I’m back in the USA at the end of one of the wildest, most rewarding adventures of my life. Unfortunately, I didn’t have reliable internet access for most of the time I was in Italy, so I fell behind on updating this site. I’d like to remedy that. Starting today and continuing for a while (until I run out of stories), I’ll be posting a random collection of stories from these past five weeks. I hope you enjoy them as much I enjoyed living them.
First a brief sketch of my group. Before I started out on this trip, my friends had all freaked me out with the idea of dealing with 12 high schoolers. People warned of all sort of things. “What if they drink and pass out in the middle of the night in Rome?” “What if one of your girls has sex with her host brother and comes home pregnant?” “What if someone gets a tattoo from a dirty needle and gets AIDS?” All of these things have occurred on past Experiment trips.
Not gonna lie. I was a bit freaked out going into this. During orientation we got a lot of our questions answered, but I still had lingering questions. Oh well, we were off to the airport. I gradually met 11/12 of my group. One of the girls, named Georgia, was already in Italy and would meet up with us in Rome. To show the group that we were not complete I bought a frisbee, which we named Georgia in honor of our missing member.
The kids jumped on board with it right off the bat. I had people asking to watch after “Georgia” in the airport and on the flight. People were inventing details about “her” life and, by the time we arrived in Rome, people really wanted to meet the real thing.
So here’s a quick sketch. This way you can get to know people as they appear in future stories.
Caitlen— The first member of the group I ever met! She took her first flight from Pittsburgh that morning to meet me at the airport. From a small town in Pennsylvania. A ball of energy that would come to be known as “The Human Garbage Disposal” or “Speedy Gonzales” by various people throughout the trip. Notable for her fight with a waitress in Rome (story to come).
Nolan— From the projects of White Plains, New York. Actually from a smaller town that keeps the name of White Plains. He has a brother high-ranking in the military and hopes to one day join the service himself. A very energetic card player, in spite of his lack of success. Would come to be remembered for his run-ins with authority that would arise later in the trip in memorable places. Nicknamed affectionately “Guido” in honor of the Jersey Shore.
Bajia— Coming to us from Connecticut, Bajia quickly became convinced that I was trying to kill her. One of the hardest discoveries for her on the first day of the trip was that her Blackberry would not work in Italy. Later on, she became the “Mom” of the group (for reasons I never really understood she adopted all the other kids). She dreamt once that I refused to take her to the hospital and was convinced our descent down Mt. Vesuvius was a death walk.
Sam— Arriving on the East Coast from Pacifica, California, which I’ve been informed is close to San Francisco, Sam became one of the comedic assets of the group. Speaking in a monotone (in the best possible way) that didn’t change depending on his emotions, one of the group’s goals became getting Sam to yell. Eventually, this was achieved. I called him Eeyore. His love of monsters was demonstrated by the purchase of a Scooby Doo book in Italian and a Murano ghost bought in Venice.
Grace— Though she was one of the youngest members of the group (her birthday was on the day of our flight home), Grace was one of the tallest people on the trip. Coming from St. Paul, Minnesota, one of the group’s first challenges was to decipher that mid-west accent (which Grace always denied having). She would become infamous in the “Nude Train Ride 2010” scandal (more to come). No matter how mad someone would get, Grace’s smile would cause you to melt. This earned her the name “G-Smiles.”
Amanda—The closest the group would have to a southerner, Amanda joined the group from Charlotte, NC. She brought with her a love of writing and animals, that would cause my heart to race when she pet dogs on the streets of Cortona. With Amanda, I launched the three-week saga of the ATM card that refused to work. It finished with searching out a Western Union location outside of Naples. I’m blanking of her nickname right now, but it will come to me.
Maggie— West Coast represent, now put your hands up. I don’t know why I pick Maggie for this since both Kelly (coming up) and Sam come from there as well, but there. Maggie comes from Seattle and offered a quiet demeanor but hilarious personality to the group. She’s an expert in cat impressions and did a wonderful meow. Another memorable moment came when Lowell was able to get her to scream during a piggy back ride around the piazza in Cortona. Nickname was “M-quiet.”
Lowell— One of the biggest balls of endless energy we had in our very energetic group came from Lowell, who comes from the great state of Maine. Given his ferocious desire to learn Italian, he made over 300 flashcards during our trip to Cortona, which he studied by the pool. Also deadly scared of pigeons and dogs (he almost pushed me into the hotel pool in Napoli because a tiny dog barked right behind him). Benefited from our local rep Enzo’s desire to give wine/ beer to everyone. Nicknamed “Low” because he loves that song by Flo-Rida (just kidding).
Kelly— A second young lady from the great western state of Washington. She entertained the group with dozens of hilarious stories, whether they involved meeting Johnny Depp on the scene of a movie (and not meeting Keira Knightly because she’s a jerk) or fighting of a pedophile priest in her own home. Prone to dropping out of conversations at random because of narcolepsy. Introduced the group to the amazing phrase (if you don’t want to curse) of “ballsauce.” Nickname also forthcoming.
Rob— Another native of White Plains, NY, Rob quickly became the morning ball of energy for the group. His call of “Good Morning” greeted many of the kids as a wake-up call and worked when he served as God during games of mafia as well. Also entertained the group with his fear of fish, dogs, train rides and notably heights on Mt. Vesuvius, when the experience had him cursing and naming our guide “Billy Goat.” Nicknamed C-Didds.
Georgia— The unfortunate recipient of my gift on our last night of Venice. It was a glass Murano frog, a tradition I started with college friends who visited me in the city. She arrived in the group late in Rome, but quickly became a presence. She notably became friends with a 11 or 12-year-old kid in Cortona asking him for a “high five” and was the first to jump off the boat into the “Blue Lagoon” in Cosenza (after me and with Caitlen). Nicknamed Frisbee for obvious reasons.
Travis— Last but certainly not least. Travis arrived the first day on his first ever plane ride from Key West, Florida. He quickly established himself as having the most amazing but also most creepy laugh. He also distinguished himself by constantly looking to shop for nice clothes. He introduced the group (and me) to “street talk” and I learned the phrase (maybe this wasn’t his actually) “that shit’s fire.” Will win the award for best dressed in the group, if only because all the Italians were obsessed.
Anthony— I suppose I should include something about the crazy person who was leading these amazing kids all-over the country. Well at least my nickname. Over the course of the trip my nickname evolved from “A-dawg” to “Troop Mom” to “Mama Goose.”
That’s the basic introduction. Now you know the basic players of the stories that will be written here over the course of the next month. I hope you enjoy everything. Our theme song was “California Gurls.” I make no apologies. I may have suggested it. It may have been the buzzword for “is everything OK in your homestay?”
Have you heard “California Gurls” today?