It sounds weird just saying it as simply as that. It seems almost like I'm trying to downplay the experience, or even make an attempt to diminish it into something much less than it actually was. But going to Europe became much more than just a trip.
What's weird is that nowadays it seems like everyone around here my age is going to Europe. It's not even that special but just another frivolous thing to do during your summer vacation. I think it is sad that going to completely different countries doesn't have the same impact on teens that it once did.
My Grandma, my older cousin Melissa and I have been planning this trip for more than a year in celebration of Melissa's high school graduation this year, and my graduation next spring from Monte Vista. It's taken that long for my Grandma to find what she dubbed as the "right itinerary." As I first glanced upon the list, I didn't so much see the places as I did the dates we would be away. Two weeks!? It seemed like a lifetime on a social calendar when I thought of all that I would miss. My cousin reacted the same way.
My Grandma instantly saw our skepticism. She sat down both of our anxious selves and gave us serious looks.
"I just want you two to get something out of this," she said. "I don't care if you like the tours or think it's dirty or anything else like that. I just want you two to come back seeing the world a little differently than you did before."
Hmm. To me that sounded like she not only wanted us to go to Europe for two weeks, but she also wanted us to come back having had some sort of epiphany or something. Well, I had my own agenda.
"I just want to fit in, you know?" I told my cousin on the plane. "I don't want anyone in Rome to know I'm a tourist. I want them to see me and be like, 'Hey look! A fellow Roman.'" But she just laughed at my innocent enthusiasm as I spent the remaining hours mentally going through all the clothes I had packed trying to decide whether or not they were "European" enough.
A day later, as I stood in the core center of the Piazza Navona in Rome, I couldn't honestly have cared less what I was wearing (gasp!); I was much more concerned with the way the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi's water blasted into a majestic arch, how the various painters magically sketched and mixed their colors, and the way love-struck couples walked hand in hand jabbering on in more languages than I could process. I was much less concerned with myself than I was with, well, Rome.
Our trip cruised us on to seven other cities: Florence, Monaco, Barcelona, Mallorca, Tunis, Sicily and Naples. But still, Rome, with its Coliseum, holding more history and blood and fear than I would ever be able to imagine; and with its Sistine Chapel, that had taken four long years and one very reluctant painter to complete, continued to strongly hold its place at the top of the list as my most favorite stop. It's not like all the other places weren't equally amazing, but being in Rome just felt right, like I fit in, no matter how I dressed or acted.
Before I knew it, we were back home, claiming our luggage and reminiscing about our 14-day excursion that hadn't felt like two weeks at all. As I stood there surrounded by my family for the first time in weeks, I realized with a smile that my Grandma had been right all along. I did feel different. I felt more mature and as if the mound of college information sitting on my desk at home were no longer frightening, but somewhat intriguing. I felt more cultured, as if being in a new country had made me aware of the diversity of living that others had adapted throughout their history and across the globe.
Even as I stood there in the crowded airport, I felt more confident, more comfortable with myself. And I honestly don't care how cheesy that sounds because I think that's all that matters. No one else might notice a change in the way I look or act, but I can. Going to Europe shouldn't be about just going to Europe. It should be about realizing that the only social calendars you should be concerned with are your own. It should be about coming home and seeing the world a tad differently than you did before. Going to another country shouldn't be about fitting in with the Romans, it should be about fitting in with yourself.
Maybe I did have that epiphany after all.