns that put a sparkle in her eyes.
“Being from a small town, I do like the small towns,” she said.
Summing up a semester of experiences in a few hundred words is impossible. It would be as difficult as asking her to pick her favorite spot—“I just cannot do it,” she said.
“I just encourage everyone to travel to Europe in general,” she said. “Someone told me traveling is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.